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Hands Stained Crimson

Chapter Text

It had been a few decades since the horrible war ended. As with every Verdant Moon, Claude came to visit the United Kingdom of Fódlan--or more specifically, its leader, Byleth--to celebrate. She sat in the audience chamber, tapping her fingers on the arm of her chair. She hardly saw herself as fit to be ruler of a land, considering her background as a mercenary, not to mention she never wanted the position. She sighed as she remembered that sometimes the best leaders are the ones who never actively sought out power. The doors to the chamber swung open, causing Byleth to stand up as the Almayran king approached. The light filtering through the stained glass seemed to brighten his face, or maybe it was his growing smile at seeing his old teacher and friend once again.

When Claude’s mouth opened, his words came out unintelligible, like trying to speak underwater. Despite not hearing, Byleth’s mouth moved of its own volition, providing a response that Claude seemed to laugh to. A confused panic set in Byleth’s mind when the conversation between the two continued, inaudible, and without her input. The world seemed to blur and bleed away into darkness as realization set into Byleth’s mind. This happened once before. Years after she and Dimitri took Edelgard down and freed Fódlan from her grasp.

She wished with every fiber of her being for the world to stop slipping away and to allow her freedom, but it was not so. The drowsiness of sleep overtook her, eyes closing as the world turned to nothingness. When they opened again, she was faced with Sothis, awakening on her throne. Byleth noted that the bangs in her view were no longer green, but their old blue hue. They were once again at the beginning. She was slightly annoyed at the goddess, but her monotone voice failed to share such. “Sothis, why are you doing this? Wasn’t it enough for me to go through that war once? Do you want me to suffer a third time?”

The goddess scoffed, staring down at Byleth from her throne. “Do you think me a sadistic monster? I take no joy in this either, but I will not allow you to live an eternity watching me walk about in your body!”

Byleth huffed as she took a step forward. “I’d prefer watching you in a peaceful world over having to relive this nightmare.”

Sothis rolled her eyes and leaned forward. “You know I can read your heart. It is clear you have your regrets. I know you wish to prevent this war from happening. And might I remind you that peace is not eternal? The world in which you would watch me walk would no doubt be riddled with wars throughout time and we would certainly be involved.”

Byleth let out a sigh. “Fine. You’ve already reversed the hands of time. Arguing with you won’t undo that.”

The goddess clapped her hands together as a wide smile came across her face, a satisfied hum escaping her lips. “Good. Now it’s time you wake up. We have much to do.”

“Hey. Time to wake up.”

Jeralt’s voice reached Byleth’s ears, causing her eyes to shoot open. How foreign his voice had become to her. She had forgotten the distinct sound of it after all those years. Yet it was so familiar, as though she had still been hearing it every day. As though the memories she awoke from were just one long nightmare, and like a nightmare, those memories felt foggy and yet the pain was clear. Letting out a sigh, Byleth sat up and dressed into her armor before leaving her room to find Jeralt waiting for her. “Were you having that dream again?”

She took a moment to think. It would be unwise to openly share knowledge of the future. If Byleth were to do so, she would at best be ignored and at worst be seen as deranged or cause unintended side-effects. It was no help that her mind felt as though it were trapped in a haze, unable to fully grasp the details of the future-past. Such were the consequences of rewinding the clock, Byleth supposed. She thought back to her usual response, it wasn’t a total lie after all. “I was dreaming about a young girl.”

Jeralt shook his head in his hand. “You’ve described her to me before. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone like that. In any case, just put that out of your mind for now. The battlefield is no place for idle thoughts. Letting your mind wander is a sure way to get yourself killed.”

Byleth gave a simple nod. “I know, dad. You’ve told me before.”

Jeralt flashed a smile that faded just as quickly. “OK, time to get moving. Our next job is in the Kingdom. I told you before. It’s far from here, so we’ll need to leave at dawn.”

“Of course.”

Letting out a concerned hum, Jeralt looked past Byleth out the window of the building. “Good grief. Everyone is already waiting for us outside.”

Suddenly, the door swung open as one of the mercenaries ran inside, stopping to catch his breath for a moment before meeting Jeralt’s gaze. Had he not been a trained soldier, Byleth had no doubt the mercenary would have a panicked look and be stumbling over his words. Instead, he stood upright, his posture kept perfectly in line as his voice spoke, unwavering. “Jeralt! Sir! Sorry to barge in, but your presence is needed.”

Jeralt kept his casual and imposing demeanor, but his voice hardened into that of a commander. “What’s happened?”

The mercenary turned, motioning the pair to follow as he explained. “Three kids showed up shouting for help just outside the village, sir. Scouts haven’t reported anything yet, so I thought it best you talk to them yourself and figure out what’s happening.”

He then pointed over to a group of three well-dressed individuals, all looking just a few years younger than Byleth. She and Jeralt approached the group, all of whom wore black uniforms, though with slight differentiations. One of the three was a boy with blonde hair, his uniform adorned with armor, a long blue half-cape, and silver accents. Dimitri . Yes, Byleth remembered. That was his name. Standing to the left of him was another boy. His skin was tanned and his hair a tousled dark brown. His outfit was worn more casually with his jacket slightly longer than those of the other two, reaching well to his knees, and the front kept popped open to show a yellow shirt beneath. His uniform was adorned by a short yellow half-cape and golden accents. Claude . That was his name. Byleth was sure of it. To the right of Dimitri was a girl with stark white hair and piercing lilac eyes. Her outfit was by far the most formal and well-kempt of the group, looking like she was pulled directly from tales of princes. A large white cravat stuck out the front of her jacket, from her right shoulder hung a golden tassel, on her left shoulder was a long red half-cape, and she wore white gloves that seemed to be kept excruciatingly clean. The least formal aspect of her attire were the shorts she wore, and even then her legs were fully covered by thick red tights, leaving no skin exposed. The only skin one could see of hers was her face. Edelgard . As the name rung in Byleth’s head, a rage seemed to burn in her mind, but a part of her memory still felt foggy. There was no time for Byleth to think about it as Dimitri spoke up. “Please forgive our intrusion. We wouldn’t bother you were the situation not dire.”

Jeralt gave a quick scan over the three, slightly raising his brow. “What do a bunch of kids like you want at this hour?”

Dimitri bowed his head as he gave a quick explanation. “We’re being pursued by a group of bandits. I can only hope that you will be so kind as to lend your support.”

Byleth restrained herself from rolling her eyes. How naive it seemed of Dimitri to ask for help from mercenaries without any promise of reward. Yet his trust in the kindness of others was a gift in itself. Jeralt seemed to pay no mind as he thought about more pressing matters. “Bandits? Here?”

Edelgard chimed in, her words coming out as though they were calculated in advance. “It’s true. They attacked us while we were at rest in our camp.”

How very her , some part of Byleth thought in a condescending tone. Her mind was still in a haze, unable to fully decipher the thought. Claude shook his head, his voice filled less with concern and more with thought, perhaps reasoning over what was happening. “We’ve been separated from our companions and we’re outnumbered. They’re after our lives...” His voice fell into a mumble, as though going on a tangent. “Not to mention our gold.”

Jeralt’s brow only seemed to rise higher. “I’m surprised you’re staying so calm considering the situation. I…” The mercenary trailed off as he finally seemed to notice the clothing the three wore, his voice filled with recognition as he continued. “Wait. That uniform--”

Before he could finish the thought, another mercenary ran into the village, carrying news for the group. “Bandits spotted just outside the village! Damn, there are a lot of them.”

Annoyance laced itself into Jeralt’s features as he looked out the village gate, seeing shadows moving about the dark, making their way to the light of the village. “I guess they followed you all the way here. We can’t abandon this village now.” He turned his attention to Byleth, anger obvious on his face. “Come on, let’s move.”

Byleth gave a simple nod as she placed her hand on the sword resting upon her hip, drawing it as she rushed forward. The three students followed behind her as Jeralt shouted out orders. “Let’s take care of those thieves before they overrun the village. Take down the enemies in front first. That should take the wind out of their sails.”

She ran forward, bringing down her blade on a bandit coming close to the village entrance. The hit wasn’t quite enough to finish him, but Edelgard came rushing in, bringing down a crushing blow before Byleth could finish him. The girl was ruthless, Byleth could see that clearly in the way she fought. She followed behind, watching Edelgard advance into the forest, stopping to defend against bandits that came out of the thicket. Watching her fight with such brutal precision and grace, Byleth began to see a vision, one of a woman slightly older than Edelgard, but with a similar face and hair. Though, her hair was instead kept up in neat buns and adorned with golden horns. The image incited a deep anger within Byleth. Conqueror. Murderer. Monster. The words repeatedly rang in Byleth’s ears, growing louder and louder the longer she watched.

The vision only dissipated when Byleth looked away to strike down bandits running at her. But the words would not stop ringing. They remained a loud distraction in her mind, unwilling to relent. They fueled her blade, making it cut deeper in the bandits that she came across. It only stopped when the bandits began a retreat, drawing Byleth’s attention back to Edelgard. She seemed to have felled the bandit leader herself, his body lying on the ground. But his chest still moved. He was breathing, alive. Suddenly, he jumped up, rushing at Edelgard, ready to bring down his axe. The girl wasn’t prepared, her guard was down as she fumbled to take a knife out to protect herself. There wasn’t enough time to pull up her axe for protection.

Byleth’s legs seemed to move on their own, ready to intercept the attack and defend the girl, but when she looked at Edelgard, she saw another vision of that woman. She looked like a monster, willing to go to any lengths to see her ambition, even at the cost of others. At the cost of a war. Byleth stopped in her tracks, instead watching as the bandit brought his axe down, tearing through Edelgard’s flesh, her blood pooling on the ground around her. The world suddenly shattered and flashed a dark blue, darkness slowly overtaking Byleth’s vision.

“What do you think you’re accomplishing, watching her die like that?!”

Byleth turned to look up to Sothis’s throne. Her lips curved down slightly, showing only the slightest sign of emotion on the mercenary, one that most would hardly notice. “I was preventing the war from happening. Edelgard will start it, no?” A memory of a defeated woman begging for death flashed before her eyes. “And she admitted herself that it would only end when she died.”

Sothis sat up in her throne, the frown on her face deepening as she raised her voice. “Honestly! At times you are worse than a child! Have you not thought of the implications of killing off the heir to the Empire?! Surely that would just as likely start a conflict as keeping her alive! You would only be speeding the process along. There is a difference between killing a leader before and during a conflict!”

Giving an annoyed shrug, Byleth glanced off to the side, crossing her arms. “What, so the war is inevitable? If I keep her alive, she’ll start the war anyway, unless you have some bright idea.”

The goddess scoffed, leaning back in her throne as she rested her head in her hand, closing her eyes as she entered deep in thought. She let out a small hum before mumbling to herself. “A way to stop this war without blood on your hands. That could be difficult indeed, but what if…” She trailed off, her mumbling becoming unintelligible before her eyes shot open, a wide smile gracing her face. “Ah! That is it! You need to keep the girl alive! Watch over and protect her--”

The mercenary’s frown deepened as she stomped a foot in front of her. “What? I want to stop the war, not help her start it!”

The response earned a glare from Sothis. “Perhaps you should act the age you are and listen! I was not finished.” She paused as she waited for Byleth to stand straight and show she was listening. Only then did Sothis continue. “Being so close to her, she would no doubt listen to and value your own opinion. She obviously seemed to value you in the war, even though you fought her, so I wonder what would happen were you actually close to her.”

Byleth’s mouth opened, trying to think of a counter, but none came. She let out a sigh as she nodded begrudgingly. “Fine. We’ll try your plan.”

Sothis clapped her hands together as she jumped up from her throne, producing a magic glyph in front of her. “Wonderful! You really are quite troublesome, but I will be sure to help guide you down this path.”

Darkness enveloped Byleth’s vision once again, bringing her back to the frozen present. The shattered world reversed before settling and reforming. Time returned to Byleth running toward Edelgard. This time she would not stop, following her instinct and placing herself between the girl and the bandit. Byleth raised her sword, parrying the blow with expert precision and sending both the bandit and axe flying. Fear etched itself into the bandit leader’s face as he began to stand, shouting out to the others to run for their lives.

Byleth let out a huff, her features pulling down into a frown as she remembered who stood behind her. She only turned to face the girl when Calude’s voice broke through the woods. “Hey! Over here!”

Claude and Dimitri ran over to the two of them, sharing relieved glances with Edelgard, no doubt happy to see her unharmed. Jeralt followed close behind, his eyes wide with surprise. “Hey, did you just--”

He was cut off by a loud man in white armor running over, ordering the soldiers with him to go after the bandits. The soldiers ran off as he continued his path to their group, stopping at the sight of Jeralt and the students. He spoke in a booming voice, his words more for himself than anyone he was talking to. “The students seem to be unharmed. And who’s this?”

Jeralt put a hand to his face as he shook his head, the pained look of a headache coming across his features as he let out a low groan. “Why him?”

The man in white armor wore a wide grin and let out a loud laugh. “Captain Jeralt?! It is you! Goodness, it’s been ages. Don’t you recognize me? It’s Alois! Your old right-hand man!” His grin became sheepish as he mumbled to himself. “Well, that’s how I always thought of myself anyway.” His voice rose back to its prior volume as he continued. “It must have been 20 years ago that you went missing without a trace. I always knew you were still alive!”

Jeralt’s face pulled down into a grimace as he rested his forehead in the palm of his hand. “You haven’t changed a bit, Alois. Just as loud as ever. And drop that ‘captain’ nonsense. I’m not your captain anymore. These days I’m just a wandering mercenary. One who has work to do. Goodbye, old friend.”

Alois simply nodded his head, disappointment bleeding into his voice. “Right. Goodbye, Captain.” His eyes widened for a moment as his voice went back to it’s normal volume. “Wait! That isn’t how this ends. I insist that you return to the monastery with me!”

Jeralt let out a sigh as his head dropped in disappointment. “I suppose this was inevitable.”

Alois’s gaze moved over to Byleth, observing her with curiosity. “And how about you, kid? Are you the captain’s child?”

Byleth simply nodded. “That is correct.”

“Is that so? Well, physical differences aside, your mannerisms do remind me of the captain. I’d love for you to see the monastery too. You will join me, won’t you?”

She already knew that trying to get out of the situation would be impossible. Alois was a stubborn one, and if Jeralt was to go, Byleth would tag along too. “Of course.”

Jeralt sighed in response. Despite Alois’s thick skull, it didn’t pass by him, his brow rising. “What’s troubling you, Captain? You aren’t about to run off again, are you?”

A serious look came to Jeralt’s eye, though the rest of his face returned to its neutral demeanor. “Even I wouldn’t dare run from the knights of Seiros.”

Upon arriving at the camp the Knights and students had made, the three students pulled Byleth aside. They all wore smiles on their faces, though each one was different. Dimitri’s looked somewhat forced, his eyes dull inside, but his gratitude seemed genuine. Claude had such an easy smile, one that anyone could love, but it never went beyond his lips, obviously fake to the keen eye. Edelgard’s was a small, reserved smile, fully genuine, but her eyes pierced Byleth, as though she was observing every detail. She was the first to voice her gratitude towards the mercenary. “I appreciate your help back there. Your skill is beyond question. You’re clearly an experienced mercenary. And your father, that would be Jeralt, the Blade Breaker? Former captain of the Knights of Seiros. Oft praised as the strongest knight to ever live. Have I missed anything?”

Byleth could remember distinctly when she heard the news the first time around. She’d never been raised learning of the Knights or Church of Seiros. She supposed she still had to act the part. “I didn’t know he was a captain.”

Edelgard’s eyes widened in surprise, no doubt Byleth’s naturally stoic demeanor helped hide the truth. “How curious. I’d wager the explanation for that is fascinating indeed.”

Cutting in, Claude’s voice carried through with a carefree smoothness. “Hey! You are coming with us to the monastery, right? I’d love to bend your ear as we travel.” A thought seemed to pop into mind as he continued. “Oh, I should mention that the three of use are students of the Officers Academy at Garreg Mach Monastery. We were doing some training exercises when those bandits attacked. I definitely got the worst of it.”

Edelgard’s attention turned to Claude, her gaze turning into a sharp glare. “That would be because you ran off.”

Nodding his head, a small grin came across Claude’s lips. “Too true! I was the first to make a strategic retreat.” He paused, pointing a thumb at the other two students as he directed his gaze to Byleth. “Everything would have worked out if these two hadn’t followed me and ruined everything. Because of them, every single one of those bandits chased after us. Utterly ridiculous”

“Ah, so that’s what you were thinking, Claude.” Dimitri’s face was hard to read, but some small amount of amusement could be heard in his voice. “And here I thought you were acting as a decoy for the sake of us all.”

Switching her attention to Dimitri, Edelgard reprimanded him. “His intentions were clear as day. You will prove a lacking ruler if you cannot see the truth behind a person’s words.”

Dimitri let out a slight huff. “You will prove a lacking ruler yourself if you look for deceit behind every word and fail to trust those whom you rely on.”

“Oh, joy. A royal debate between Their Highnesses. I wonder how being completely predictable affects one’s ability to wield power.” Claude couldn’t help but smirk at the conversation between the two lords. “Personally, as the embodiment of distrust, I’d say your little exchange smacks of naivete.”

Edelgard’s frown seemed to deepen as her posture became defensive. “Me? Naive? Tell me, are you actually incapable of keeping quiet, or is your lack of self-awareness a condition of some sort?”

Wishing to leave the conversation, Dimitri returned his attention to Byleth. “In any case, forgive our digression. I must speak with you, if you can spare a moment. The way you held your ground against the bandits’ leader was captivating! You never lost control of the situation. It showed me I still have much to learn.”

Edelgard’s eyes lit up in interest, interrupting with her own proposition to get an edge in. “Your skill is precisely why I must ask you to consider lending your services to the Empire. I might as well tell you now. I am no mere student. I am also the Adrestian Empire’s--”

Keeping a calm voice, Dimitri cut back in. “Halt, Edelgard. Please allow me to finish my own proposition. The Holy Kingdom of Faerghus is in dire need of exceptional individuals like yourself.” His voice lightened into that of a pleading child. “Please, do consider returning to the Kingdom with me.”

Claude’s brows shot up in surprise. “Whoa, there! You two sure are hasty. Trying to recruit someone you just met. Tactless, really. I was personally planning to develop a deep and lasting friendship on our journey back to the monastery before begging for favors. But it seems there’s no time for niceties in this world. So, capable stranger, let’s get right to it. Where does your allegiance lie?”

Despite being a roaming mercenary, the answer seemed easy enough to Byleth. She’d spent such a large amount of her time living and working in the country, after all. “The Adrestian Empire. It is the closest place I have to a home and a land of much history.”

Letting out a small laugh, Edelgard smiled. “A wise choice. Though the Empire has fallen from its former glory, the other regions are merely offshoots that pale in comparison.”

The conversation was brought to a halt as Alois approached the group. “All right, that’s enough with the small talk. It’s time to head back to the monastery!”

Claude shrugged, wearing his usual smirk. “Looks like we’ll have to pick this up another time.”

Alois began to walk off, heading towards the other knights, all of whom had finished packing up camp. The students followed, leaving Byleth to trail close behind. She kept her eyes fixed on Edelgard, watching for anything from the silver-haired lord. It all started with her. The pain. The war. The death. Byleth would do everything in her power to prevent it. Even if it meant allying herself with a monsterous conqueror.

Chapter Text

Returning to the monastery was a strange feeling to Byleth. She had been through these grounds many times before and yet this was also her first time here. Or at least it was as far as any were aware in this time. Upon entering the gates, the three students split off from the group, no doubt having their own tasks to attend to. It annoyed Byleth ever so slightly at not being able to follow Edelgard and keep tabs on her behavior.

Instead, Byleth and Jeralt were motioned to follow a few of the knights, leading them through the halls to the second floor of one of the buildings, only stopping before a large set of doors. Opening the doors revealed the audience chamber, stained glass lighting the room with vibrant colors. Jeralt entered first, Byleth following closely behind as the doors closed behind them, a signal for them to wait inside. Jeralt let out a long sigh as his eyes scanned the room, devoid of people except for the two of them. “It’s been years since I’ve last set eyes on this place. To be forced to see her now…”

Byleth looked over to her father, thinking how best to respond before finding something that would work as a suitable response. “Her?”

Jeralt quirked a brow slightly before shaking his head. “You saw her in the courtyard earlier, didn’t you? The archbishop, Lady Rhea.”

Byleth tilted her head slightly, attempting to emulate some level of confusion. “Lady Rhea?”

Jeralt’s features pulled down into a slight frown as he tried to explain. “As you know, the majority of folks in Fódlan are devout followers of the teachings of Seiros. The leader of that ridiculously large religious organization is the archbishop, Lady Rhea.”

As if on cue, two figures walked into the room from a connected office. One of the figures was a man with dark green hair that almost reached his shoulders. He wore a blue uniform with golden accents as well as a black cape with a golden lining inside. The other figure was a woman with long light green hair ornamented with a large golden headdress. She wore a simple white dress with a long golden cape and a short blue cloak with intricate golden designs stitched in. The man was first to speak, giving a quick bow to the pair. “Thank you for your patience, Jeralt. My name is Seteth. I am an advisor to the archbishop.”

Not being one for intros, Jeralt merely brushed off the words with a brief affirmation. “Right. Hello.”

The woman, no doubt the archbishop Rhea, was next to speak, a small smile coming across her face. Though seeing that smile disgusted some part of Byleth, just as much as seeing Edelgard had angered her. “It has been a long time, Jeralt. I wonder...was it the will of the goddess that we have another chance meeting like this?”

Unlike with Seteth, Jeralt bowed for Rhea. “Forgive my silence all these years. Much has happened since we last spoke.”

Rhea let out a small laugh, her soft smile never leaving as she turned her gaze to Byleth. But Byleth could see something within those eyes. A desire. One she could not trace or connect to the fog of her memories. She hoped time would lift it and reveal the answer as to why that face upset her so. “So I see. The miracle of fatherhood has blessed you. That is your child, is it not?”

No matter how well she tried to hide it, her words dripped with knowledge. The knowledge that she knew more than she let on. If Jeralt had noticed, he hid it well. “Yes, born many years after I left this place. I wish I could introduce you to the mother of my child, but I’m afraid we lost her to illness.”

“I see. My condolences.” Rhea’s voice betrayed her, carrying no emotion in the statement, rather keeping her focus on Byleth. “As for you...I heard of your valiant efforts from Alois. What is your name?”

Despite every fiber of her being screaming at her not to, Byleth gave a slight bow. “My name is Byleth.”

Only then did emotion seem to enter Rhea’s voice, a sort of fondness that made it carry like a song. “A fine name indeed. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for saving those students from the Officers Academy.”

Jeralt closed his eyes, turning his head away as he let out a huff, forcing Rhea’s attention to return to him. “Jeralt. You already know what it is I wish to say, do you not?”

He shook his head in annoyance. “You want me to rejoin the Knights of Seiros, don’t you. I won’t say no, but…”

His voice trailed off, unwilling to continue. Rhea seemed unfazed, her expression still in that same slight smile. “Your apprehension stings. I had expected that Alois would have already asked this of you.” She returned her gaze to Byleth before continuing. “I must step away for now, but I expect they will desire a word with you soon. Please listen carefully to what they have to say. Until tomorrow, farewell.”

With that, Rhea and Seteth took their leave, returning to the office they came from, once again leaving Byleth and Jeralt alone in the room. Once he was sure they were alone, Jeralt let out a long sigh. “I can’t believe it. Forced back into the Knights of Seiros. I’m sorry I dragged you into this. Looks like I’ll be stuck here for a while and I’m afraid your services are requested as well.”

Byleth tilted her head slightly, raising one of her hands to rest upon her cheek, as though she were confused. “I must work here? What would they want from me?”

Jeralt furrowed his brows slightly in concern. “They want you to teach, by the sound of it. You heard those brats earlier talking about the Officers Academy, right?” Byleth gave a small nod in response before Jeralt continued. “Well, the academy just happens to be short a professor. And apparently that damned Alois went and recommended you to Lady Rhea.”

A man and a woman entered the room, both turning their attention to Jeralt as they approached. The woman was first to talk, her voice smooth and seductive. “So, you must be the new professor. My, how stern and handsome you are!”

Jeralt’s face pulled into a look of discomfort. “I’m not the one you’re looking for.” He looked over to Byleth, a slight look of concern flashing over his features before settling on their usual neutral place. “You can handle things from here. Good luck.” He turned around, leaning in close to Byleth as his voice dropped to a whisper. “And watch out for Lady Rhea. I don’t know what she’s thinking, making you a professor like this. She may be up to something. Stay on your guard.”

Byleth gave him a slight nod before Jeralt left her to the two. The woman’s eyebrows shot up in surprise as she turned her gaze to the young mercenary. “Oh. It’s you, then? So young.”

The man shook his head. “Competence and age are not necessarily correlated, as you well know.” He turned his attention fully to Byleth. “I am Hanneman, a Crest scholar and professor at the Officers Academy.”

The woman gave Byleth a wink as she spoke. “I’m Manuela. I’m a professor, a physician, a songstress, and available. It’s nice to meet you.”

“You’re a songstress?”

Manuela smiled at the question. “Of course. Before I came here, I belonged to a renowned opera company. Perhaps you’ve heard of me? The Mittelfrank Opera Company’s beautiful, peerless--”

Brows furrowing in annoyance, Hanneman interrupted. “Spare our colleague the needless chatter, Manuela.” He returned his attention back to Byleth. “Now then, it seems you’ll be taking charge of one of the academy’s three houses. I expect you haven’t yet been briefed on the nature of each, have you?”

The two professors took their time explaining to Byleth the three houses that comprised the Officers Academy. She already knew about them, but she couldn’t tell them such. Instead, she thought about the house leaders. There was Dimitri, who she remembers being the first person she had chosen to teach. He was house leader of the Blue Lions and crown prince of the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus. Then she had chosen to teach and follow Claude, house leader of the Golden Deer and next leader of the Alliance. And then there was Edelgard. Leader of the Black Eagles and Imperial princess of the Adrestian Empire. Not to mention the one who would start a bloody war. What for, Byleth never truly knew.

She sighed. Perhaps she would find an answer from Edelgard herself, though the princess would no doubt keep her secrets. She was forced from her thoughts when Manuela and Hanneman told her to go get her bearings about the monastery, shooing her out of the audience chamber before heading back to their own offices.

After spending the last day roaming about the monastery, Byleth returned to the audience chamber. Rhea had requested her presence, explaining that Byleth should acquaint herself with the students of the different houses. The mercenary begrudgingly agreed, leaving the chamber to seek out the house leaders. She knew them all well enough already, but she couldn’t bring any unwanted attention to herself.

She spoke first to Dimitri, who spoke in return with kindness. He apologized for his lack of introduction and spoke briefly of the Blue Lions before letting Byleth leave to speak with Claude. Claude gave his own proper introduction, but spoke in a casual manner, uncaring for acting noble. Byleth eventually made her way to Edelgard, who kept a keen eye on her, taking in every detail of the mercenary turned professor. “So, you’ve accepted a teaching position here. Pity. I was hoping you would lend your strength to the Empire.” The noble shook her head as she continued. “I never properly introduced myself, did I? My name is Edelgard von Hresvelg. I am the princess and heir apparent of the Adrestian Empire. I wonder if you’ll be tasked with leading the Black Eagles.”

Byleth nodded her head in response. “Perhaps I will. We’ll see when the time comes.”

A small smile quirked on Edelgard’s lips. “Tell me, have you met everyone? I could tell you more about any of the Black Eagles.”

The mercenary shook her head. “That won’t be necessary. I already know much about the Black Eagles.”

Edelgard narrowed her eyes. “Really? I haven’t seen you talk to any of the students yet. Only the house leaders. And those exchanges were only a few words.”

Byleth furrowed her brows as a voice scolded her in the back of her head. “You fool! Have you forgotten so quickly how she scrutinizes all?! You must be far more careful around her!”

Letting out a sigh, Byleth tried to think of a quick excuse. “I may not have spoken to them, but I’ve read up on everyone’s files. I have been entrusted with them as a professor, after all.”

Edelgard remained still, her eyes scanning the blue-haired woman for any signs before giving in. “Very well. But do know that speaking to the students is likely to help you know them better than reading parchment.”

“I will keep that in mind.” Just as she began turning to leave, an idea came to Byleth. “Actually, why don’t you tell me more about yourself?”

The princess’s eyes widened slightly in surprise. “Me?” She paused for a moment, steeped in thought. “Well, some think I’m a bit distant. Arrogant, even. But there’s little to be done. One day, I must rise to become Adrestia’s next emperor. What else...” She tapped a finger to her chin. “Well, it seems to me that we may have similar personalities.”

Byleth restrained herself from frowning at the statement. Her? Similar? She hated the thought of being compared to a soon to be ruthless conqueror. She shook her head. “You hardly know me, so we’ll have to see whether you’re right.” The mercenary let out a sigh as she looked off. “I should be going. Lady Rhea is expecting me.”

It was slight, but Byleth noticed Edelgard tense at the mention of the archbishop. “Of course. I won’t keep you.”

She gave a final nod before turning to leave, exiting the reception hall and heading up the stairs to the audience chamber. Hanneman and Manuela stood on either side of the doors, waiting for her. They shared quick hellos before entering the chamber together, Rhea and Seteth standing in wait. Upon seeing the three, Rhea wore that same plastered on smile, directing her gaze purely at Byleth. “How are you enjoying your time at the academy thus far? I hope you have found our halls brimming with the vitality of well-intentioned souls.”

Byleth held herself back from letting out a scoff. So long as Edelgard was a part of the student body, Rhea’s words were wrong. Seteth eyed Byleth, as though looking for any flaws. “I suppose it is time for you to take charge of one of our three houses of students. I must note that I am personally against entrusting someone as lacking in trackable history as yourself with such a task, but it is as the archbishop desires.”

“Since you are new here, we have decided to allow you first pick. Manuela and I will take charge of the remaining two houses,” Hanneman chimed in.

As much as she loathed the idea, there was only one way to get closer to Edelgard. Byleth let out a sigh. This was all for the sake of Fódlan. Her own wishes were but a small price to pay. “Very well. I wish to teach the Black Eagles.”

Rhea gave a small nod. “Your heart has made its choice, then. All I ask is that you guide these open minds with virtue, care, and sincerity.”

Seteth glared at Byleth. “They are all promising youths who bear the weight of Fódlan’s future upon their shoulders. I hope you appreciate what an honor it is to lead them. In a few days’ time, there will be a mock battle between the three houses, intended to gauge the current progress of the students. We will be using this battle as an opportunity to ascertain your own abilities as well. Please do not disappoint the archbishop. That is all.”

Byleth stood in front of the large doors to the Black Eagles classroom. Today was to be the first day of classes and she dreaded it. Usually she was indifferent to the prospect, but to teach Edelgard and the Eagles left her feeling uneasy. She had no desire to provide them with the abilities to bring about ruin in the future, but it was necessary for Sothis’s plan. She eventually let out a sigh, opening the doors to find the students all waiting for her. A short boy with blue hair almost fell over in surprise  “Wait. So our new professor is you?! I didn’t see that one coming.”

A tall girl with wavy brunette hair gave the boy a look. “Easy, Caspar. Aren’t you being a bit rude?”

A boy with long dark green hair kept in a ponytail rolled his eyes. “You know it’s a waste of time to expect politeness from him.” He turned his gaze to Byleth, bowing his head slightly. “It will be a pleasure learning from you, Professor. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to take a nap.”

Byleth had no doubt that had been Linhardt, notorious for napping. Her eyes wandered over to a girl with messy purple hair who stood beside him before he walked off to lie on one of the benches and sleep. The girl had noticed the shift in Byleth’s gaze, jumping up in surprise. “Don’t look at me like that! And please don’t talk to me too much either.”

She must have been Bernadetta. The first girl spoke again, her name coming to Byleth’s mind. Dorothea. “I’m sorry for the chaos you’ve walked into.”

A boy with ginger hair excitedly butted in. “I hear we are rather close in age, Professor. I hope you do not mind if we treat you like one of us. In our class, we try to treat each other as equals, despite any differences in age or status. Personally, I would love to include you in that inner circle.”

He was likely Ferdinand, acutely aware of his status as a noble and always telling others to act noble. Byleth supposed it couldn’t hurt to treat the students on the same level as her. No doubt doing so could help her get closer to them. “I don’t mind at all.”

A girl with long maroon hair and tanned skin smiled. “You have a gut, Professor. I will take great joy from your teachings.”

Dorothea wore a concerned look. “Petra, I believe you mean to say that our professor has guts. That’s a bit different from having a gut.” She eyed Byleth as she winked. “You can’t go around saying someone so slim and attractive has a gut!”

Petra’s face turned to one of embarrassment. “Oh? Please take my apologies. I have not yet mastered this language.”

Edelgard took the moment to cut in. “Professor, I want you to know that it’s perfectly acceptable for you to treat me as you do the others. I may be the Imperial princess, but here at the academy, I’m just another student. That said, know that I have high expectations of you. And high hopes. But I’m certain you can lead the Black Eagle House to greatness.”

Byleth nodded. “Of course. I wasn’t going to give you special treatment due to your status.”

The princess wore a small smile. She seemed ready to respond, but Caspar began to shout. “Sure, sure. Now, let’s break the ice with a training session! I want to see our new teacher in action.”

Petra gave the boy a confused look. “Why will the ice be broken? Is this a custom I have missed in my studies?”

Caspar tumbled over his words, trying to find a proper response. “Not real ice, just the ice of, um... Well, it just means let’s get to know each other.”

Bernadetta spoke up from where she hid behind Dorothea. “I don’t want to train! Let’s stay in the classroom and learn from a book.”

Dorothea glanced over her shoulder at the terrified noble. “Let’s all calm down and have a nice cup of tea, how about that?” She then looked back at Byleth. “Doesn’t that sound lovely, Professor?”

Linhardt had obviously fallen asleep sometime ago as his snores began to carry across the room. Annoyance laced its way into Ferdinand’s features at the state of the classroom. “I know we all agreed to treat each other as equals, but there is a limit to what I can tolerate. The esteemed Black Eagle House requires order.”

The students began to bicker amongst themselves, drawing out a laugh from the tall boy who stood beside Edelgard quietly the whole time. His slick jet black hair covered half his face and extreme shadows cast themselves around his visible pale green eye, creating an imposing image. His name was Hubert, Byleth was sure of that. She could distinctly remember him always towering behind Edelgard, watching over her every movement. “Looks like your first job will be to quiet down this racket. I don’t envy you.”

Edelgard shook her head, letting out a groan. “They’re not normally this rowdy. I do hope you can manage, Professor.”

Byleth sighed. She could already tell that this year would be a difficult one, both for dealing with the class and finding out how to handle Edelgard. But she would find a way, she had to. She was the only one prepared for the task, after all.

Chapter Text

It had barely been a week of teaching when the day of the mock battle came. Byleth considered herself lucky to actually know what was happening, unlike her first time around, but the week still seemed to pass all too quickly. Edelgard had caught her preparing in the training grounds, approaching her professor. “It’s finally time for the mock battle. This is my chance to measure you as an instructor. Do you think you can rise to the challenge?”

Byleth gave a small nod. “Leave it to me. I will far exceed your expectations.”

Not even the faintest hint of concern entered Byleth’s voice. She already knew how the mock battle would go, not to mention how their opponents would fight. There was nothing she needed to worry about so long as her students followed her command. A smile came across Edelgard’s lips. “So confident. This will be interesting. Each of us has undergone strict training. We’re prepared for anything that comes our way. That means there’s no need to hold back. Show us what you’re capable of.”

The two other house leaders approached, likely having overheard the conversation. Claude was first to butt in. “Hey there! Did we miss our invite to this strategy meeting? Oh, no worries--we’ll just join in now.”

Edelgard gave a small smirk, one that Byleth almost missed. “Simply tell me your weaknesses, and you’re welcome to stay. But is there enough time to cover them all?”

Claude smiled as he spoke in mock concern. “Ah, so you can’t win unless you know my weakness? Poor princess. You really should believe in yourself more.”

The princess rolled her eyes. “I spare no effort when pursuing victory As a master of schemes, I should think you would understand.”

The schemer laughed, holding a hand to his chest in mock offense. “Schemes? Me? I have no idea what you’re talking about! I plan to fight fair and square, as ever.”

Dimitri finally chose to take part in the conversation, holding a hand to his chin in thought. “Hearing the words ‘fair and square’ from Claude can only be a bad omen.”

“Your Highnesses haven’t known me for very long, but you already have me figured out, don’t you?”

Byleth let out an amused huff. “Please, it’s written all over your face. A good look at you and one can easily find exactly how you fight and all your weaknesses that come with it.”

Claude’s brow rose in slight surprise. “Oh? And what can you tell from Their Highnesses?”

The professor eyed Dimitri before speaking in her usual monotone voice. “Dimitri will fight head-on and with honor, though that would make him more likely to fall to any schemes one might have. As for Edelgard, well, I can’t just give critical information about my allies to the enemy.”

The prince crossed his arms as his eyes widened slightly. “So, you could tell that much from looking at me? Still, I will fight to win.”

Edelgard nodded. “Yes, and the same is true of us. Right professor?”

“I don’t intend to lose, if that’s what you’re asking.”

A smile grew of Dimitri’s face at the thought of a challenge. “If that is how you feel, then I will not hold back.”

Another pair walked up to the group, this time being Manuela and Hanneman. Manuela smiled at the group, directing her gaze upon Byleth. “Aw, how precious. Looks like you and the students have become fast friends.”

Hanneman nodded, keeping a neutral face. “While I am pleased that you are taking the initiative to acquaint yourself with the students, I’m afraid it’s about time for the faculty strategy meeting.”

Claude shrugged his arms. “Ah, how time flies! In that case, I’ll see you later.”

Dimitri gave a curt nod. “Edelgard. Professor. Be careful out there.”

Byleth did a few stretches as she took her place, prepared to begin the mock battle. She looked over the students she had chosen to join. She was only allowed to bring four students on the field and one of them had to be the house leader. Due to herself and Edelgard being physical fighters, she chose Hubert and Linhardt to join, as they would be vital for their abilities with magic and Linhardt’s understanding of healing. Ferdinand tagged along as well, eager to partake in the battle. Byleth knew protesting with him would be pointless, so she allowed him to join under the condition that he listened carefully to her orders. He agreed, so long as he had the chance to prove his superiority to Edelgard.

While Byleth prepared, Edelgard approached, a questioning look on her face. “Professor, you seemed to be able to read the others’ weaknesses at a glance, so I must ask if you can tell what mine are.”

The professor stared at the lord, thinking back on her battles against the emperor in that future-past. Over the past week she had managed to get a firm grasp on those battles she had with Edelgard, and with that, her greatest weakness. “Of course. It seems to me that your weakness is” me “your confidence. If you become overconfident, you leave more openings for the enemy, turning your own strength against you.” Edelgard nodded in response. “But don’t dwell on your weaknesses, it will leave you more open than if you ignore them.”

Edelgard closed her eyes in thought as she processed the information. “Yes, thank you, Professor.”

She turned to leave, taking her position in preparation for the battle. Byleth’s attention returned to the field when Jeralt shouted out that the battle was to begin. Edelgard looked over to her professor, a light in her eyes as she spoke. “Your orders, Professor?”

Despite knowing the field and her opponents well, Byleth took a moment to scan her surroundings. She pointed out the trees to their right on the field. “I need you and Hubert to enter the small forest over there. It will provide you with ample cover from Ashe’s arrows.” She then directed her hand toward the trees to the left. “Ferdinand, Linhardt, and I will take cover over there and lure Lorenz and Ignatz into a position where we’ll all easily be able to attack. Once all three are down, we can regroup and continue.”

Edelgard nodded, signalling for Hubert to follow her. Byleth ran into position, Ferdinand and Linhardt close behind, keeping themselves at the ready for her orders. Just as Byleth had predicted, Lorenz took a haughty demeanor and ignored Claude’s orders, his voice carrying across the field. “None of your shallow tactics are required, Claude. Ignatz and I will dismantle the opposition.”

Ignatz seemed unprepared to be dragged into the battle, but he still followed behind Lorenz, who ran head-first into Byleth’s trap. She had no doubt that Claude was disappointed in Lorenz’s display, but it didn’t concern Byleth so long as it worked in her favor. Lorenz attempted to land an attack that Byleth easily dodged and countered. On her command, Linhardt and Ferdinand attacked Lorenz together, forcing him to yield.

Byleth ran past the clearly disappointed Lorenz, making her way to attack Ignatz. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Edelgard lure Ashe, her and Hubert landing blows to take him down before starting to make their way back to the professor. Byleth landed a precise blow on Ignatz, yet it wasn’t enough to stop him. He took the opening to retreat and attack from a distance. He aimed his arrow at Edelgard, slightly grazing her arm and leaving a small wound that would no doubt bleed. Byleth called out for Linhardt to heal her as she commanded Ferdinand to attack Ignatz.

Ferdinand’s strike was precise, making the young archer to yield. Byleth made her way over to Edelgard stopping for a moment to check the wound. It wasn’t bad. Edelgard would easily enough be able to carry on with the battle. Byleth couldn’t argue that Edelgard was a poor fighter, she was talented, in fact. She still couldn’t bring herself to look much at the girl on the field of battle, though. Byleth fixed her eyes on Dimitri and the other Blue Lions. “You’re doing well, Edelgard.” She heard Linhardt run up, casting his healing spell. “I know you haven’t had much time for that wound to heal, but I need you to draw Dedue over so Hubert can take him down with magic.”

There was a bit of a silence, forcing Byleth to look over to Edelgard, who quirked her brow. “Oh? So we are to fight both houses at once?”

Byleth gave a quick nod. “Yes. If we can handle the Blue Lions quickly enough, then we won’t be battling both houses at once, but if we are slow, then perhaps the Golden Deer will do some damage to the Lions for us. Either way, it will work in our favor.” Byleth’s eyes wandered over to where Claude and Hilda were no doubt in hiding. “Claude likely had some scheme for us anyhow. He could’ve used that thick forest over there for an ambush, which would have put us at a severe disadvantage.”

Edelgard let out a thoughtful hum in affirmation before running slightly ahead, stopping at the mouth of the forest so as to be in Dedue’s sights. Dimitri saw her movement as an opportunity to send the Lions forward, sending Dedue directly at Edelgard. She was hit by the attack, but took it with grace as she reciprocated with an attack of her own. Hubert took the chance to land a finishing blow on the man before Dimitri and Mercedes could reach them as Ferdinand moved forward to stand between Hubert and the Lions.

Byleth switch places with Edelgard, ordering her to fall back and get proper healing from Linhardt. It would reflect poorly on her were the house leader to yield in battle. Just as Byleth planted herself to guard the princess, Dimitri came charging in, switching his focus to attack Ferdinand with Mercedes trying to weaken him with a bow attack. Byleth smirked. They left themselves open to attack, allowing Hubert to send a blast of dark magic at the prince. With a single swing of her sword, Byleth was able to force the prince to his knees.

All that was left of the Lions was Mercedes, an easy opponent as her skills lie in magic, leaving her weak against physical fighters. Ferdinand landed a blow on her, yet she still stood strong. Edelgard rushed past Byleth, landing a finishing blow on the healer, forcing her to give up the battle. Now they simply had to handle the other half of the Deer and the two professors. Byleth knew Hanneman was smart enough not to leave his advantageous position, so she knew this would be the perfect chance to handle the last of the Golden Deer. “Everyone, into the forest. We can ambush Claude from there!”

Edelgard and Ferdinand ran ahead, lying in wait as Claude led Hilda and Manuela to their position. Hubert and Linhardt were about to follow, but were stopped by Byleth. “Hubert, I can tell you’re low on magic reserves. You need to stay back and out of danger. And Linhardt, you’re a healer, I need you as far away from danger as possible.”

Hubert quirked a brow as he let out a sinister laugh. “Oh? Is that all to your plan? Or do you have some other reasoning?”

Byleth sighed. “If the two of you are out in the open, I have no doubt they would come running to attack you, missing Edelgard and Ferdinand entirely.”

Hubert seemed satisfied by the answer, standing his ground behind Byleth. As if on cue, the remaining Golden Deer and Manuela came running at the three of them, ranged weapons prepared to take down the defenseless mages. Just as they were about to attack, Byleth charged at Manuela. “Everyone! Now!”

She made two clean attacks on the songstress, giving her no chance to retaliate. She turned to find that Edelgard and Ferdinand had managed to do the same, taking Claude and Hilda down by surprise. Byleth couldn’t help but feel proud watching the two of them as they regrouped with her. “Well done, you two.”

Her praise made the nobles beam with pride. It surprised Byleth to see Edelgard smile at the praise, but some part of seeing the two so happy made Byleth want to smile. “Oh, is the girl growing on you? I thought you despised her so.”

Be quiet. A teacher can be proud of her students and still despise their actions. Besides, I need to focus on the battle.

Sothis let out a laugh that echoed into the back of Byleth’s mind. “Very well. If that is what you say.”

Byleth motioned for the students to follow, making their way to the small ruins that Hanneman occupied. “We only have one opponent left, so we should all work together to take him on. Just because he’s the last one standing doesn’t mean we should go easy on him. If you’re wounded, have Linhardt heal you. Otherwise, put all your power into attacking Professor Hanneman.”

The students all gave their own affirmations as they followed close behind Byleth. Ferdinand rushed in first, landing a solid hit on the professor. Edelgard came up close behind, landing two more blows on the professor, forcing him to yield the battle. A few moments later, Jeralt’s voice broke out across the field. “All right, that’s that! The winner of this mock battle is the Black Eagle House!”

A smile came across Edelgard’s face as she looked back upon the other students and Byleth. Pride laced into her voice as she spoke. “Even though it was just a mock battle, we defeated both houses masterfully. Take pride in this victory, everyone!”

Byleth watched as Edelgard’s gaze made its way to her, the leader’s smile growing ever so slightly upon seeing her professor. The professor sheathed her sword as she kept her eyes locked solidly on Edelgard. Perhaps your plan will work after all, Sothis. It seems it’s all too easy to please the emperor.

Byleth took a moment to idly roam about the monastery upon returning. Everyone was busy tending to themselves and their weapons after the mock battle, leaving the professor a moment to herself. Upon entering the reception hall, however, she was stopped by Edelgard, who seemed to have been waiting for her. “Excellent work today, Professor. Though our victory should come as no surprise.”

Byleth nodded in response. “It was easy.”

A smile grew on Edelgard’s face. “Yes, it was. Further proof that you’re well qualified to guide the Black Eagles.”

The other students from the class began to file in, no doubt having overheard at least part of the conversation. Petra chimed in as she approached. “That was impressing, Professor! I mean...impressive. We gained a victory because of your great leadership.”

Dorothea smiled from Petra’s side. “We certainly did. We all tried our best, of course, but we couldn’t have won without you.”

The next to dish out praise was Ferdinand. “I was curious what it would look like if you did not hold back. And you did not disappoint!”

Hubert let out an annoyed huff. “I daresay we owe our victory to Lady Edelgard.”

Despite his ever present tired expression, Linhardt raised his eyebrows. “How so? For that battle, she was only a soldier following our professor’s command. Sure, she was an incredibly powerful soldier…”

Caspar cut in, not caring about the details of the battle. “Don’t worry about it too much, Linhardt. All that matters is that we won!”

Bernadetta spoke up from where she hid behind the others. “I’m all done with being on the battlefield, OK? I’d rather stay back than pursue victory out there.”

Edelgard put a hand to her face in slight disappointment. “You are all as ridiculous as always. We only managed to win because we worked together.” At the remark, everyone looked at her, some eyes filled with confusion and others with surprise. Edelgard looked around, confusion and concern mixing in her features. “Was it something I said? Is it so odd, me talking about togetherness? If so, that perception must change. In fact, I’m canceling the festivities so we can discuss this topic further.” Just as the others were about to groan in opposition, a smile came across the princess’s face. “I’m kidding, of course. Come on, everyone! We’ve earned this celebration.”

Byleth left the festivities early, having been required to report back to Rhea. Part of her was glad to leave early. It was difficult to watch those who she saw conquer celebrate their victory in battle. Some small part of her wanted to feel proud of her students, but the feeling of guilt over who they were to become was overwhelming. Upon entering the audience chamber, she pushed the thoughts down. She had to focus on matters at hand. Rhea and Seteth stood in wait at the end of the room, Rhea’s voice ringing with praise. “Your work with the students was remarkable. I can see Jeralt trained you well. I do hope you were able to use the occasion to bond with the students.”

The professor nodded. “I did.”

Rhea’s plastered smile seemed to grow somewhat. “I am so happy to hear it. Nothing would please me more than if you used this coming year to grow closer still.”

Seteth then spoke, his face still as distrusting of Byleth as ever. “Of course, the mock battle was mere practice. The real fight is the Battle of the Eagle and Lion, which will take place during the Wyvern Moon. You are expected to properly train your students so as not to humiliate the academy during the long-held tradition that is the coming battle.”

“Of course. I will be sure my students do not disappoint.”

Wishing to focus on more current matters, Rhea took back control of the conversation. “As for today, I have called you here to tell you of your mission for the month ahead. You class is to dispose of some bandits causing trouble nearby.”

Faking a look of slight confusion, Byleth responded. “Why would the church send us to handle bandits?”

Seteth crossed his arms in disapproval, his brows furrowing slightly in frustration. “Those affiliated with Garreg Mach Monastery have a moral obligation to help those in need, regardless of social standing. Students are no exception. Each month, before the newly birthed moon departs, each house of students must complete their assigned mission. You shall work to complete the task at hand alongside your students and report back to the archbishop before the deadline. Understood?”

Byleth simply nodded in response. Seteth uncrossed his arms, yet annoyance still laced itself into his features. “I will soon provide you with the necessary details for your first mission. If I told you now, I expect you would only forget, and I despise repeating myself.”

Just as Byleth was prepared to bow and leave, Rhea spoke. “I can sense something special within your heart. I have high hopes for you.”

Within my…

Within my heart.

My heart.

My unbeating heart.

It’s still...because of…

Because of her.

Rage seemed to burn like an inferno in Byleth’s chest as she watched Rhea and Seteth leave. She was the reason Byleth was stuck like this. She was sure of it. The memories poured through her, memories of Rhea admitting what she had done to Byleth as a baby of all things. The memories stoked the flames of rage, but there was nothing she could do. She couldn’t so much as touch the archbishop. Nor could she fight the...thing that Rhea truly was.

“I’m afraid there is nothing I can do about the stone embedded in your heart.”

Byleth sighed. Perhaps not, but I wish Rhea would remove the stone. I wish she would stop treating me as you.

“The prospect is unlikely to happen. You know as well as I that Seiros wishes for my return. From what she told you, it seems you are the only successful result. She no doubt wishes to see this through to the end. No matter the cost it means you must pay.”

Byleth closed her eyes, entering the space of her mind, allowing her to look up at the goddess upon her throne. “And how does that make you feel, knowing you must replace me?”

Sothis scoffed as she leaned forward in her throne. “Why is it that I’ve turned back the hands of the clock so many a time? Truly, at times you are worse than a child! You ought to know I wish to remove that stone from your heart as well, yet I wish to do so without bringing harm to you.” The goddess sighed as she leaned back in her throne. “It matters not. For now, we must focus on the girl.”

Byleth sighed as she opened her eyes, turning to leave the chamber. Of course. We can stop the war and then focus on our Crest.

Chapter Text

As the new month began, its mission was to come as well. Edelgard stood by Byleth’s side within Rhea’s office, both having been requested to come hear the month’s mission. Seteth stood before the large desk in the room, his arms crossed as he frowned at the two. He had been explaining that the students were to be sent out to subdue bandits, giving the proper details on what was expected of them. “Our students have been learning about combat through study, but this is a precious opportunity to provide them with practical experience. The knights will support your mission and are prepared to offer their assistance if necessary. In short, this is no mock battle. You must be prepared for anything. You will receive a message from the knights when it is time to depart. Until then, use your time wisely.”

Upon finishing, Seteth left the two, no doubt despising spending his time near Byleth. Once she was sure he was gone, Edelgard turned to face her professor, a light within her eyes. “The last time we fought bandits, you saved me. Maybe I can return the favor this time.”

Byleth hummed in response. “Perhaps, but we should all do our best.”

“The knights are well aware of our enemy’s strength. We can count on them to keep the battlefield under control for us. It seems unlikely that we would lose.”

“Don’t be too confident.” Byleth frowned slightly. “Such confidence could lead to you or your fellow classmates getting harmed. Perhaps even killed.”

Edelgard averted her eyes. “Yes, of course, Professor.”

The professor crossed her arms as her face softened back to a more neutral position. “Good. You should always consider your safety with each action you take in battle. I won’t be asking you to worry about your classmates nearly so much as yourself in the coming mission.”

The lord let out an amused laugh. “Please, do I look green to you?”

Byleth shook her head. “No, of course not. I’ve seen you in battle before, but I still don’t know your full abilities. I’m more than capable of watching after everyone in the coming mission, so I want everyone to focus on keeping themselves alive, that way I can have a proper idea of everyone’s abilities.”

With a slight edge in her voice, Edelgard spoke. “As a house leader, I must be more than capable of watching after my comrades.”

“And as a professor, I need to make sure all of you will remain unharmed.” Byleth responded with equal edge in her voice. “That includes finding your exact strengths and weaknesses so I can make proper use of your abilities and command in further missions.”

Edelgard’s mouth was pulled into a thin line as she stared at the professor, trying to find a proper response. The moment seemed to draw out until her voice broke it. “Very well, Professor. I will be certain not to disappoint.”

The lord suddenly turned and left, leaving the blue-haired woman alone with her thoughts. “What were you thinking speaking to her like that?!”

Ah, and Sothis. What? I’m simply stating my duty.

A drawn out groan echoed in the chambers of Byleth’s mind. “And yet you did so in the most condescending manner you could imagine. Are you so insistent upon building walls where we are trying to break them? You will never be able to guide the girl away from war if you continue down this path!”

The professor pinched the bridge of her nose as she let out an annoyed sigh. Fine. But first, I need to actually learn more about Edelgard so that maybe I can talk to her. Until then, I would appreciate less scolding and more helping. It is your idea, after all.

“So many nobles of the Empire are utterly useless.”

Edelgard’s voice echoed out of the dining hall, reaching Byleth’s ears. How strange, to hear her complaining about nobles. Doing her best to be discreet, Byleth peeked into the room through one of the windows to see the princess speaking to Dorothea.

“When I am emperor, I intend to appoint only those who can actually be useful. It doesn’t matter if they’re of noble or common birth.”

She wishes to...make us equal? But why start a war?

Dorothea’s eyes seemed to sparkle in interest as her voice lowered into one of admiration and thought. “Noble or common, eh? Can you really do that? I mean, not that I don’t agree. I’d make all those nobles vanish if I could.”

Edelgard’s voice filled with confidence. “It’s not a question of can or cannot. All that matters is doing it and doing it right. The nobility system has only been around for twelve-hundred years. The concept didn’t exist before that.”

“‘Only’ twelve-hundred years, huh?” Dorothea let out an amused huff. “You always say such preposterous and extraordinary things, Edie. Yet somehow, you actually make it work for you. It’s like you’re a character from an opera.”

The princess’s brow quirked. “A character from an opera. If an opera is made about my life someday, I wonder how I’ll be portrayed. The revolutionary who guided the Empire to a new dawn...or the foolish ruler who took her revolution too far.”

Dorothea seemed to miss the underlying meaning behind Edelgard’s words. “Well, that all sounds pretty violent. But either way, it would make an incredible opera.” Her face lit up with a smile as she thought further about the idea. “Do you figure it’d be a grand action piece full of combat and strife? Or would you prefer a somber political drama?”

The songstress began to sing about Edelgard, her loud and beautiful voice carrying far. Edelgard’s face became noticeably red at the gesture, pointing her eyes away from Dorothea and her posture shrinking somewhat, as though she wished to vanish. Byleth narrowed her eyes at the sight. How could they be the ones who would bring about such a bloody war? They were so...happy and kind. Innocent-seeming souls. Byleth clenched one of her hands into a fist. That’s all. They only seem innocent. Everything must be a ruse. But then...why would they speak like this when they’re all alone?

Byleth’s head began to swim, forcing her to walk away to a more secluded area. She came upon the gazebo, where she leaned against one of the pillars, closing her eyes as she retreated into her mind. There was a crushing pain in her chest, a sensation she couldn’t remember the last time she felt. “Sothis, what the hell is going on?”

The goddess rolled her eyes as she leaned against the arm of her throne. “So, you can feel emotions other than anger, now can you?” She sighed. “You really are quite the troublesome child. Though I suppose I am partially to blame for that.”

Byleth clenched her fists as she stared up at Sothis, pulling her features into a deep frown. “This was a mistake. I don’t…” Her voice lowered to a whisper, but it didn’t matter, Sothis would hear all her thoughts. “I don’t want a face to connect to them. To the ones I fought and killed to protect the world. I don’t want a kind and happy personality taken from this world. We should have just let her die, ended this before it started.”

Sothis sat up in the throne as she looked down upon the professor, her voice rising, cracking with emotion. “And live in blissful ignorance?! It seems you are less than a child! You must wake up to the world! I doubt there is a single human who wishes for the war to happen.”

“THEN WHY THE HELL DID IT HAPPEN?!” There was a long silence as Byleth lowered her gaze to the ground. Drops of water dampened the stone floor as the dark room blurred. She wanted to fall on her knees and curl in on herself. But here she stood in front of the goddess, shaking. The world seemed frozen for an eternity until she finally broke the silence with a quiet voice. “Sothis, why would she start the war? If she simply wants to destroy the nobility system, then she can do so within her borders. So why?” She raised her tearful gaze back to the goddess. “Why would she do this?”

Sothis let out a long sigh as her features softened into concern. Her voice lowered into that of a mother soothing her child. “Sadly, I have no answers for you. The girl is the one who holds the answers you seek.”

A wry laugh came from Byleth’s lips. “You’re cruel, Sothis.”


The voice brought Byleth out of her thoughts. She was still leaning against a pillar, her face turned up toward the sky. Lowering her gaze, she found herself face-to-face with Edelgard. She must have found the professor while leaving the dining hall. “Professor, are you…”

The unfinished question hung in the air as Byleth wiped away the tears from her eyes, wearing her usual mask of indifference. “It’s nothing. I’m fine.”

“Are you cert--”

“I’m fine.”

Byleth stared down at the princess. Those lilac eyes filled with concern. Why did she care so much for Byleth? What did the professor ever do for her that would make Edelgard cling to her so? Byleth let out a stuttered sigh. “I just need some time alone, if you’ll excuse me.”

A protest seemed to form on Edelgard’s lips, but quickly dissipated as Byleth gently brushed past her. The professor couldn’t find the energy in her to be angry. She needed time to think. To be alone. She could get answers later.

It was about a week later when Byleth took the students out for a practice battle. The church provided some soldiers to assist Byleth, acting as a group for the students to spar against. The professor stood on the sidelines, watching the students fight and work to hone their skills.

“Professor, a question.”

Byleth turned her attention to Edelgard, who approached her side. The professor narrowed her eyes slightly. She had told the princess to practice her swordsmanship, not start idle chatter. “If you’re going to ask why you aren’t partaking in the practice battle, I’ve already stated that you’re far ahead of the others. I want everyone on a more equal footing.”

Edelgard shook her head. “No, nothing of the sort. I wished to speak with you about another matter.” Her lilac eyes darted off to the side, staring off at the other students before returning to her professor. “I wanted to know why it was I found you crying.”

Ah. Of course. Byleth returned her gaze to the students, all doing their best to prove their mettle with weapons. What could she possibly tell Edelgard? She pulled her lips into a thin line, a half truth on the tip of her tongue. “It was because of them.”

“I’m not sure I follow, Professor.”

Byleth let out a sigh. “I know many of the students have never been in a true battle before. I…” Her voice trailed off as her hands trembled. She could remember images of those students--or rather soldiers--their bodies limp at her feet. Their blood staining her sword and hands, never to be washed away. She felt as though the deep crimson stains remained, even now as they drew breath. “I don’t wish the pain of battle upon them. The pain of having to take another’s life. Of losing an ally or friend. It haunts you for the rest of your life.”

“Oh. I see.”

Those were the only words to leave Edelgard’s mouth before a long silence ensued. Byleth almost assumed the lord left to continue her sword practice before the silence was broken once again. “Certainly they all knew what they were signing themselves up for when choosing to join the academy. They must mentally prepare themselves for the task at hand.”

“No one can ever be prepared for their first kill.” Byleth finally turned her gaze back to Edelgard, keeping a perfectly stoic face. “Even you must not have been prepared. I can imagine your first blood still haunts you.”

The princess opened and closed her mouth, trying to find a response, her eyes filled with pain. “I…”

The professor shook her head. “Apologies, I didn’t mean to bring up unwanted memories. But perhaps you can take this as a lesson. A lesson of the fragility of life. No one enjoys the pains of battle. You should always take into account how your actions will affect your allies and enemies, and whether or not you could attain your goal with other means.”

Edelgard kept her gaze locked on the professor, but Byleth could see cracks in her composure. The princess’s eyes wished to dart away, look at anything other than Byleth, but they couldn’t. Not unless Edelgard wished to give something away. “Of course. I will be certain not to forget, Professor.”

As the lord turned to leave and continue her practice, Byleth had one last thing to tell. “Don’t ever forget the lives you’ve taken. Not because you’re a leader or a soldier, but because you’re human.” Edelgard turned her head back to the professor, raising her brow in a questioning manner. “A beast forgets those they kill, only worried over survival. A human cares for all lives, even the ones they take. The pain you feel over any death is what makes you human.”

Edelgard merely nodded before heading back to her practice. Byleth returned her gaze to the other students, who were quickly wearing down the soldiers, bringing their practice battle to an end. She could only hope that Edelgard would take her words to heart. If her desires were only to tear down the nobility, then the war could be avoided if she were properly guided. Seeing the smiles on her students’ faces only made her wish even more for Edelgard to listen and avoid conflict. There had to be something more than just the class system that Edelgard hated, though, and Byleth had to find out what.

Chapter Text

At the foot of the entrance hall, the Black Eagles gathered at Edelgard’s request, the princess standing at the center of the group. Byleth descended the stairs, the students facing her as she was the last to join. Once the professor was close enough, Edelgard began. “Perfect timing, Professor. I just received word from the knights. They’ve located the bandits.”

Hubert spoke up, providing further details on the matter. “It seems they have them cornered. They are in Zanado, the Red Canyon.”

An excited shout from Caspar echoed across the room. “I can’t wait to get started! I’ll strike those heinous thieves before they know what hit them!”

Ferdinand spoke in his ever noble voice. “Charge ahead if you must, Caspar. Just to not put the rest of us in danger.”

Letting out stuttered breaths, Bernadetta shrunk behind the others. “I’m going back. I won’t be of any help anyway, and I don’t want to get hurt.”

A reassuring smile grew on Dorothea’s face as she placed a hand on Bernadetta’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, Bern. It’s just some bandits. We’ll have no trouble at all.”

Linhardt let out an unconvinced hum, his eyelids half closed, though whether due to disappointment or tiredness, Byleth couldn’t tell. “Don’t get ahead of yourselves. Unfounded optimism isn’t a great strategy. Let’s just get this over with.”

“There is nothing to get over.” Petra stated. “We will work with each other to achieve our mission.”

Byleth quirked a brow at the students. It was easy to see how few of them encountered real combat from the light in their eyes and the optimism they shared. Part of her believed them to be monsters that worked with Edelgard, but to see them like this, children who have yet to face their first blood? Perhaps she had been wrong. Perhaps these were children brought into a war by consequence, merely due to where they were when it began. Byleth let out a sigh. She could worry about these thoughts later. “Many of you seem excited to get out there.”

The students all gave their own affirmations before Edelgard quieted them. “It’s time, Professor. Give us our orders, and let’s move out.”

“Very well. Everyone. Prepare your weapons. We’re heading to the Red Canyon to eliminate the bandits.” Before the students had a chance to leave, Byleth added, “And when we approach the canyon, be sure to listen to everything I say. This will be real combat. Failing to heed my orders will result in serious harm.”

The looks of some of the students became slightly more grim, knowing what the professor truly meant, but all nodded in acknowledgement before heading off to prepare. Once alone, Byleth let out a long sigh. She wasn’t ready to see children lose their innocence in battle once again.

The class was close to reaching their destination, Byleth taking the lead with Edelgard close behind. The group remained close together on the professor’s orders, stating she didn’t wish for anyone to fall out of the pack. As they came closer to the Red Canyon, Byleth slowed, dread filling her very being. Every time she had been here in the past, she felt some sense of familiarity, but now she knew. She knew the atrocities Nemesis commit here, the reason Zanado became known as the Red Canyon. Byleth didn’t realize she stopped in her tracks until the students fanned out in front of her, positioned for battle and awaiting her orders.

Edelgard’s voice drew the professor out of her thoughts, bringing her to focus on the task at hand. “Let’s end this quickly. The thieves must have been driven back. Be careful, or the cornered mice might bite us.” She turned her attention from her fellow students towards Byleth. “Professor, I hear there’s a back road to the west. Why don’t we split up and attack from both the west and the front?” There was a slight pause, a small hesitation that Byleth noticed before the princess continued with her usual confidence. “If we advance tactfully, we can attack our enemy from both sides. I leave the rest to you.”

The professor knew she had to try being at least somewhat kinder to Edelgard if she wished for Sothis to cease bothering her and she knew that the strategy the lord suggested was sound. She gave Edelgard a serious nod. “That would work well, but first we must cross the bridge. I must say, you seem to have learned well so far, Edelgard.” The lord gave a small smile as the professor continued. “I’ll need you, Petra, Caspar, and Ferdinand to make a defensive line at the foot of the bridge.” Byleth suddenly turned her attention to the other students. “Everyone else must stay behind the defensive line and prepare to assist in finishing off any bandits who come close.” She honed her attention in on the shy archer. “And Bernadetta, I need you to shoot an arrow at those bandits on the other side of the bridge. You don’t need to hit them. This is just a warning shot to get their attention, that way they run directly into our defensive position.”

Bernadetta let out stuttered sqeaks, no doubt scared of the ensuing battle. Byleth gently approached the girl, placing a careful hand on Bernadetta’s shoulder as she attempted to speak in a soothing voice. “It’s okay. I’ll make sure no one hurts you. I just need you to take a deep breath and trust me.”

The archer nodded as she steadied her breathing, taking a few deep breaths before notching an arrow and anchoring her feet, going through proper form, just as practiced. She was slow to draw, but she released the arrow, letting it fly towards the bandits. It never hit it’s mark, but it came rather close, nearly grazing one of the bandits that stood guard. Byleth gave the girl a small smile. “That was wonderful, Bernadetta. Your form was good, but remember you need to be fast on the draw in battle.”

Bernadetta let out a small peep, nodding as she mumbled a “thank you.” The professor returned her full attention to the bridge, watching as the bandits rushed forward, no doubt ready to kill those who threatened their lives. “Those of you in the front need to be ready to defend yourselves! Hubert, Dorothea, prepare some magic to take care of the bandits. And Linhardt, I need you to be prepared to heal anyone who gets injured.”

The first bandit to reach their defenses made to attack Petra, though she quickly dodged his attack before swiftly finishing him. Her hand shook slightly as the man fell, her face pulled into serious concentration. There was no sign of pain in her eyes, though. Instead, there was a fire, as though she were a hunter after prey. She seemed to whisper something to herself, her sword hand steadying itself as she did so.

The other bandit charged towards Ferdinand, landing a solid hit on the boy, but not before Ferdinand could impale his side. The bandit was stubborn, though, remaining on his feet as he tried to heft his axe once more. Before he could do anymore damage, Dorothea discharged a spell at the bandit, frying him. The girl lowered her hand as she took in what she had done. From a first glance, it would seem she was fine, but there was a tenseness in her shoulders that showed the pain she felt in killing. Byleth swore she could hear Dorothea whisper to herself about whether or not this violence was part of the church’s teachings.

Linhardt was quick on coming to Ferdinand’s aid, casting a healing spell to close up his wounds. Despite not having fought himself, it was apparent to Byleth that it was already getting to the healer. His face was pale as he seemed ready to wretch at the sight of blood. The professor felt sorry for the boy being on the battlefield. The best she could do for him was relegate him only to healing, but even then, he couldn’t stand blood, the thing he would be forced to see much of as he healed others.

Byleth let out a sigh. She couldn’t protect these students from seeing bloodshed. The most she could do now was to protect their lives. She looked forward as she shouted out further orders. “I need the defensive line to begin a march across the bridge. Keep it tight so no bandits can pass you. Everyone else must follow close behind. I have no doubt the rest of them have seen us and heard the beginnings of battle. They’ll no doubt be rushing to kill us.”

The students slowly made their way across the bridge, staying on a careful defensive. The shouts of more bandits could be heard as they fast approached. One reached Caspar, but the boy put up a solid fight. He hesitated though when bringing down his axe. The weapon cleaved through the bandit, leaving a gaping hole in the now limp body as blood pooled at the blue-haired boy’s feet. His legs shook as he let out a loud shout. A battle cry. But Byleth could see through it. He was just a boy trying to ignore the pain by focusing on the adrenaline.

Bernadetta fired a shot at another of the approaching bandits, the arrow lodging itself directly in the man’s throat, causing him to gasp for air as he fell. Her pain was the most obvious as her whole body began to shake. She began stepping back, away from the carnage she caused, screaming about wishing to leave, wishing to be home instead of on the battlefield. Dorothea was quick to run up to the girl and attempt to soothe her.

Ferdinand ran forward at an archer, too fast for the enemy to shoot an arrow as the noble charged forward with his lance. The weapon impaled the archer through his chest, the man spitting blood all over the noble as life drained from his eyes. Ferdinand struggled to pull the lance back out of the corpse, the weapon fumbling in his grasp. He tried his best to put on a grand mask of nobility, stating ruffians would be no match for a noble like him. Byleth could only assume those words were meant to lessen the pain of other students, perhaps Ferdinand wishing to shoulder their burdens.

Upon reaching the other side of the bridge, the student’s fanned out slightly, yet kept the same defensive position as they awaited further orders from Byleth. More bandits were fast approaching, this time Edelgard and Hubert worked to intercept their attacks and finish them off. The princess was precise with her blows, cutting a bandit down, their blood staining her. Hubert’s magic finished off another, preventing them from ever reaching the students. Byleth could see no sign of regret or fear in the two students as they killed, yet she was caught off guard when they turned to look at her, awaiting orders.

As expected, Hubert showed no signs of regret, no doubt having little care for the lives of others. Even if he did care, he was likely well-practiced in hiding his emotions. But Edelgard was different. Blood was smeared on her face and hands, the stains making her look like a longtime killer, one who has stopped caring about cleaning themselves of their work. Despite her composure though, her eyes betrayed her. There was a pain in them that dulled out their light. She too was just a child who was forced to kill. The only difference was that she’s had to do so for longer. Her composure was no doubt practiced to be that of a leader who showed no weakness. But she could never hide the truth within her eyes.

Byleth couldn’t help but stare for a moment. Edelgard was more human than she thought. The professor cursed herself internally for pushing the girl away. She had to realize Edelgard was still just a child, even if she was the one who would begin the war. Byleth shoved the thoughts down as she took in the battlefield. The road to the west was much smaller than the main one, which meant it would need a smaller group. Byleth sighed as her eyes scanned the students. She had to keep a watch on the less adjusted students to keep them calm. “Edelgard!” The lord looked at the professor with slight surprise. “I need you to lead Petra and Hubert across the western path. The rest of us will continue forward with our advance. Take advantage of your small group to quickly get in place for a pincer attack.”

Edelgard let out a nod as she began to give orders to the two, leading them away from the main group towards the back road. Byleth returned her focus forward, noticing more bandits on the move. She was quick to charge and take some down, wishing to minimize the bloodshed the students had to suffer by their own hands. They’re just children. Why would the church do this to them? And why was I so blind to these children before? They’re not killers, they’re students.

Ferdinand and Caspar continued the defensive line forward and Dorothea and Bernadetta kept up support from the back, dealing with bandits who got too close. Despite her panicking, Bernadetta was still standing strong thanks to Dorothea’s watchful eye and kind hand. Linhardt lagged behind the group, his face becoming paler and more contorted. He was handling battle poorly and needed out quickly. “Linhardt, you can stay behind if this is too difficult for you.”

The boy shook his head. “No, I’m the only healer you have. Don’t endanger yourselves for my sake.”

Byleth opened her mouth to protest, but promptly shut it, giving him a nod. “Very well. But if it becomes too much to handle, know that I will not fault you.”

The professor then gave out a command for everyone to move forward before looking back to see Edelgard’s group progressing smoothly along the western cliffside. There were only a handful of bandits left, but the students could still use any advantage they could get. As the students moved forward, Byleth took notice of the bandit leader within the ruins just beyond. “We need to eliminate their leader, then they’ll be sent into a state of disarray, securing us an easy victory. The knights will no doubt handle any stragglers at that point. But don’t let your guard down! We must kill any bandits who threaten us, or else we’ll be the ones to fall instead of them.”

The students each gave their own affirmations as they moved forward, keeping in formation. The few bandits left with the courage to fight made their move. Caspar and Bernadetta were quick to take them out as the other students moved forward, focused on the bandit leader. Edelgard’s group began to approach, taking the remaining bandits out from behind, using the element of surprise to their advantage.

Together, they all rushed the leader, attacking as a group. While the Eagles weren’t the most practiced yet, they still were effective, felling the bandit leader as one. The man fell to the ground, blood pooling as his final breath escaped his lips. Edelgard and Byleth stood over the body, taking notice that the bandit was none other than the very same one they fought back in Remire. Edelgard looked up to her professor, a small smile gracing her lips. “Thank you for leading us, Professor. Though I suppose there was no way we could lose to a familiar foe.”

Byleth scanned the area around them. All the bandits in sight were dead and the students were demoralized. The professor shook her head as she looked back to Edelgard. “You had your own part in this victory. Your strategies were sound and you led your group well.” The lord’s smile seemed to grow slightly at the praise, but there were more serious matters at the moment. “Whatever the case, right now we should be worried about the rest of the Eagles. I could see it as they fought and I see it even now: they’re taking this hard.”

The professor was prepared to mention that she noticed the same in Edelgard, but kept her mouth shut. She didn’t wish to anger Sothis and worried over how the lord would react. Instead, she turned to the students, all of whom had gathered, differing expressions on each of their faces. Some scared, others horrified, and few who kept calm. Byleth took in a deep breath as she looked upon them. “I know that this battle has been difficult for many of you, but this is the reality of fighting. You must kill to survive on the battlefield and it never gets easier.” Byleth brought her hands up, staring at them. In her eyes they were painted dark crimson as the world around her was covered in blood and littered with the bodies of students and soldiers alike. She choked on her words as she continued. “I will never forget the lives I’ve taken, and so with today’s battle, I want all of you to know this: I will not fault you for leaving. Whether it is leaving the academy or failing to show up to classes for some time. I understand you’re all in pain and I will give you the time and space you need. Just know that this is what I am teaching you. All of my lessons are to teach you how to take life.”

Many of the students’ faces fell upon the news, but they had to know, had to realize. This is what they were being taught and they needed a chance to escape it. Byleth couldn’t do anything to ease the pain, but she could show them her own limited humanity. Her gaze fell to the ground as her shoulders slumped, her voice defeated. “I’m sorry that I cannot do more for any of you.”

Wishing to give the students some space before heading back to the monastery, Byleth wandered off, observing the Red Canyon. She let out a sigh as her thoughts finally roamed free. I remember this being a peaceful place…

“And yet that bandit destroyed the peace with his massacre.” Sothis’s voice paused, a pained silence within Byleth’s mind. “Using my remains to kill my own children. I cannot recall, but what Seiros told you feels true, as though the memory exists somewhere, lost within the fog.”

Byleth’s eyes scanned the ruins, an uneasy feeling filling her gut. What Nemesis did was wrong, but Rhea is just as bad. Her lust for revenge and desire to destroy those who do not believe in you as a goddess have gone too far. Not to mention...

Her fist clenched as she thought about her lack of a heart. She wished for nothing more than to end the pain Rhea caused her, but so long as she had the Crest stone within her chest, she was not free from Sothis’s power and the repeat of time. Her thoughts came to a halt as footsteps approached. Byleth turned to find Edelgard. There was slight concern and wonderment within the lord’s eyes, but she did not speak on it. “Professor? I was wondering where you were. It’s about time we headed back to the monastery.”

Byleth nodded. “Of course. I’ll be with you all in a moment.”

She returned her attention back to the ruins for another moment before beginning her walk back. Byleth felt a need to right the wrongs of the world, but what was right and what was wrong? Was there truly even such a thing as right or wrong? Or was everything in a shaky space in between?

Upon returning to the monastery, Edelgard pulled Byleth aside, watching as the other students left to take care of themselves, still shaken from the battle. Once all of them had passed, Edelgard turned her attention fully to the professor. “On our way out, I had the chance to observe the Red Canyon. Did you notice anything, Professor?”

Byleth nodded her head in response. She was unsure what Edelgard had noticed, but it was likely something the professor had noted already. “Yes, I did.”

“Of course. I expected as much.” She gave a slight smile, no doubt pleased with the professor’s sharp eye. “The area was covered in ruins, each more curious than the last. They did not match the architectural style of any era or culture within the Empire. Or across all of Fódlan, for that matter. That can only mean one thing. The valley’s civilization must have flourished and fallen in the distant past, long before the Empire was established. Who do you think lived there?”

The question caused Byleth a slight pain. She knew the answer, and despite not having clear memories of what happened, the pain still existed. “They were likely a culture that has long since perished.”

The lord let out a small laugh as she smiled. “It’s possible they weren’t even human.” She then let out a thoughtful hum. “Perhaps their remnants still influence this world.”

Edelgard’s words struck a chord in Byleth. She knew much, but how much the lord kept secret. Just what did the girl know and what was she trying to get at? Byleth opened her mouth to question the girl, but a knight approached, ending the conversation as they urged the professor to report to Rhea. As she left, Byleth looked back at the princess. The girl only raised more questions than answers as she revealed more of herself.

Byleth had to quell her thoughts as she entered the audience chamber to find Rhea waiting for her, standing as serenely as ever. The archbishop watched as Byleth approached, her song-like voice beginning to echo across the room. “So, you have safely disposed of those bandits. I pray that their souls find salvation. But why did they target the students to begin with? We must further investigate the true cause of all that took place. Until we know more, I ask that you support the students and relieve them of any unnecessary worry.”

Anger burned within her soul, but Byleth would not show it. Rhea was the one who sent those children out to kill the bandits in the first place and only now does she consider the consequences it might have on the students? Byleth wished she could protect them from Rhea, but she did not have the power to do so. Not as things were. “I will do all that I can.”

Rhea’s plastered smile widened slightly. “Good. I have high expectations for you. By the way, how was your time in Zanado? Legend has it, in ancient times, a goddess alighted upon this world in that very canyon. For a goddess from the heavens, Zanado could only have been a temporary haven.”

Byleth tuned out Rhea’s talk of the goddess. She had heard it before, but knew it to be littered with half truths. She could believe that Sothis existed, due to her being a part of the former mercenary. But she did not believe her to be a goddess for humanity. She was merely a being, one that was worshipped and then felled by humans. Rhea’s words came to a stop as Seteth entered the chamber, bringing a message. “Lady Rhea, I am sorry to interrupt. There is something I must ask about in regard to those bandits.”

Rhea gave a slight nod to Seteth. “As you wish.” She then turned her attention back to Byleth. “We shall continue our discussion when next we meet.”

Byleth was ushered out of the room, doors shut behind her. She supposed this was as good a time as any to clean up after the previous battle or perhaps to get in more practice. The students would need their space and Byleth wanted them to talk to her of their own volition. She let out a sigh as she walked the halls of the monastery. There was no joy in experiencing this a third time. She had seen all of the students in this monastery put through the pain of killing and she wished for it to stop. But it would not. It was inevitable. Fate as Sothis would put it. The only thing that changed was who Byleth watched suffer in the field of battle.

Chapter Text

As the new month began, Byleth entered the audience chamber, having been summoned by Rhea to hear of the details for the moon. The woman and her aide created stark shadows against the light of the stained glass, their rigid figures in wait of the blue-haired woman. “Professor, I have a new mission for your students.”

Rhea’s voice always spoke in that same tone and her face always that same fake smile. Byleth could only wonder whether the woman was even capable of any other tone. The thoughts were brushed away as Seteth then drew her attention. “We have received reports that Lord Lonato has rallied troops against the Holy Church of Seiros.”

Lord Lonato. Ashe’s adoptive father. He was hard to forget after having to bear witness to Ashe’s grief over him. The poor boy didn’t deserve to experience that pain, and yet it was a constant. Nothing would stop it from happening. “Why would he do that?”

“Lord Lonato is a minor lord of the Kingdom.” Rhea’s voice was so devoid of emotion, distant from the pains of humanity. “He has been showing hostility toward the church for some time now.”

“A vanguard unit from the Knights of Seiros is already on its way to his stronghold, Castle Gaspard.” Seteth’s tone was as serious as ever. It seemed all he ever cared about was the church, Rhea, and Flayn. “Lord Lonato’s army is nothing compared to the knights. It is quite possible the rebellion has already been suppressed.”

“Even so, I would like for your class to travel with the knights’ rear guard to deal with the aftermath.”

Seteth uncrossed his arms, a slight look of concern entering his eyes, betraying his serious face. “War zones are unpredictable. We do not expect you will have to battle, but be prepared for the worst.”

The conversation was interrupted as a woman in white and red armor entered the room. She had blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail and the demeanor of a serious and loyal fighter. “Excuse me. You sent for me, Lady Rhea?”

The archbishop gave the woman a nod. Rhea gestured towards knight as she returned her gaze to Byleth. “This is Catherine. She will be leading the knights whom you will be accompanying.”

Catherine gave a wide smile. “Nice to meet you. We’ve heard a lot about you. If you need anything, just ask.”

“She is one of our bravest knights, and that is no small feat.” Rhea continued. “Only an exceptional few have what it takes to join the Knights of Seiros.” A slightly threatening edge began to enter the archbishop’s voice. “This mission should prove useful in demonstrating to the students how foolish it would be to ever turn their blades on the church.”

Instilling fear in students. It was shameful, really. Scarring children by forcing them into battle and then forcing the church’s teachings upon them, stating that going against them is treason. It was disgusting. And Byleth could do nothing about it. She had to watch as Rhea drove fear into the students, showing them that a slight towards the church would mean execution. So much for the image of a benevolent archbishop that Rhea so dearly tried to show.

The pains of the last battle never left the students. Byleth watched the first days after the mission as some students failed to show to classes and others to training. The only students who remained a constant were Edelgard and Hubert, never missing a single moment of learning. It was scary to see them act so unfazed by what happened. And yet, as she taught classes, Byleth couldn’t help but notice some small amount of pain in Edelgard’s eyes as she sat at the front of an emptier classroom.

As the days went on, though, more and more of the students began showing to classes. Some even took their time to approach and talk to Byleth, whether it was about class, wishing to find comfort after what they had done, or even just to talk. The professor had to admit that it was nice. She came to know more and more about the Eagles as the days went along, not as soldiers, but as students. Caspar was an energetic boy who wore his heart on his sleeve, desiring nothing more than to help and protect others from conflict. Ferdinand was kind and, well, noble, yet he tried too hard to impress others, wishing to prove himself better than Edelgard. Bernadetta was terrified of people, but did her best to try and speak to others, though the reason for her fear, Byleth did not know. Dorothea was a kind soul with a beautiful voice, acting as an older sister to many of her classmates, though she had a tendency to flirt with men saying it was so she never had to return to the streets, forgotten. Petra was an enthusiastic girl who did her best to improve at everything, trying to prove Brigid an equal to the Empire, though she had great difficulty with the language, often having to ask others for assistance.

And then there was Linhardt. The young scholar was brilliant and could do much when he put his mind to something, but he had a tendency to sleep. And a tendency to continue missing lectures. It was somewhat of an annoyance as Byleth or one of the students would have to provide the boy notes on what he missed. She had been heading to the library, one of his frequented locations, to do so when she caught Edelgard talking to the boy. “I’m looking for someone named Linhardt who’s been skipping lectures again.”

The boy ignored the obvious anger laced in the princess’s voice, he himself being uninterested in the conversation. “I see. Well, congratulations, you’ve found him. Did you want him for something in particular?”

“What else could bring me here other than your complete negligence?”

Linhardt brought a hand to his chin in thought. “Well, perhaps you’re interested in hearing my latest theories on the nature of Crests. I suspect the formation of Crests may be quite different than that recorded in church tradition.”

The lord shook her head as she frowned. “Before you go on, is there any discernible benefit to me allowing this babble to continue?”

“Well, of course.”

“And that would be?”

The scholar smiled. “I suspect you’ll find the topic rather entertaining.”

Edelgard’s frown dissipated into an exasperated look. “That’s it?”

Linhardt crossed his arms, tilting his head slightly. “What more do you need? Crest research is its own reward.”

The princess pinched the bridge of her nose with her hand. “You know, if you ever truly applied yourself, you could become a distinguished scholar. You could use your Crest knowledge to benefit the world or uncover new discoveries in magic theory.”

The boy pouted slightly. “Why would I busy myself with such tedious work? I perform this research for my own knowledge. I’m not interested in the world at large.”

Edelgard let out a sigh. “There’s nothing wrong with a selfish drive for knowledge but only if you put it to good use.”

It was interesting to Byleth that Edelgard would think so highly of helping others as a whole. It seemed strange coming from her mouth when what the professor had seen of her in the future was a conqueror who gave little care for the people. Did she show care to her own people during the war? Had the war been for her people? But then why did she make use of demonic beasts to fight for her? Perhaps that care was only an ideal to Edelgard, one that she could throw away or fail to reach if necessary for her goals. of her goals was to dismantle the system of nobility to help all stand on equal ground. If that is part of what she fought for, then surely she wouldn’t intentionally harm her subjects?

Byleth’s head began to swim as the thoughts continued to run circles in her mind. If only things were simpler and Edelgard could just tell her everything. But she had shot down the chance by ignoring Sothis’s continued urges to show kindness to the girl. The professor was pulled out of her thoughts when Edelgard began to storm out of the library, only stopping when she noticed Byleth in front of her. “Hello, Professor. What brings you here?”

Byleth held up the papers in her hands. “I came looking for Linhardt. I know he’s smart, but he still needs to read up on the lecture he missed.”

Edelgard scoffed. “I doubt it’s worth the effort. He chooses to research pointless topics and puts what he does find to little use.”

“Of course.” Byleth nodded. “If I’ll be honest, I had overheard part of your conversation with him. He’s currently researching the formation of the Crests, is he not?” Edegard gave an affirmation as the professor closed her eyes in thought. She thought of what she had known caused the true creation of the Crests and how they had negatively affected people. She especially thought of Lysithea’s pain of bearing two crests before the blue-haired woman selfishly thought of the pain her own Crest caused her. “Perhaps there is a good use for that research, though. If there is knowledge of what creates Crests out there, then perhaps that knowledge can be further looked into to find the reverse: knowledge of how to remove Crests entirely. I can imagine there are nobles who wish to live without their Crests.”

When Byleth opened her eyes, she noticed Edelgard’s own eyes were wide with surprise, her mouth slightly ajar. The lord was quick to compose herself, though, her gaze darting away from the professor. “Perhaps you’re right, the world could be improved with that knowledge.” There was a brief pause before the lord made to brush past Byleth, heading out the door. “I should be going now.”

Seeing the house leader rush off was odd. What was it that bothered her so? Perhaps she had an issue with the Crests due to their relation with the nobility. There had been hope in Edelgard’s eyes at the suggestion of the ability to remove Crests, so maybe she had some desire to remove them entirely from existence. It would no doubt put commoners and nobles on more equal footing. Byleth’s thoughts disappeared as she remembered the papers in her arms, her eyes landing on Linhardt. She would need to give the boy another lecture about missing classes like this.

Steam tickled Byleth’s face as she took a sip of her tea. Bergamot. It gave off a wonderful aroma that the professor could lose herself in as she drank it. Placing the teacup down, she looked at the noble who accompanied her. Edelgard sat on the other side of the table, enjoying the tea the professor had chosen. It seemed they shared a favorite blend. How interesting. Maybe I should invite her to tea more.

Byleth had no doubt that would please Sothis considering it would be a way to get closer to the princess, but the professor oddly enough didn’t seem to mind. She never would have invited the girl before, but today was Edelgard’s birthday and Byleth always went out of her way to share tea with another to celebrate their day. Edelgard would be treated no differently while she was under Byleth’s tutelage.

She had prepared everything for tea and was slightly surprised when the house leader gladly accepted her invitation. It seemed odd when she had been so hard on the girl, but she put that behind her as the two spent their time together. Part of the professor wanted to ask Edelgard her thoughts on the upcoming mission and Crests due to her strange reaction the other day, yet she never brought it up, wishing not to drive the girl away any further than she already had.

Instead, the two talked about all the little things over tea, and as the conversation went on, Byleth had to begrudgingly admit that the two of them had much in common. It seemed Edelgard was right when she said the two of them were similar. Though they had one major difference Byleth noted as she watched Edelgard reach for another small cake. The noble seemed to catch the gaze, her hand retracting slightly as a tinge of pink entered her cheeks. “Oh, is it alright if I might have another?”

Byleth let out an amused huff as she looked at her own plate. The professor had been avoiding the sweets, rather just eating the small sandwiches and biscuits she had brought. “It’s fine. You can have as much as you’d like.”

The princess quirked her brow, unconvinced. “Are you certain?”

“Of course.” Byleth reassured. “I’m not one for sweets. The flavor can be a bit...overwhelming for me.”

At that, Edelgard’s hesitation vanished, taking the cake. She took a bite and swallowed it before another question formed on her lips. “Then tell me, what food do you enjoy?”

The professor let out a thoughtful hum as she took another sip of her tea. “Well, I like spicy foods. There are so many flavors within each dish, yet I don’t find it nearly as overpowering as sugar.”

The conversation went on for some time, the pair enjoying themselves over their tea. Though it was interrupted by the church bells, informing them of the time. Byleth pushed out her chair, preparing to head out. “Sorry, but it seems I should be leaving. Before I go, though, I have one last thing for you.” As she stood, the professor pulled out a small bouquet of red flowers, handing them to Edelgard. “Happy birthday, Edelgard. I’m glad you could make it to tea.”

The lord gave a small smile as she accepted the flowers. “Thank you, Professor. This was…” She paused for a moment, as though unable to register what she was feeling. “Fun. I hope you’ll invite me again.”

Byleth gave her a nod. “I will. I look forward to next time.”

Chapter Text

The march to Gaspard territory was a long one. At the front of the rear guard stood Catherine accompanied by Byleth, Edelgard, and Hubert as they led the students and church soldiers. Hubert spent his time eyeing the sword fastened to Catherine’s hip, eventually butting into the conversation Byleth and Edelgard had been having about strategies. “No matter how powerful our enemies may be, there is no need to worry so long as we’re with Catherine, the mighty wielder of Thunderbrand.”

Byleth thought about the weapon on Catherine. While its shape would do nicely for catching another sword, it also made it difficult to sheath practically. How the woman was so quick to the draw, Byleth never knew. Not to mention the size of the sword seemed to work against how she tried to wield it. “What are you talking about?”

The others took Byleth’s question for having a different meaning, perhaps due to their belief that she knew nothing of the church and Crests. Cathrine seemed to raise a brow as she gave an amused grin. “You mean you don’t know? My weapon is called Thunderbrand. It’s one of the Heroes’ Relics. A long, long time ago, the goddess bestowed divine weapons upon ten heroes, which were passed down to their descendants.” She shrugged. “It’s an honor to wield, but I’m afraid there won’t be any chance for that today. Our mission is to help clean up the aftermath, not fight.”

Hubert turned his gaze off into the distance as he held a hand to his chin. “One must wonder why Lord Lonato would incite such a reckless rebellion.”

Catherine’s eyes began to dim. “It all goes back to the Tragedy of Duscur.”

The professor’s gaze fell upon the ground at the words. She could remember the frenzy the tragedy had sent Dimitri through. The lust for Edelgard’s blood, to remove her head and free himself from the phantoms of the past. Byleth shook her head, trying to rid herself of the memories. “I’ve heard much about it.”

A dullness entered Edelgard’s eyes, she too seemed pained. But Byleth had to wonder why when what she had heard from Dimitri suggested she was behind the tragedy. Then again, they were both young at the time and Dimitri was hardly thinking straight. Who was to say he understood the truth of the situation? When Edelgard spoke, her voice was flat, lacking emotion on the matter. “I remember that day well. No one saw it coming. Roughly four years ago, the king of Faerghus was murdered by the people of Duscur. I believe that about sums it up, correct?”

Catherine held a hand to her head, seemingly lost in the pain of the past. “To put it simply, yes. But there’s more to that story. They had accomplices within the Kingdom as well. Lord Lonato’s son, Christophe, was one of them, and so he was handed over to the church for execution.”

A small fire lit within Byleth. Why was the church like this, always killing people? Such violence seemed to go against the compassion they taught. And yet there they were, killing anyone they deemed necessary of death. She wanted some sort of answer from one of their own. “The church executes criminals?”

The knight tensed slightly, her voice becoming defensive. “Speaking from the church’s perspective, we simply passed judgment according to our doctrine in place of the Kingdom, which was in complete chaos. Whatever the truth behind that incident may be, Lord Lonato has harbored resentment toward the church ever since.” Catherine turned her gaze away from the others, mumbling slightly. “Well, to be more specific, his grudge isn’t only against the church. It’s also against the one who turned Christophe over to them.”

The surrounding fog seemed to grow thicker and thicker, to a point that seemed almost unnatural. It became difficult to see far ahead, forcing them to stop in their tracks. There was a loud shout, followed by a period of long silence. The group pulled out their weapons, prepared to fight when a shadow emerged from the fog. It was a church soldier, arrow lodged into his chest as he panted, falling onto his knees. One of his hands was held up to the wound, covered in blood. He didn’t have much time left unless a healer attended to him immediately. Through pained breaths, he spoke. “The enemy is approaching.” He coughed up some blood, trying desperately to wipe it away with his other hand. “Their numbers...are far greater...than predicted.”

His torso fell forward as he was wracked by further coughs. He breathed heavily where he lay on the ground before finally going still. Anger flickered across Catherine’s face at the sight. “It looks like our mission just changed, Professor.” She looked towards the students and soldiers with them who could just barely be seen through the fog, her voice rising to a shout. “Everyone, prepare for battle!”

The knight ran ahead, a handful of church soldiers following close behind her as she disappeared into the fog. The students remained behind, awaiting their professor’s orders. Byleth drew her blade, pointing it down the road they had been walking. “In this fog, it will be impossible to tell where the enemy might be or how many of them there are. We don’t know their plan, but we must proceed forward carefully. Stay together and do not stray, otherwise the enemies may pick you off. Take down anyone who breaks through the fog and attempts to attack the group. Our priority is to keep each other safe.”

A metallic scent drifted through the air, causing Edelgard to cringe slightly. “That’s fresh blood. It seems the battle has already started within the fog.”

Screams of pain permeated the air, though who they belonged to was unknown. Byleth stepped forward carefully, keeping her eyes open as the students followed her. She had nothing on her to help see through the fog, but perhaps one of the students was better equipped. “If anyone has a torch, we could use that to improve sight in this fog. Otherwise anyone who knows magic could use a fire spell.”

Linhardt pulled out a torch, lighting it to reveal what seemed to be a civilian in the fog. They wore basic tattered armor and their weapon was rusty. Upon being revealed in the mist, they charged at the students. Ferdinand charged to attack from his horse, but froze, lance shaking as he saw the mix of fear and anger in the militiaman’s eyes. Before they could do any damage to the boy, Byleth ran forward, cutting them down. “Ferdinand, what are you doing? You could have gotten yourself killed.”

His voice wavered, conflicted. “Professor, they are innocent citizens, fearing for their lives. It is a noble’s duty to protect them, not kill.”

Byleth sighed. “Everyone you fight will be a person with their own lives and ambitions. The only difference is what face they wear. An enemy is an enemy and you must fight them or you will fall. This includes civilians who choose to take up a blade.” Byleth turned to continue forward. “If you will not fight, then I will fight alone. I know the cost of battle and I’m prepared to live with it.”

She began to move forward, cutting down any enemies that entered her sight. If her students would not fight, then she would do so in their stead. She would endure for them, do anything to stop them from suffering the pain she has. She may have gone too far, though, as the students began to disappear in the fog behind her, leaving her to fight alone. Byleth had no doubt they could look after each other though. Some would be more willing to fight than others, Hubert especially moreso. And others would have no trouble fighting in defense, only killing those who threatened their life or that of others. The problem was that Byleth was alone, susceptible to ambush.

She heard a shout, drawing her attention to a figure running out of the fog towards her. She easily disarmed them, cutting down the militiaman. Two more charged from the fog, from differing sides. Byleth only had time to react to one, cutting one down and expecting an icy blade to pierce her back. But none came. Instead, she heard the clash of metal and a scream of pain. When she turned, she found Edelgard standing over a corpse, giving the professor a slightly annoyed look. “While I could lecture you on not running from the group, it wouldn’t seem befitting of a student to do so to her teacher.” She let out a sigh as her face turned to one of relief. “I’m glad you’re safe, though, Professor. Know that I am willing to fight by your side, no matter the foe.”

“Thanks.” Byleth noticed a thicket within the fog in the direction the enemies seemed to come from. The professor directed Edelgard’s attention towards it. “That seems like a good position for someone to attack or defend from. What do you believe are the chances the enemy commander is there?”

Edelgard hefted her axe at the ready. “It seems likely. Your instincts in battle tend to correct. For the most part.”

Byleth let out a sigh. She had the feeling Edelgard wouldn’t forget this, but at least it seemed she got her wish to repay the favor, protecting Byleth in return. The two moved forward, slowly so as not to give away their position and to prevent running head-first into danger. They entered the thicket, going further in to find a dark mage dressed far differently from the militia. Instead of tattered clothing and worn armor, their robes were well mended and a mask covered their face. The mask itself had dents that had shown the enemy was battle-worn, but it still seemed fairly well taken care of. There was no doubt they were a commander, but their clothing suggested they were from outside of Gaspard.

It didn’t matter, though. Whoever they were or wherever they came from, they were an enemy. Byleth motioned for Edelgard to move to one side as the professor moved to the other, signalling for a sneak attack from both sides if they were luckily not seen by the commander. Once they moved far enough, Byleth let out a shout, running at the dark mage. They immediately turned, prepared to send off some magic at the woman, but they were stopped by an axe lodged into their spine.

Edelgard removed her weapon from the commander, their body falling limp to the ground. The fog seemed to slowly lift, becoming thin enough for Byleth to clearly see the battlefield. She saw that the other students were slowly catching up, remaining huddled in a group as they protected one another. Confusion became apparent in some of them as they took notice of the lifting fog, while others ignored it as they continued to fight. In the other direction, Byleth spotted an ornately armored man who rode atop a horse. Lord Lonato. “There’s our target. If we take down Lonato then the militia will have no commander and no cause to fight for. We can avoid spilling blood if we get to him quickly.”

Byleth began to move forward, Edelgard following closely behind. This time they moved quickly, unhindered by their sight, though they still remained careful not to be surrounded by militia. There were only the two of them and it would be no good to get cornered without backup. The other students and Catherine were slowly catching up, but remaining in such a large group hindered their movement as an attack by one enemy would slow all of them.

Lonato took note of their fast approach, making his own move to intercept them in battle, no doubt to protect his own men. He raised his lance, charging at Edelgard, an obvious target of the two, being dressed as a noble. Byleth quickly pushed her aside, slashing at Lonato’s horse as she moved. She managed to get between the armor of its saddle, sending the horse into a panic as the lord fell off, though Byleth’s blade was torn out of her hand as the animal ran off with it still stuck. She was left defenseless as Lonato rose, anger evident in his eyes as he brandished his lance. He charged once again, this time aiming for the professor. She was quick to dodge, but she couldn’t last long without a weapon. Luckily, Edelgard jumped in, defending Byleth from another attack, breaking the man’s lance with her axe. The princess quickly followed up with another attack, beheading the lord.

The two stood still breathing heavily as their bodies shook from the exertion of the battle. Edelgard took in a deep breath as she looked at the terrified militia. “People of Gaspard! Your leader is dead. You have no reason to fight. Leave now or suffer the same fate as him.”

Many of the people dropped their weapons in fear. Running off into the woods, trying to hide themselves from battle. Others still held their weapons, anger apparent in their eyes. The few left tried to charge, to kill Edelgard for what she had done, but they never reached her. They were stopped by students who had finally caught up to the pair, defending them from those who dared continue to fight. Byleth had to watch as some of the students shook, their weapons unsteady as they witnessed the deaths of innocent people. Edelgard’s voice pulled Byleth’s attention away from the students. “Everyone seems a bit shaken by the militia fighting alongside our enemies.”

Byleth let out a small sigh. “That is the reality of battle. It is something they will have to accustom themselves to.”

“If only everyone could face reality so unflinchingly.” Edelgard gave the students a concerned look before she returned her attention to the professor and spoke matter of factly. “The commoners who allied themselves with Lord Lonato believed they were fighting for a just cause. It would be disrespectful to consider them simply victims when they died for what they believed in. Still, we have no choice but to eliminate those who cling to unreasonable ideas of justice. Even if our enemies are the gods themselves, we must never lose sight of our goal.”

When Edelgard spoke, Byleth could see the Emperor she fought in front of her. And yet the anger she usually felt was not there. There was a small part of her that still wanted to feel hatred, but she was no different from the princess. She would do anything to achieve her goal, to stop the war. That’s what she was trying now, was it not? “Agreed.”

Edelgard’s eyes widened, her mouth slightly ajar. “I’m surprised to hear you say that.” She quickly composed herself, before looking over to the dead lord. “Really, I’m just like Lonato. I, too, will be the sort of ruler who’s willing to risk the lives of my citizens in service of a higher cause. It’s not possible to change the world without sacrifice. Dying for the greater good is not a death in vain.”

So, that was what she believed. Change requires sacrifice and sacrifice includes war. Byleth wished to poke further, to find out more from Edelgard, but they were interrupted by Cathrine’s approach, a grim look on the knight’s face. “Professor. I’m afraid this incident is far more serious than anticipated.” Catherine held up a rolled-up piece of parchment, tied closed by a string. “I found this on Lord Lonato. It’s a note that mentions a plan to assassinate Lady Rhea. We can’t tell who sent it, so the source is suspect, but the content is too disturbing to ignore. We must report this to Lady Rhea right away. I hope that it’s nothing.”

The march back to the monastery had been long and quiet. The students unwilling to speak of what happened as a grim atmosphere loomed over them. Once they had reached the monastery, all of them quietly separated, each off to their own duties. Byleth didn’t wish to leave them, but was required to report to Rhea after Catherine delivered the news to her.

When Byleth entered the audience chamber, Rhea looked the same as ever while Seteth’s face was pulled down into one of concern. He did not speak, merely staring off into the distance, deep in thought. Rhea greeted Byleth, with her same sing-song voice. “I am glad to see that you have returned safely. The goddess is gracious with her divine protection. But it was not only her divine protection that shielded you, was it? You are just as skilled as I had hoped.”

Byleth thought back to her own actions in the battle. Running off from her students and almost getting herself killed, all while they were able to handle themselves. She shook her head and let out a sigh. “I still have much to learn.”

“There is no need for modesty. I heard some of the students were...” Rhea paused, as though she had yet to find the right word. “Hesitant about fighting militia. However, we must punish any sinner who may inflict harm upon believers, even if those sinners are civilians. I pray the students learned a valuable lesson about the fate that awaits all who are foolish enough to point their blades towards the heavens.”

The professor wanted to scream. She wanted to tell Rhea that to act so violently was inhumane. That some of those civilians were willing to put down their blades when they realized what they had done. And yet, she couldn’t. Instead, Seteth began to speak. “Our real concern is what Catherine reported. The secret message that was in Lord Lonato’s possession. It contained a deplorable plot to target the archbishop on the day of the Goddess’s Rite of Rebirth. The plan seems unrealistic at best, but a threat is a threat. We must maintain constant vigilance. To that end, I would like for you and your students to help with security on the day of the ritual.”

Byleth gave a simple nod. “Of course. You can count on us.”

Rhea gave a small smile. “That is most reassuring. You have my gratitude.”

“The Rite of Rebirth is of paramount importance.” Seteth continued. “It is when the Church of Seiros and its believers unite to pray for the return of the goddess. The archbishop and I will be confined to the Goddess Tower once the ritual begins. Of course, the knights will be on high alert as well, but there aren’t enough of them to keep watch on every corner of the monastery. It is far from ideal to be forced to mobilize students, but the gravity of this situation requires that we all bend to avoid breaking.”

“While there is no need to fear for my safety, we cannot turn a blind eye to those who would blaspheme so heinously.”

Byleth knew Rhea would kill those she considered heretics, but said nothing. Seteth nodded his head as he finished. “With any luck, this will all be for naught. Still, be on your guard.”

With that, they dismissed Byleth, leaving her to inform the students of their new mission. They would never have the break they desired. Byleth knew this and yet she wished that her students could have just a moment to have nothing to worry over, instead being able to enjoy their lives as the children they were. But there was nothing she could do, only hope that the war would never happen, else it would spiral the lives of all downward, ensuring they never had a moment of repose.

Chapter Text

In a corner of the Black Eagles classroom, Byleth met with a handful of her students, keeping the group to only the most discreet of the bunch. Edelgard and Hubert were there, of course, but they were also joined by Dorothea, Linhardt, and Ferdinand, all of whom knew enough about when to be quiet. Edelgard began the meeting in a hushed tone, not wishing to alert anyone nearby. “Our mission this month is to patrol and set up defenses to stop the assassination plot.”

Hubert let out one of his low laughs, a smile pulling at his lips. “I wonder if an assassination attempt is truly the goal of our enemy.”

Byleth gave a small shake of her head. “Of course not, that’s why I gathered you here. It’s a distraction. Everything seems too convenient, and the plan too foolish.”

The princess nodded in response. “Yes, I think so too. A barely concealed secret message, trying to distract us from whatever’s really going on. Sloppy, to say the least. And while everyone is out searching for a phantom assassin, they’ll be free to accomplish their true goal with ease.”

“The monastery houses many valuable weapons.” Ferdinand chimed in. “Perhaps that is their aim?”

Dorothea quirked a brow as she spoke her own thoughts. “I hear the monastery has a treasure vault too. Seems like the sort of place a foe would like some alone time in.”

Shaking his head, Linhardt let out a sigh. “Garreg Mach is immense, and not just above ground, but below as well. Perhaps their aim lies beneath the monastery.”

Hubert let out a low hum. “It seems to me that we should search the monastery for a clue as to what the enemy might be after. Of course, we must never underestimate the need for preparedness, in case a battle should ensue.”

“Everyone should split up and do their own investigations.” Byleth already knew where the enemy would attack, but failing to act the part would no doubt earn some questions from Edelgard and Hubert. And some amount of distrust. “If you find anything of note, tell myself or Edelgard so that we can find a way to move before the enemy attacks.”

Everyone let out their own affirmations before leaving the classroom. Byleth stood still, remembering how the mission had gone in the past. People from the Western Church would attack the Holy Mausoleum and break the seal on Seiros’s casket. They had been surprised by what they found within, which meant they weren’t looking for the Sword of the Creator, but something else. But why would they…? A sick thought hit Byleth as she realized the potential of looking for Seiros’s remains. If they weren’t of the Western Church, but rather ones who slithered in the dark, then they would certainly have a use for her remains. No doubt to make another sick Relic, likely for Edelgard’s own uses. Byleth shoved the thoughts away. She had work to do.

Wandering the halls of the monastery, Byleth noticed a peculiar sight. Bernadetta followed closely behind Edelgard, following the house leader’s every movement. The professor quirked a brow as she watched the shy archer stop behind Edelgard when the house leader stopped walking. The white-haired noble shook her head as a concerned look came across her face. Suddenly, she turned around, addressing her shadow. “Bernadetta, why are you following me?”

The archer gave out a squeal of surprise, shrinking under the princess’s gaze. She quickly ran off, finding the nearest object to obscure herself. Edelgard simply shook her head, confusion setting into her features. “You were following me quite conspicuously, so why attempt to hide now?”

Bernadetta slowly emerged from her cover, returning to the lord. “I…um…”

“Um?” Edelgard mimicked Bernetta’s words in a questioning manner.

The terrified noble suddenly got on her knees before Edelgard, her voice becoming a scared shout. “Please don’t hurt me!”

Edelgard’s eyes widened with concern as she attempted to speak in a soothing voice. “Calm yourself. I have no reason to harm you.”

“Forgive me! I beg you! I’ll go straight back to my room and you’ll never see me again. I swear!”

Edelgard tapped her foot, getting Bernadetta’s attention and forcing her to get up from the floor. The princess’s face pulled into a slight frown as annoyance entered her voice. “Bernadetta.”

“Yes, Lady Edelgard.”

“Please explain why you were following me, and why you tried to hide.”

Bernadetta’s voice wavered in fear. “Is Her Highness saying she will not condemn me?”

Concern returned to Edelgard’s face. “Please speak like the human that you are. I already said no harm will come to you.”

“Yes. Yes, I’m sorry.” Bernadetta took a deep breath and paused before continuing. “Um, permit me to explain. Lady Edelgard, you are fearless. I look up to you as an example to follow.”

So, that was how Edelgard was able to get so many people behind her in the war. They look up to her as some fearless leader, not a person who they could stand beside and talk to. If the people were like Bernadetta, then they would have followed Edelgard due to seeing her as a role model, a great leader who they would be willing to follow and die for, believing in her words and following them to the end. Just like with Lord Lonato. People would no doubt fight for a fearless leader, as that would suggest they would no doubt win, or make it far in the face of danger. The professor couldn’t argue the idea, as she had seen Emperor Edelgard much the same, but rather as an enemy than an ally. The pieces of the puzzle seemed to fall in place in Byleth’s mind as she watched her students converse.

Shaking her head, Edelgard let out a sigh, exasperation entering her voice. “Honestly. Look, nobody is truly fearless. Even I have things that I’m afraid of.”

Bernadetta perked up at the response. “What? You do?”

Discomfort bled into Edelgard’s features. “You seem oddly overjoyed at the thought.”

The archer squeaked as she shrunk in on herself ever so slightly. “N-no, of course not! But, um, what in the world could possibly frighten you?”

A slight blush came to Edelgard’s cheeks as she blurted out a quick response. “The sea. I find the pitch black of the open sea at night quite frightening. I can’t swim, so if the sea were to wash me away, I fear I would never return.”

So, Edelgard was more human than she would let show. It seemed odd for one to not know how to swim, but perhaps that was due to her status as Imperial princess, likely taking away from her time to learn more leisurely activities that have little standing on her abilities as Emperor. Still, it was nice to see Edelgard’s more human side. To know she feared something so made Byleth smile slightly. It made her want to learn even more about Edelgard. Not the princess, but just Edelgard.

The professor’s attention snapped away from her thoughts when Bernadetta let out a scared squeal, scampering away from Edelgard. Byleth quirked her brow, approaching the house leader. “What was that about?”

Edelgard let out a long sigh, holding a hand to her face as she shook her head. “Bernadetta seemed to take great joy in my shortcomings, and I may have reacted too strongly for her.”

“There’s little you can do about it now.” Byleth gave a sympathetic look. “Just give her some time before talking to her again.”

“Yes, well, is there anything you needed, Professor?”

“I was wondering if you’d like to talk about the month’s mission over some tea.”

Byleth sipped her tea, having shared the information she found with Edelgard. The young noble leaned back in her seat, putting a hand to her chin as she let out a thoughtful hum. “There’s a place that the church values above all others. On the day of the rite, it will be open to the public. That will make it much easier than usual to access.”

“The Holy Mausoleum, tomb of the saints.”

A smile came across Edelgard’s face at her professor’s lightning-fast instincts. “Precisely. We can’t know for certain, but it’s a distinct possibility that the Holy Mausoleum is our enemy’s target. We’ll only know if we’re right when the day is upon us.”

“I’m certain we’re correct.”

Byleth gazed at the reflection in her tea, lost in her memories of the future-past. The attack would happen on the Holy Mausoleum. She could never forget watching her students fight there. And she could never forget how inexperienced she was then, watching as Sylvain fell to the Death Knight due to one faulty order. The horror that entered all of her students’ faces as they watched a friend die. No matter how much she reversed time and rewrote the events of history, she could never forget what she experienced, the horrid sight of terrified children and students dead from her own incompetence.

“Professor, are you okay?”

Byleth’s eyes snapped up from her drink, looking at Edelgard through the steam that drifted from their cups. Obvious concern filled her lilac eyes, the noble leaning forward as though she were trying to close Byleth’s emotional distance. “Oh, sorry. I was just...” The professor took in a deep breath, before letting it out and continuing. “Lost in the past. Nothing you should concern yourself with.”

Edelgard furrowed her brows, leaning slightly closer, her torso now over the table. “Are you certain, Professor?”

“No, it’s fine, really.” Byleth shook her head slightly. “I’d rather not talk about it.” Her eyes flitted to her tea, before looking back to Edelgard. “Could we perhaps talk about something else?”

The noble opened her mouth before promptly shutting it, concern still obvious on her features. Edelgard let out a sigh, before resting her face in a more neutral expression, but her eyes would not betray what she really felt. “Of course.”

The two continued to talk over tea, but there was a slight tension that stilted their words. Instead of speaking of themselves, they moved to talk about potential strategies for tracking down and trapping the intruders on the day of the rite. The whole time, Byleth’s mind couldn’t help but wander to her past experiences every now and again. When it became apparent that her demons would not stop haunting her, the professor stood up from the table, ending their conversation early. “I’m sorry, but I must be going. I have something I need to attend to.”

Edelgard looked up at the professor once again with those concerned lilac eyes. “If there is an issue, know that you can tell me, Professor.”

“It’s fine, you likely have your own worries. I’d rather not bother you with anymore than necessary.” The noble frowned slightly, forcing an addendum to the professor’s response. “I will let you know if it becomes an issue, but I assure you that I will be fine. I’m just tired and need some rest.”

The house leader didn’t seem completely satisfied by the response, but gave in, realizing she wouldn’t get much else out of the professor. The two shared their goodbyes before Byleth quickly retreated to her room, locking the door behind her. She let out a deep sigh, falling onto her bed, smothering her face into her pillow. Slowly, she curled her arms around the pillow, followed by the rest of her body curling in on itself. The soft fabric became wet with tears as it muffled light sobs that came from Byleth’s mouth. She squeezed her eyes shut, wishing to escape the pain, only to be greeted by the image of student’s corpses littering the ground around her. Some killed by her enemies, dead due to her failure to protect them, and other dead by her own hand, due to loyalty to their land and friends.

She remained there, stuck in the past, until the church bells rang out, reminding her that dinner was to come soon. Byleth wiped away at the tear stains on her face, her eyes dry. She had to look presentable--at least by her standards--to the students, otherwise they would pester her without end. She let out a sigh. At least they still have some of their high spirits for now.

Chapter Text

The day of the rite began, Byleth well aware of the sinister forces that were to come. She and her students remained in the shadows, watching the entrance to the Holy Mausoleum from afar. Some of the students doubted the professor’s intel and instincts, lazing around in their hiding spot, but Byleth paid them no mind. She knew what would happen. When the rite began and security was at its lowest in the cathedral, she watched as a large group of church officials and others dressed in white entered the mausoleum. Once the last of the group entered, Byleth emerged from the shadows, giving an indication for the students to follow. “They are our targets. We’ll cut off their escape and take them down.”

Most of the students followed without question, yet Caspar quirked a brow as he caught up to the professor. “Are you sure? They look like they were from the church.”

“Looks can be deceiving, Caspar.” Byleth let out a sigh as they reached the bottom of the steps, rounding a corner to find the intruders attempting to pillage the coffins. The professor turned her head to face the boy. “See?”

“We were right.” Edelgard chimed in. “Unwanted guests have come to visit.” The house leader walked forward to stand beside her professor, pointing to a cluster of people in the back. “Our enemy appears to be after the tomb of Saint Seiros in the back. Are they attempting to steal her bones? It would be best to defeat them before they achieve their aim.”

Images of Nemesis on a murderous rampage flashed through the professor’s mind, a reminder of what the Relics were truly made of. She knew where Seiros really was, and so she knew that the bones would not be found within the tomb, but it sickened Byleth nonetheless to even hear the idea of Seiros’s remains being stolen. No matter the case, it is never right to make a weapon out of the dead. She pushed the thoughts away, though. There were more pressing matters to attend to. “Then we should move swiftly.” Byleth motioned the students forward. “We need to eliminate those who wish to steal Seiros’s bones. There’s no telling how much time we have, so move forward quickly, but be mindful of the enemy.”

The Eagles were ever dutiful, moving forward and taking down the scattered enemies before them. There was far less hesitance among them now that their enemies were not a militia, but Byleth could never erase the memory of their horror of death. Her grip on her sword tightened, forcing the thoughts down as she took note of the Death Knight who stood at the center of the room. “Everyone, divert your advance to the sides of the room. That knight is a powerful foe, no doubt too much for any of you to handle.”

Byleth let out a sigh of relief when her students listened, splitting to the sides of the room. It was short-lived however, when she saw Sylvain rushing at the knight. He was newly transferred to the class and had little discipline when working with their tactics. “We may not have time to go around, Professor! We need to take the direct route.”

The professor could feel the rush of adrenaline as she rushed forward, moving as fast as her legs would take her. She had no time to defend from an attack, but just enough time to get between the two. Byleth used her momentum to slash at the Death Knight before he lowered his scythe, a sudden pain flaring up her side. She attempted to suppress a cry of pain as she shouted to the nearest student who could help. “Lysithea!”

Falling to her knees, Byleth held a hand to her blood-soaked side, trying to fight against the searing pain. She watched as the knight held up his scythe, prepared to strike again, but was stopped when a blast of dark magic consumed him, forcing the Death Knight to retreat. A faint light encapsulated Byleth, the pain dulling as she removed her hand to find her wound closed. She looked up to see Linhardt, giving the boy a nod. “Thank you.”

She sent the students rejoin the others in eliminating the enemy. Byleth slowly stood, looking over to Seiros’s tomb, where a dark mage stood at work to open the seal. She began to stumble forward, still fighting against the pain of her wound, before slowly breaking into a sprint. She rushed at the dark mage her sword ready. She watched as he pushed the casket open, confused as he pulled out a sword. He turned around, attempting to hold it up in defense, but Byleth quickly bashed the sword out of his hand, sending it in the air and catching it. The mage stepped back in surprise, charging a fire spell and throwing it at her. Quickly, she cut through the magic with the sword, absorbing it with a red glow. Byleth dropped her old sword, cutting through another ball of fire thrown at her before running at the dark mage and cutting him down. The mage gagged, letting out a final breath as he fell limp to the ground.

Byleth let out a sigh, breathing heavily as her body caught up to her. She lifted up the sword, staring at the empty space in which the Crest Stone should have been. The pulsating glow of the sword made her want to wretch, but it was oddly entrancing. Her gaze was only pulled away when Edelgard’s voice reached her. “I saw what happened, Professor. Are you okay?”

The professor shook her head. “I’ve been better, but I’ll be fine.” Her legs faltered, falling forward slightly as the lord caught her. “I may have lost a bit too much blood.”

Edelgard’s brows shot up in surprise, concern obvious in her eyes. “How can you possibly be so calm about this? You could have died.”

Byleth tilted her head to the side. “I survived though, didn’t I?” Edelgard gave out a resigned sigh as the professor spoke. “Perhaps we could continue this conversation in the infirmary. I feel rather faint.”

 It had been a day until the intruders were to be judged within the cathedral. Byleth managed to sneak her way into the building, hiding amongst the shadows. She’d never watched the judgement herself before, but she wished to see it with her own eyes now. Edelgard stood watching as well, unaware of her teacher’s presence. The intruders had been brought in by knights, chained up as they shook in fear. Seteth looked down upon them, disappointment clear on his face. “As all of you have committed a breach of faith, the archbishop will now pass judgment.”

The mercenary Shamir stood next to Rhea, listing out what the intruders had done. “Inciting a Kingdom noble to rebel. Unlawful entry. The attempted assassination of the archbishop. An attack on the Holy Mausoleum. It is unnecessary to go on, followers of the Western Church.”

One captive’s head shot up in surprise. “What?! We have nothing to do with the Western Church!”

Seteth shook his head, crossing his arms. “You have already been identified. Please spare us your second-rate theater.”

“Dishonoring a holy ceremony is worthy of death for a member of the church.” Anger began to mix into Rhea’s voice, a side Byleth had never seen of the archbishop before. “You are well past the hope of redemption. If you have any grace remaining, you will willingly offer your life as atonement for this crime.”

There was a sight growl at the end of Rhea’s words, sending another of the captives into a panic. “No! This isn’t what we were told would happen! We’ve been deceived!”

“It’s no use arguing.” Shamir practically shouted, before her voice went low. “Whatever your excuse, the punishment stands.”

Rhea brought her hands up before her heart, as though to pray, but her voice was spiteful, betraying her benevolent act. “May your souls find peace as they return to the goddess.”

The captive panicked further, falling to his knees as he begged. “Wait! Please! The goddess would never forgive you for our execution!”

Byleth tilted her head to the side. Sothis, would you forgive their execution?

“If that man truly regrets his actions so and wished to right his past wrongs, then no. I would not forgive such a brash decision for bloodshed.”

The professor let out a small hum in agreement. Another captive showed malice towards the archbishop, his voice rising in anger. “Monster! We know you’ve already slaughtered many of our brethren like this!”

Rhea turned her attention to the knights who escorted the captives. “This concludes the investigation. Please remove these poor, lost souls from my sight.”

Byleth watched as the knights forced the captives to move, leading them out of the building. The professor took that as her cue to leave, though she was stopped by a hand on her shoulder.

“Professor, I thought you were supposed to be resting in the infirmary.”

The blue-haired woman turned to address the one who stopped her, finding Edelgard, brow quirked with slight concern. Byleth let out a sigh as she looked over to Rhea speaking with Seteth. “I wished to see the judgement with my own two eyes. Something about Rhea doesn’t sit right with me.”

Edelgard’s eyebrows shot up in surprise, the girl quickly putting on a mask and changing back to a more neutral face. But it wasn’t fast enough for Byleth to miss. “I see, but you still shouldn’t be walking about the monastery.”

Byleth shook her head at the noble. “I’m fine, though. Really.” The professor stood straight. “See? I’m standing strong.”

The house leader let out a sigh. “Very well. If you refuse to rest, then perhaps you could join me in sharing the news with the Black Eagles.”

The professor gave her a nod, walking alongside Edelgard to the classroom. There was silence between the two as they walked, not that Byleth minded. It was a comfortable silence. She somewhat enjoyed the noble’s presence. She didn’t really know why, but she did nonetheless. Byleth caught a few concerned glances from Edelgard as they walked, causing the professor to raise an eyebrow. But she chose not to comment on it. The house leader wouldn’t be fully convinced that she was fine, but it was enough for Byleth.

When the two entered the classroom, they found the rest of the Black Eagles in wait. Some gave questioning glaces at the sight of the professor, but none outright asked. Instead, Edelgard summarized what the two of them had seen, telling the class of Rhea’s judgment. “That’s that, I suppose. The assassination attempt, the attack on the Holy was all the Western Church’s doing. That masked knight who led the attack somehow managed to disappear without a trace.”

Byleth’s side ached at the mention of the Death Knight. She knew it wouldn’t be the last they would see of him. Hubert directed the conversation away from the knight, taking more interest in the church. “The Church of Seiros clearly isn’t as unified as it would hope to appear. It seems the bishop of the Western Church was always opposed to the church being ruled centrally from Garreg Mach. Perhaps they hope to remove the archbishop in order to completely strip the Central Church of its authority.”

The professor’s thoughts drifted, trying to think on the few interactions she had with the Western Church. Edelgard seemed to notice, letting out a sigh. “That’s right. Jeralt mentioned that you were raised without any exposure to the church. In order to function more efficiently, the Church of Seiros is split into several smaller entities. The Central Church is the largest and leads the organization from Garreg Mach.”

“The Western Church extends from Castle Gaspard, where Lord Lonato rebelled into the far west.” Hubert continued the explanation. “They can be found just beyond the most renowned stronghold of the Kingdom, the Fortress City of Arianrhod.”

“It seems the knights have been tasked with subduing the leaders of the Western Church.” Edelgard’s voice suggested she was lost within her own thoughts as she continued. “We may be given the opportunity to help them with their mission.”

Hubert gave Byleth a sinister smirk. “To think our own professor was born in Fódlan and yet knew nothing of the church.” He let out a small laugh as he spoke. “I never imagined explaining something so basic to an instructor of mine. You’re something of a special case, are you not?”

“How strange that the archbishop would ask someone like that to lead her students.” Edelgards words were obviously more of her thinking aloud, perhaps a conversation between herself and Hubert that the others were unaware of the full context to. “There’s clearly more to that decision than we know.”

Caspar finally spoke from where he stood amongst the group, his voice was unusually quiet, lost in the news Edelgard had provided prior. “Lady Rhea is pretty scary sometimes, but to execute that whole group just like that? It seems pretty harsh, even for her.”

Bernadetta stuttered, tumbling over her words as her eyes widened in horror. “If one of us does something bad, I wonder what she would do to us!”

Brows knit with concern and eyes filled with fear, Dorothea spoke. “Professor, do you agree with the archbishop’s actions?”

Byleth’s lips pulled down into a frown, seeing the fear Rhea had masterfully woven into her students. It was sickening, to say the least. “Of course not. Her actions are disgusting. Were she to enact any sort of punishment on any of you, I would protect you from her in an instant.”

All of the students’ eyes went wide with surprise as they looked to their teacher. Even Edelgard looked surprised, though there was a light of hope in her eyes. Before Byleth could think on it or say any more, the doors to the classroom suddenly opened, Seteth walking in. “There you are, Professor. It seems Lady Rhea would like a word with you. Come with me.”

Some of the students shook in fear, no doubt wondering whether or not the man had heard their professor speaking. Byleth gave them all a small nod before leaving, wishing she could reassure the students that all was fine. She followed the man out of the room as he led the way up the stairs to the audience chamber. When the two entered, Seteth quickly strode over to stand by Rhea’s side, turning to face Byleth as she stopped before the two. As Rhea began to speak, her voice was back to its usual calm. “I cannot thank you enough for defeating those invaders in the Holy Mausoleum, and especially for protecting the Sword of the Creator. That sword is one of the Heroes’ Relics, and the most precious artifact in the church’s possession.” Rhea’s voice deepened into a more serious tone. “It is also a weapon of terrifying power. For now, I will entrust the sword to you. Please, use it wisely.”

Anger and repulsion became evident on Seteth’s face as he shouted in surprise. “Lady Rhea, wait! Do you truly mean to give the Sword of the Creator to this stranger?! Surely it is not the sort of thing one hands over so readily, even to someone who has the ability to wield it! If someone like Nemesis were to appear again, all of Fódlan would be consumed by war!” He let out a sigh, attempting to compose himself as he lowered his voice. “Lady Rhea, I beg you to reconsider. Given a little more time, we could more accurately assess this stranger’s abilities.”

Byleth understood Seteth’s frustration. She had no doubt that he was likely Cichol, which would mean the Sword of the Creator would be his own mother’s spine. A gruesome thought to hand over the dead body of your own family to be used as a weapon by a stranger. But Byleth was no stranger. At least not to Rhea. No. She was some plaything. A toy to be groomed as the vessel of the goddess herself, only to become Sothis when the time was right. Rhea shook her head as a small smile grew on her lips. “No. I have faith, Seteth. Faith that our friend here will not be corrupted by wickedness. Since the death of Nemesis, none have been able to wield the Sword of the Creator. Now, after all those long years of being sealed away, it has returned and found a new master.”

The man let out a sigh as he closed his eyes, begrudgingly obliging. “I...understand. As you wish, Lady Rhea.” He looked over to Byleth, his voice wavering with emotion as he spoke. “There you have it, Professor. See that you do not betray the trust the archbishop has seen fit to bestow upon you.”

Byleth gave the two an affirmation and bow before promptly leaving. She stopped once she was out of the audience chamber, letting out a long sigh. Sothis, what are your thoughts on Rhea?

A scoff echoed through Byleth’s mind. “I despise her childish endeavor to bring me back from the dead. To use a human as a vessel and forcibly make me come to the world through you is rather repulsive. Even this church seems to be her way of mourning my death, choosing to force humans to praise me with worship that I have not requested. Perhaps Seiros should act more akin to Cichol and learn that you must move on from the past. Yet, she does not show any sign of giving up on this foolishness. Whatever comes to pass, please swear to cut a path that is your own.”

Byleth let out another sigh as she thought to her plan to prevent the war. She doubted she made much progress and was unsure how to even convince Edelgard otherwise. Beyond that, Byleth wasn’t even sure what she wanted to do. We’ll have to wait and see if that’s even possible.

Chapter Text

There were a few days break before Rhea called Byleth back to the audience chamber. When the professor arrived, Rhea had that same look she always wore. “I have a new mission for you, Professor. I would like for you to take your students into Kingdom territory to eliminate some thieves.”

Seteth uncrossed his arms, though his face showed his wariness of the professor returned, no doubt thanks to Rhea’s decision to give her the Sword of the Creator. “They stole a Hero’s Relic from House Gautier of the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus--the Lance of Ruin. Their leader’s name is Miklan. He is apparently a disowned son of House Gautier.”

A deep question burned within Byleth, slipping out of her mouth before she realized the mistake. “Why must the church eliminate him?”

Slight irritation seeped into Seteth’s voice. “This skirmish involves a holy Relic, and is therefore more than a single noble is capable of resolving. The Heroes’ Relics are immensely powerful weapons. We must meet this threat with adequate force. Unfortunately, most of the Knights of Seiros are away from the monastery purging apostates of the Western Church. So we are entrusting you with this mission. After all, you wield the Sword of the Creator, which is more than capable of opposing any Relic.”

Rhea eyed the Relic sheathed at Byleth’s hip. “The Sword of the Creator is a powerful weapon, well beyond the other Relics. You have nothing to fear. However, to ensure that no harm comes to the students, we will also send the monastery’s most skilled individuals to aid you.”

Seteth’s eyes narrowed. “I must remind you that you are expected to conduct yourself in a manner befitting the wielder of that holy sword. Also, you should know that Professor Hanneman has been looking for you. That is all.”

Upon her dismissal, Byleth left, wandering the halls. She already knew exactly why Hanneman was looking for her. It was so he could blabber on about her having the Crest of Flames, for which she didn’t care to hear about. The Crest caused her enough pain, why have him remind her that it exists. Her mind paused as Edelgard approached her, having found the professor wandering aimlessly in the entrance hall. “Professor, I heard about our mission for this month. A thief with a Hero’s Relic is worrisome, but with you at our side, I’m certain we can handle him. After all, you have the Sword of the Creator. It was allegedly wielded by Nemesis, the King of Liberation. If the legends are true, you hold the power to stand against entire armies. A band of thieves should be nothing.” Edelgard’s gaze moved away from the professor, looking off to the ground as she seemed to lose herself in her thoughts. “Even the most elite Imperial forces or the Knights of Seiros could not hope to defeat you.”

Byleth opened her mouth, prepared to say that it would never come to that. But that would be a lie. If she failed to prevent the war, then she would find herself doing just that. Fighting the Imperial elite or the Knights of Seiros. She wasn’t sure who she trusted or what she could do anymore. “Why does it matter?”

Edelgard eyes widened slightly, realizing what she said. “I’m just marveling at the potential. Besides, your power does not lie solely in the Sword of the Creator. You are stronger and more terrifying than you realize.” Byleth frowned slightly. She just wanted to be human, not reminded of the monster that Rhea made her. She tried her best to hide the emotion as Edelgard continued. “Professor...when we leave the monastery, will you still think of yourself as my teacher?”

Byleth quirked a brow. What exactly did Edelgard mean by that? She knew that Edelgard would leave the monastery to fight her war against the church, but what did she mean by we? Was she referring to herself and Byleth? She did admit to wishing she could have walked alongside the professor in Byleth’s future-past. Perhaps she had desired such for quite a long time. “If we left the monastery?”

Edelgard shook her head. “Never mind. I’m being thoughtless with my words. For now, let’s just focus on the problem at hand.”

The professor opened her mouth to try and find some sort of response, but it was too late. Edelgard was quick to leave. Something was on the noble’s mind. Something she didn’t wish to share. Byleth could only wonder what the girl thought.

Byleth wandered the monastery grounds at night, unable to sleep due to her fears for her students. She feared watching them die once again in the war, seeing their pain as life left their eyes. But more than that, she feared having more blood stain her hands--blood from the students she once taught. Memories of killing students arose as nightmares, pulling her away from the safety of sleep.

She shook her head. She needed to free herself from those thoughts. If even for just a moment in hopes of having some slight comfort for the chance to return to sleep. Byleth found herself walking down the second floor of the dorms when she heard moans from one of the doors she passed. “…”

Byleth stopped in her tracks, turning to look in the direction the sound came from. It was Edelgard’s door. She was in pain. Byleth slowly approached, unsure of whether or not she should help, but steeled herself. She was Edelgard’s professor. Byleth had to look out for her. She tapped her knuckles against the door, the knock light enough not to wake other students, but hard enough that Edelgard should have been able to hear. A loud gasp came from the other side of the door before Edelgard’s voice shouted out. “Who’s there?!”

“Edelgard, it’s me. Might I enter?”

There was a long silence on the other end of the door. A bit too long of a silence. Perhaps that was Edelgard’s way of saying she wished not to speak. Byleth was prepared to turn and leave due to the lack of response before the door suddenly opened, the lord motioning her in. As Byleth entered the room, she noticed that Edelgard was oddly enough dressed in her full uniform. Perhaps that was why she took so long to respond. The professor’s eyes then scanned over to the girl’s bed, noticing the sheets were in complete disarray. She hadn’t been sleeping well. Edelgard’s voice drew Byleth out of her head, forcing her to look over to the house leader. “Professor...what are you doing here?”

“I heard something.”

Edelgard averted her gaze, pain obvious on her face. “Oh? Perhaps I was talking in my sleep.”

Byeth gave her best concerned look as she spoke softly. “Bad dreams? I was worried by what I heard.”

Putting a hand to her face in disappointment, Edelgard let out a sigh. “So you heard me, then.” She removed her hand, revealing an even more pained face than before. “Yes, it was a nightmare. I’ve had them since I was a child. Stupid, pointless dreams I can’t control…” Her gaze wandered off to the side as her face pulled down into a frown. “It’s terribly frustrating.”

The professor furrowed her brow as concerned overcame her. “Anything I can help with?”

Edelgard shook her head. “No. They’re just worthless dreams of the past. Talking about it won’t change a thing.”

Byleth let out a sigh. Edelgard was willing to offer help and yet wouldn’t accept it, no matter how much the professor wished to assist. “If you don’t want help, then I can’t force it. But I want you to know you can trust me with anything. I’ll be here for you should you ever need it.”

The white-haird girl opened her mouth, trying to find a proper response before sighing. “I had a feeling you’d say that. I suppose I could try…” Byleth was somewhat surprised that Edelgard was willing to share, even if she was somewhat reluctant. “But only if you swear not to tell a soul.”

“Of course. You have my word.”

Edelgard gave a faint smile before it quickly faded. “I appreciate it.” She let out a sigh as her lilac eyes fell upon the floor. “I dream older brother, paralyzed, older sister crying for help that never came...the youngest babbling words beyond meaning. I see my family dying slowly, waiting in the darkest depths for a glimmer of light.” She took in a deep stuttered breath as she returned her gaze to the professor. “I once had ten siblings, eight older and two younger. Such a large family, and yet I became heir to the throne. Do you know why?” Byleth froze, her throat felt as though it was closing in on itself. “Every last one of them was crippled by disease or lost their mind or died. I was the only one left who could inherit the throne.”

Byleth was at a loss. This wasn’t some childish nightmare she could sooth away, nor was it a memory she could go back and prevent. Some part of her wanted to step forward and tell Edelgard it was okay, but that would be a lie. None of this was okay. “That’s...awful.” Byleth finally managed to breathe out. “How could such a thing happen…”

Pain made itself clear in Edelgard’s voice as it began to waver. “Things kept getting worse. The darkness kept getting darker. In the end, I was the only one who survived. The nightmares are a never forget. To never allow such terrible things to happen again.”

Never again.

Just like Byleth.

Never again.

The professor never wanted to see that awful war again.

Never again.

Suddenly, it clicked. White hair. A disdain for the Crest system. That hope Byleth saw in her eyes when she suggested the possibility of removing Crests. Edelgard’s desire for something to never happen again. Something happened to her and her siblings. Something another did to them. Not just some tragedy of disease or the like. No. Those last words Edelgard uttered betrayed her. She was just like Lysithea. Losing her siblings to some sort of experimentation for the sake of Crests. Byleth wanted to know more of what happened to Edelgard, but didn’t wish to pain her further. She wanted to comfort the girl, but didn’t even know how. All she could do was repeat those two words. “Never again…”

“Even now, I’m the only one who can carry the weight of the Adrestian Empire. The future of the Empire...of everything...depends on me.” Edelgard shook her head, calming her nerves as she forced the weakness out of her voice. She let out a small hum. “I shared more than I intended to. I suppose there’s something in the air tonight. I’ve never told anyone about my past before. Please…” There was a long pause as the girl averted her eyes. “Forget I said anything. Sleep well, my teacher.”

Byleth had no desire to leave Edelgard as is, but she was done talking. Done sharing. Prepared to close herself off to the world. The fact that she had even been willing to share something she kept so close to her was a miracle in and of itself. Byleth let out a resigned sigh. “Very well, but remember that you can speak to me whenever something troubles you. Even if it’s nightmares like this. I’m not...great when it comes to emotional matters, but I don’t want you to suffer.”

“I’d rather not trouble you.”

The professor shook her head. “It would be no trouble at all. No matter what it is or when, I will always be willing to lend you an ear or a hand.” Byleth turned to leave, pausing once she reached the door. She looked back to Edelgard, blue eyes filling with concern. “Goodnight.”

Byleth let out a sigh as she closed the door behind her before walking back to her own room. She went to lie on her bed, her body overcome with exhaustion. But sleep would not take her. No. Her mind was too busy, filled with thoughts and concerns over Edelgard. Was that suffering what hardened her so? What fueled her drive for war? How could one even get away with that, on the Emperor’s own children, when they should have always been under a watchful eye? Byleth could not sleep well that night as Edelgard had asked of her. She couldn’t sleep at all as the world she knew seemed to shatter and whirl around her.

Just who was Edelgard? And why did she make Byleth feel emotions like this? How could she destroy the stoic character the professor was known for? And who put the girl through so much pain?

“We’ve come such a long way.”

Edelgard’s voice came from a dark corner of the monastery, piquing Byleth’s interest. Byleth took a peak, noticing Hubert speaking with the house leader, causing the professor to quickly hide herself. The two tended to have their own secret conversations, stopping and parting ways the moment they noticed another nearby. “My earliest memory of you is of when you were injured. I recall being scolded most sternly by my father. ‘You are Lady Edelgard’s servant!’ he said. ‘You must protect her with your life!’”

Despite being unable to see her, Byleth could hear a slight pain in Edelgard’s voice. “I had no idea. But House Vestra has served House Hresvelg for generations. Given that, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.”

“Indeed. After that, I made certain to accompany you wherever you went. That is, until,” a small pause entered Hubert’s words, whether disgust or pain began to enter his voice as he continued, Byleth couldn’t tell. “The incident.”

A small silence existed between the two, making Byleth wonder whether they noticed her presence. Just as she was prepared to leave, Edelgard’s voice broke the silence, a slight anger burning in her words. “Ah, when my uncle, Lord Arundel, defected to the Kingdom and took me with him.”

“The sensation of loss that overcame me on that day defies all description. It was as horrific as if I’d lost all my limbs. I left the city in a mad rush to rescue you.” Hubert let out a sigh. “My father sent soldiers to capture me. I fought them off for three days, but they did finally manage it. Of course, I was only ten. I never would’ve reached Fhirdiad.”

Hubert’s words forced a thought to Byleth’s mind, making her leave her hiding spot and rush back to her room. She opened the draws of her desk, picking through papers to find the student files. She stopped when she found the files for the Black Eagles, carefully pulling out the papers and placing them on her desk, pulling out her chair and sitting. She took a moment to look at Hubert’s file, seeing no mention of the incident, before pulling out Edelgard’s. In simple words, it had stated she was taken to the Kingdom by Lord Arundel at the young age of eight. What struck the professor, though, was that the file stated he returned with her to the Empire three years later. Something didn’t add up.

Byleth leaned back in her chair as she thought about the information. Hubert had referred to the situation as an incident. That combined with his dour tone suggested it was something awful. But was it not to protect Edelgard from the insurrection of the seven? The file suggested she was in the Kingdom for three years, but Byleth remembered Dimitri telling her that the princess was only there for one. If that were the case, then what about the other two years she was gone?

The professor suddenly shot up, slamming her hands on the desk. That’s when it happened. That’s when Edelgard and her siblings had been put through such suffering. Experimented on like animals. Byleth had no doubts about that. It would have been the perfect cover. If Edelgard had been presumed missing, taken away to the Kingdom, then it would’ve acted as the perfect guise to hide her away for sick experiments. Byleth’s stomach lurched at the thought. How could Edelgard’s own uncle do such a thing? Though, perhaps he was just a horrid person. Or perhaps something happened to him, just like Tomas and Monica.

Gritting her teeth, Byleth stormed out of her room, marching her way to the library. She would find something, anything to answer her questions. Someone was pulling the strings, making Edelgard suffer, and Lord Arundel was the only clue Byleth had at the moment. She needed to look into the man with whatever limited information she could find. She needed answers.

Chapter Text

Rain fell, dampening the world as the Black Eagles marched ever forward. It had been an hour or so since they left the village they had remained in the previous night. The sound of mud squashed under boots and the movement of armor rang through the air, only slightly dulled by the sound of rainfall. Edelgard’s voice was a welcome addition to the sound. “This weather is unfortunate. Those villagers were right when they said a storm was brewing. But they were more afraid of an attack than they were of the storm. Let’s end this quickly.”

Ruins peeked out between the sparse trees in the distance as Hubert spoke up. “The thieves have taken Conand Tower as their base. There it is in the distance.”

Edelgard let out a small hum. “Miklan must be more skilled than your average thief to have overtaken a place like that.”

A tall man beside Byleth cleared his throat. He was dressed in ornate armor and wore his long ginger hair in a thin braid. “This area was the sight of a massive battle several hundred years ago when invasions from the north were at their peak. This tower was built for both surveillance and defense. It will be difficult to seize it.”

The princess tilted her head, likely wishing to know more. “You know your history, Gilbert. If I recall correctly, you’re from the Kingdom, aren’t you?”

Gilbert let out a low huff. “I left my home long ago. If you have any questions about the mission, I’d be happy to answer them.”

Byleth kept her eyes on the tower as they approached ever closer. “What do you know about the leader of the thieves?”

“House Gautier has always place great importance on whether or not someone bears a Crest.” Gilbert began, explaining matter-of-factly. “Margrave Gautier has two sons. A Crest never manifested for his eldest. It’s not hard to imagine why he left and wound up in this sort of life.”

A frown came upon Byleth’s face. That was just a kind way of saying Miklan was thrown off to the side, left to rot for not being all his family wanted him to be, even if it was beyond his control. Before Byleth could even open her mouth, Edelgard spoke, pain entering her lilac eyes. “There’s no reason that Crests should have the power to dictate someone’s destiny. Don’t you agree? He was just another victim of cruel fate.” Her eyes lowered to the ground, a fire burning within as she continued. “Forsaken by the goddess, who now demands his execution.”

“Crests are a cruel beast, only bringing about suffering.”

Byleth hadn’t realized what she said aloud until she saw Edelgard’s eyes snap up to her, wide with surprise. The others gave her their own strange looks, unsure how to respond. She said too much, gave away that knowledge she was not supposed to fully understand. She needed to rewind the clock, make it so they never heard. But she hesitated as she saw a glimmer of hope within Edelgard’s eye. Perhaps she said just enough.

The climb up the tower was a long and tiring one. There had been small groups of bandits who lay in wait as the students made their way up, slowing the group down as they eliminated the thieves. As the group made their way up another set of stairs, Gilbert took in the area. “The enemy is close by. We’re almost to the top floor.”

Edelgard let out a thoughtful hum from beside Byleth. “They have nowhere left to flee, so the situation is in our favor. All we have to do is chase them down.”

The professor gave a nod before looking over to Sylvain. The boy seemed lost in his thoughts, a dull look in his eyes. He took notice of Byleth’s glance, shrugging away any concern the professor had shown. “Don’t hold back for my sake. My brother is going to pay for everything he’s done.”

Byleth sighed. “Very well.” She scanned her eyes over the group. “As we move forward, I want Edelgard and Petra to help me hold the front lines.” The two girls gave their affirmations as they moved into position alongside Byleth. “Sylvain, Caspar, Ashe. You three will act as the rear guard. The enemy could have reinforcements in wait and we can’t let them ambush the mages in our flank.”

“Come on, Professor. Why not put me on the front line?”

The professor drew her blade as she turned her back on Sylvain. “It’s called punishment for the stunt you pulled last month. Start listening to my instructions and maybe I’ll let you stand on the front lines.”

At that, Caspar pulled Sylvain away and into position, Ashe following the two to protect the back, listening carefully to Caspar. The rest of the Eagles naturally took up position in the group. All of them were really learning, not even needing Byleth’s orders to know what to do. It made the professor feel proud of them. Though the feeling sank when she remembered that they were all learning to fight and take lives. She let out a small sigh before giving everyone the order to march forward.

The group moved as one, Byleth, Edelgard, and Petra taking the lead as thieves seeped out from the cracks in the walls. Taking note of one of the side rooms they had been coming from, Byleth ordered Petra and Dorothea to handle the enemy there as Edelgard and Byleth continued to lead the front. The rear guard began to lag behind as enemies ran up from the stairs behind them, just as Byleth had expected. Caspar and Sylvain would do a good job of holding them off, and Ashe would make sure none could do too much harm to the two or pass them. She couldn’t help but feel she had forgotten something though.

Byleth suddenly stiffened as they made their way up another floor. Hidden doors loomed behind them to a large room, no doubt full of thieves. There would be reinforcements. Hubert and Linhardt would be open to attack. Bernadetta wouldn’t be enough to protect them, and Gilbert would be too slow to keep up in all of that armor he wore. “Edelgard, we need to fall back. Now.”

“What for, Professor?”

“Reinforcements. They’re hiding and they’ll attack our mages. Sylvain and the others aren’t close enough to protect them.”

Edelgard quirked a brow, obviously not convinced as the professor’s claim had no proof to it. “And leave ourselves open to a frontal attack? The enemy won’t stop their charge.”

Byleth let out an annoyed huff as she pulled a hand through her hair. She needed to think of something and fast. “Very well. You need to lead the front.” The professor turned her attention to the other students. “Bernadetta, I need you to help Edelgard keep the front line. Hubert, Linhardt. Stay close behind them. I’m taking the rear.”

The house leader let out a questioning hum. “Handling the rear guard by yourself?”

“You said yourself that I’m powerful enough to take on the Imperial elite, didn’t you? I’m certain handling a few thieves to protect you all would be nothing.”

Edelgard opened her mouth to respond, but no words came. Instead, she nodded and continued the march forward. Byleth allowed the students to pass her, taking position as the rear guard, waiting for enemy reinforcements to come. As if on cue, they arrived, on the move to ambush the students. But Byleth was ready. She stood her ground, cutting down the reinforcements as they came. None would pass her and harm her students. Her blade cut through flesh, the screams of thieves echoing through the tower as the sickly sound of tearing flesh filled Byleth’s ears. Blood pooled by at her feet, staining her armored boots.

As she finished the last of the reinforcements, Sylvain, Ashe, Caspar, Petra, and Dorothea caught up. Some of them glimpsed at the pile of bodies by Byleth’s feet, disgust and fear evident in their eyes. But none of them spoke it. It was better they fear killing than actually doing the act themselves. Unless they feared Byleth? She didn’t care. So long as they were safe. “Good, you’re all here. We need to catch up with the rest of the group.”

They ran their way up the tower, passing dead bodies that littered the floor. The others had gone far without them. Byleth was somewhat impressed, yet it left a pang in her, knowing that her students had to bring about such carnage. They stopped upon reaching the top floor, finding that Edelgard and the others defeated Miklan. The man stumbled away from the students, pain obvious on his features, yet he kept it out of his voice. “Not bad for your kind. A bunch of spoiled rotten children.”

Miklan raised the Lance of Ruin, prepared to continue the fight in his sorry state. Yet he froze as a black ooze came from the lance’s Crest Stone, enveloping the man’s arm. He let out cries of pain as he tried desperately to claw the substance away, but it only quickened the process as it continued to cover his body. Byleth grabbed the students nearest to her, pulling them back down the stairs behind them. “Everyone! Back! Now!”

All the students immediately ran back, watching in fear from behind Byleth. The ooze that overtook Miklan spread, becoming larger and larger until it burst into the shape of a beast, letting out a foul roar. Sylvain tried to run past the professor, but she held out her arm, preventing the boy from passing. “Miklan?! Is that you?!”

“That’s not your brother anymore. We need to kill the beast.”

Edelgard let out a sad hum beside Byleth, gaining the professor’s attention. The white-haired girl’s features were pulled down into a sad frown. “Such is the fate of one whose life is corrupted by a Crest Stone. How pitiable. The least we can do is put an end to his suffering.”

Byleth gave her a nod. “Everyone, stand behind me. The beast will rush at us, leaving itself open. Then we must all work together to take it down. We’ll need everyone’s strength to fell this foe.”

The students complied, though Gilbert stood ahead, ready to take any attack the beast threw at them. “I will act as your shield and distract the monster. You may use that chance as an opening.”

The beast rushed at the older man, attacking with its large claws. Gilbert held up his shield, trying to keep the beast at bay. But he could only do so for so long. This would be their only chance. “Everyone! Now!”

The students surrounded the beast, each attacking with their full might. No doubt adrenaline was allowing them to get through the fight without faltering. The beast was confused, unable to attack any as its scales were pierced and too many an enemy attacked. Byleth took advantage of the monster’s state, landing a final blow upon its head with the Sword of the Creator, the weapon extending and slashing out at the beast’s face, piercing the thing in the eye and leaving a large hole in its head.

A loud thud echoed across the room as the monster fell, letting out a pained dying cry. It was over. The flesh of the beast dissolved, flying off into the air as Miklan’s body stayed behind. His body was still. Dead. Gilbert stared upon him with wide eyes, slight horror wavering in his voice. “Goddess...the beast is gone, yet Miklan and the Lance remain.”

If Edelgard felt anything about the current situation, he hid it well, looking away from the body as she spoke to Byleth. “It is done. Let’s retrieve the lance and depart at once.”

Byleth stepped forward, leaning down to pick up the Lance of Ruin. The weapon continued to writhe in Miklan’s dead hand, a reminder of the Relic’s true nature. How disgusting. To make such a thing out of the bones of the dead. Byleth shoved the thoughts away, she had time to think about this later. She placed her hand upon the Relic, the contact sending a searing pain up her arm. The weapon felt like it was burning her hand, the pain intense. Byleth yanked her hand away, staring up to Sylvain who now stood over his dead brother. “Miklan…”

The professor stood, putting a hand on the boy’s shoulder to try and comfort him. “I’m sorry. There’s nothing we could do. For now, could you carry the lance? It won’t be safe in anyone else’s hands.”

Sylvain let out a sigh, his eyes still upon his brother. “Of course.”

As Byleth entered the audience chamber, followed by Sylvain as he carried the Lance of Ruin, all she could think of were the horrified faces of her students, the pain they endured watching Miklan turn into a beast. She was forced out of her thoughts when Rhea spoke, who oddly stood alone. “Professor, you have returned. The goddess is indeed generous with her divine protection. I have already heard Gilbert’s report about what happened. See to it that you keep what transpired at the tower to yourself. People would lose faith in the nobles should rumors spread of one using a Relic and transforming into a monster. All regions Fódlan would fall into chaos. We must avoid that at all costs. Please ensure the students who accompanied you understand that as well. Have I made myself clear?”

Byleth wanted to roll her eyes. She thought upon Edelgard’s own ideals. They didn’t need nobles or Crests. The common folk were just as capable, if not more so, than some nobles. Rhea just wanted to hold the world in her hands and force her religion upon the people. Force the Crests upon people. Perhaps so they would never try to kill her mother again when Sothis would reemerge like she desired. “Yes, of course.”

Rhea let out a sigh as she wore a frown. “His transformation into a Black Beast was nothing short of divine punishment from the goddess. Punishment for someone arrogant and foolish enough to use a Hero’s Relic even though they were unworthy and unqualified.”

A scoff echoed through Byleth’s mind. “That was hardly punishment by my hand. Seiros truly believes she can get away with spreading such foolish lies? Had I body of my own, I would punish her myself for controlling humans with their fear.”

“So, you knew.”

That same peaceful mask returned to Rhea’s face. “Of course. That is why we rushed to recover it. Sadly, we did not arrive in time. The church will formally return the lance to House Gautier. If you would…”

And give such power back to Rhea so she could continue this cycle? Byleth hated the prospect. It made her sick. “I will not.”

“You fool! Do you wish for the church to hate you?! How many people do you aim to displease in this flow of time?!”

Anger laced itself into Rhea’s features, speaking with disappointment for once directed towards Byleth. The professor thought it almost impossible for the woman to do so. “What is the meaning of this?”

Sylvain finally took the chance to butt in, clearing his throat loudly. “Excuse me. Lady Rhea, I am overjoyed and beyond grateful to you for recovering the Relic of my family, House Gautier. Now, may I please have the lance? I have received direct approval from my father to take possession of it.”

The anger seeped out of Rhea’s face, returning to its usual neutrality as she glanced over to the boy holding the lance. “As the next head of House Gautier, do you swear that you will never cause such a deplorable incident to transpire?”

The student gave the archbishop a bow. “On my family’s name...and on my brother’s life, I swear it.”

Rhea let out a sigh, her voice lowering in defeat. “Very well. However, I have one condition. You must never allow another to wield this lance. Your brother clearly demonstrated what fate awaits those who break that restriction.”

Sylvain breathed out a response, voice laced with sorrow. “Yes. I...I will not soon forget.”

The meeting ended, Sylvain leaving for his room, lance in hand as he stared at it, a pained look in his eyes. Byleth made her way to the Black Eagles classroom, deciding to go through her papers to grade her students’ work. She needed something to take her mind off of things. Though as she opened the door to the classroom, she found Edelgard, seemingly sitting there in wait. “I assume the archbishop was pleased with your performance. Did you return the Lance of Ruin?”

Letting out a sigh, Byleth approached the house leader. “I didn’t return it.”

Edelgard gave her a small smile. “I’m glad. Sylvain must be overjoyed as well.”

“He looked rather sad, but perhaps he will be happy to prevent such a fate befalling another.”

The noble let out a thoughtful hum. “Perhaps. I keep thinking about what Gilbert told us.”

“About Miklan?”

Edelgard gave a small nod. “Yes, Miklan was discarded by his family because he was born without a Crest. Eventually, he became a masterful thief and gathered enough ruffians to capture a fortress. Right or wrong, he was a gifted leader. He could have been a great asset to Fódlan. What a waste. It’s true that a Crest can increase your magical abilities and allow you to wield the full might of a Hero’s Relic. But one cannot measure a leader’s worth based solely on whether or not they bear a Crest. There are plenty of talented people in this world without one.”

“I completely agree.” Byleth nodded. “Just look at some of your classmates. Caspar, Dorothea, Petra, and Ashe. None of them have Crests and two of them were born into hard lives on the streets. Yet they’re strong, capable people. Perhaps you should talk to them. They may be interested in what you have to say.”

Closing her eyes, Edelgard let out a thoughtful hum. “People believe Crests are blessing from the goddess, that they’re necessary to maintain order in Fódlan. But the people are wrong. Crests are to blame for this brutal, irrational world we live in. Their power is granted only to a select few, whom we elevate and allow to rule the world. Have you ever wondered if the only way to create a truly free world is to dispense with the goddess and the Crests? Do that, and people will have no choice but to rise and fall by their own merits.”

Byleth brought a hand to her chin, deep in thought. She couldn’t help but agree. She had enough of the church’s system. Enough with all the Crests, ruining the lives of nobles and preventing commoners from being able to rise. Perhaps there was no reason for Byleth to fight against Edelgard when she had gone through the war in the future-past. “That would be a nice world to live in, but don’t let others hear you speak like that. You can never be sure who will tell the church and lead you to your execution. And you never know if someone is listening in on your words.”

“Of course, my teacher.”

It was a few days time until Byleth was called back to the audience chamber to hear of the next month’s mission. Once again, Rhea stood alone, waiting for the woman. “Professor, you have done well to complete such a difficult task. Just as I expected you have mastered the Sword of the Creator.” The archbishop let out a small laugh as she wore a fake smile. “Now then, I shall tell you about your mission for the coming month.”

Seteth suddenly barged into the room, dashing over to Rhea’s side. “Rhe--Archbishop!”

The archbishop wore that same neutral look as she looked over to the aide. “Seteth, what troubles you?”

The man took in a deep breath, horror obvious on his features. “Flayn is missing! I cannot find her anywhere!” He turned to face Byleth, voice softening with concern. “Professor, have you seen Flayn recently?”

Byleth shook her head. “I have not.”

Seteth grit his teeth, face looking to the floor as he closed his eyes. “I have searched everywhere! Where could she be?! She may be in danger! Oh no, no, no! What am I to do?!”

“Calm yourself, Seteth.” Rhea turned her gaze to Byleth. “Professor, we shall continue our discussion another time.”

The professor gave a small nod before turning to leave. Right. Flayn was kidnapped. She knew exactly where the girl would be found, but her hands were tied until Rhea gave her the go ahead. Until then, Byleth could only think of a strategy to help retrieve Flayn.

Chapter Text

Crimson. It filled Byleth’s vision. All of her thoughts. All she saw. It was crimson. All around her were the bodies of the dead. Bodies with faces she could name. Ferdinand. Bernadetta. Petra. Caspar. Linhardt. Dorothea. Hubert. All of them dead. All by Byleth’s hand. All because they believed in something with all their heart, defending it to the very end. Even if it meant war. And if there was a war, then Byleth had to defend that which she cared for. She would keep her own students alive, giving no care to what she did or did not support. She just wanted the bloodshed to end. To stop those she cared about from dying.

But was she even right? Byleth couldn’t tell anymore. She raised her arms, staring at the thick layer of blood that coated them, dripping down her elbows. That was their blood. The blood of the Eagles. And now. Now they were her students. She needed to protect them, too. But what of her old students? Could she just watch them die? Or even worse, could she bring herself to kill them? What did she believe in anymore?

A large monster stood before her, away from the pile of bodies at Byleth’s feet. Bood ran from it, adding to that which pooled around the former mercenary. The Sword of the Creator was lodged within the beast’s chest, yet it continued to stubbornly breathe. Byleth didn’t dare look up at the rest of its features, but she slowly raised her gaze to meet that of the monster. Blue eyes met glowing red. The professor’s blood felt like ice. But not from the monster’s eyes. No. It was the face of the beast.

Upon warped flesh stood Edelgard’s face. Her features turned to a sad frown. Perhaps if her eyes were still human, she would be giving Byleth a longing stare. But emotion was impossible to see in those demonic pupils. Instead, she called out to the professor between pained breaths, her words unintelligible within her distorted voice, but her despair was obvious enough. Byleth wanted to scream out the questions that ran through her mind, but no words came. Why did she do this? No. Who did this to her? How much suffering did they put her through and why?

Byleth held out her hand, trying to reach for Edelgard, but her legs would not move and the house leader was too far. Blood continued to flow from the beast’s wound, filling everything with crimson. It continued to rise, covering the corpses surrounding Byleth before slowly enveloping the world around her, filling her vision with the fluid.

Her eyes shot open as her body snapped upright. Byleth was back in her bed at the monastery dorms. Her body was covered in a cold sweat as she let out labored breaths. She clutched her sheets, waiting for her mind to slow. She was doing what she thought was right, but now. Now what? Could she stop the war from happening now? Was that ever even a possibility? And if the war does happen, who would she fight for?

Byleth let out an annoyed huff as she stood from her bed, putting on her outfit before quietly leaving her room. She needed air and to be elsewhere to abandon these thoughts. They weren’t getting her anywhere. She managed to walk a short distance before noticing Edelgard in the courtyard. Byleth let out a small sigh. Nothing here would let her get away from her thoughts, it seemed.

She slowly approached the noble, the echo of her footsteps getting the attention of the girl. Edelgard turned, putting on a small smile as she let out a sigh. “It’s you. Out late again, I see. What brings you here?”

The professor opened her mouth, prepared to give a lax response before a slight shaking in Edelgard’s posture caught her eye. They girl was pained by something. Byleth pressed her lips into a thin line as she thought back to when she had awoken the house leader from a nightmare of the past. The professor’s brows were knit with concern as she spoke in a soft tone. “Are you having trouble sleeping?”

“Is it that obvious?” Edelgard sighed as she looked off into the sky, a small frown pulling at her lips. “I despise being cooped up when sleep evades me. I just have to get some fresh air.”

Byleth’s gaze fell to the ground, thinking back to her own rude awakening. She let out a wry laugh, lips twisted down in pain at the images of death. “It seems we had the same thought. I couldn’t sleep either.”

Edelgard let out a concerned huff, looking back to the professor. “So I see. Still, it’s ill-advised to stay up so late.” A quirked brow from Byleth reminded Edelgard who she was talking to, forcing her to continue. “I should get some sleep too, but…” The girl took in a deep breath, eyes taking in the world around her. “Have you ever felt a sort of longing for the outdoors? I have. There are times I long for the warmth of the sun, for a sweet breeze on my face.” The noble’s gaze fell to the ground as she considered her words carefully. “Do you remember what I told you the other night? past? None of my siblings had the chance to lead the sort of life they deserved. An ordinary life.”

What a strange question she asked. How could one forget the mention of something so terrible. The death of ten children, leaving behind a sole survivor, Edelgard. Third youngest, and yet the Imperial princess, heir of the Adrestian Empire. “Yes. I remember.”

“My siblings and I were…” Edelgard paused, looking away as she tried to force herself to speak. “We were imprisoned underground, beneath the palace. The objective was to endow our bodies with the power of a Major Crest.”

So, part of Byleth’s hunch was correct. Edelgard was just like Lysithea. Her siblings no doubt sacrificed to give her a Major Crest. And her hair was proof it worked. But just what did the noble gain? It was made all the more disgusting to realize that such experiments happened within Adrestia itself, not to mention just beneath the building she would call home.

The girl’s face was knit into a pained frown, her eyes dulled as though reliving the past. “I have always possessed the Crest of Seiros, inherited through the Hresvelg bloodline. But it was only a Minor Crest, and most of my siblings bore no Crest at all.” Edelgard took in a stuttered breath, closing her eyes as she attempted to steel herself. She returned her gaze to Byleth, though the pain was still apparent in her features. “In order to create a peerless emperor to rule Fódlan, they violated our bodies by cutting open our very flesh. Now here I stand, the fruit of that endeavor: Edelgard von Hresvelg.”

Every fiber of Byleth’s being told her to step forward and comfort the girl, but she had a feeling such an action would be rejected, forcing her to remain still. Instead, she listened as the noble went on, her voice beginning to waver as though she were on the verge of tears. “But that came at too high a price. The others were sacrificed. Ours weren’t the only lives devastated by that terrible process. Innocents died as well, without even knowing what they were dying for. And there you have it, the truth of the Hresvelg’s Empire.”

Byleth pulled her lips into a deep frown, a fire burning within. She needed answers. She needed to know the cause of suffering. Her words came out with a venomous bite, but she didn’t care. Perhaps Edelgard would trust her more as a result. “Who is to blame?”

The house leader’s eyes widened, meeting with Byleth’s. Why was the girl shocked? Was it from the professor’s outburst of emotion? “The prime minister and his gaggle of nobles. They had the Empire under their thumbs. My father, the emperor, tried to stop him, was futile. My father was nothing but a puppet on a string by then. He was powerless to save us. I know how it all sounds. But when you see my true strength, you will know I speak the truth.” Edelgard held a fist up to her chest, a determined look coming to her face. “I have kept it hidden all this time, but I will reveal to you the power of my second Crest.”

Edelgard extended her hand, manifesting the mark of her Crest, shwoing none other than the Crest of Flames. The noble turned her eyes to the Crest, a resolve burning in her eyes.

No. Stop. This is a bad dream. This cursed Crest only brings about pain. She can’t...she shouldn’t...she doesn’t deserve the suffering it causes.

“It’s the same as yours...the Crest of Flames. When it manifested for me, I swore a silent oath.” The girl’s voice slowly rose as she spoke, wavering with emotion, yet keeping the strength of her determination. “For the sake of my family and for all the poor souls whose lives were traded for my existence. For their sake, I will build a world where such meaningless sacrifice is never again sanctioned. As emperor, I will change the world. I swear it.”

“I will gladly welcome such a change.” Byleth closed her eyes, remembering the times she had to reverse the hands of time. Every death she witnessed. All of the pain and suffering multiplied tenfold. All because of this damned Crest. “Edelgard, I’m so sorry. Sorry for what was done to you. This Crest only brings about pain to everyone involved with it.”

“Professor, what do you mean?”

Byleth opened her eyes, but all she saw before her was the defeated Emperor. The one Dimitri killed. The one who fought until the very end, never giving up on those ideals of hers. The professor took a step back, eyes widening in terror. Her exhaustion was catching up to her. “I...I need to leave. Goodnight.”

Edelgard began to open her mouth, ready to respond, but it was too late. Byleth quickly turned on her heel, retreating back to her room. She shut the door behind her, locking it before falling onto her bed. There was a long silence, Byleth trying to understand the ideas swirling through her mind. Sothis. I think I have something to believe in.

A yawn echoed through her mind. “And what exactly do you believe?”

I...agree with Edelgard. The Crests need to be destroyed.

The goddess let out a scoff as a faint vision of her form floated about Byleth. “One would hardly consider you to have a sharp wit. So how exactly do you plan to help the girl? You do wish to prevent the war from happening, do you not?”

There was a long pause as Byleth sifted through her thoughts. Rhea. She was so violently opposed to anything that worked against her. And she controlled the Relics, choosing to gift them to the nobles alongside allowing them to keep the Crests. All for the trade of keeping them under the thumb of the church. If someone tried to destroy such a system, then wouldn’t it directly oppose the church itself? Which meant opposing Rhea. Rhea who only ever responded to threats with violence.

I don’t think the war can be avoided. Not when Rhea is so violent to any slight against her. The war seems inevitable. Like fate, you might say.

“Have you lost all sense?! Months ago you found the idea of a war deplorable and now you use a phrase you hated?! What happened to your desire to prevent such a fate?”

Byleth let out a sigh. I know. But...the peace and benefits that we enjoyed after the war were only possible because of it. People enjoyed better lives when I got to change the ways of the church or when I was made ruler of Fódlan. I can’t prevent the war without fixing an entire system. And I can’t do that as some nobody professor in six months.

The goddess let out a thoughtful hum. “Very well. But you must be certain of what you believe in. Carve a path of your own choosing, not that which others force upon you.”

Sothis disappeared, no doubt to sleep once again within Byleth’s mind, leaving the professor alone. A path of her own choosing. Had she ever even had a choice the past two times? Or was she forced down a fated road from the beginning, all due to being some near-emotionless husk that acted as a teacher. A teacher to students who never truly gave her something to consider before the war. Perhaps Claude made her question the church, but none ever made her truly question the system they lived in before Edelgard dropped her mask. And no one ever tried to understand the girl. At least not until now.

Byleth found herself wandering the monastery late at night once again, enjoying the cool air of the night to calm her thoughts. Her mind could never be at peace again it seemed. Too much was happening and there was so much to think on. It didn’t help that the professor’s thoughts went far beyond the present and spanned to multiple streams of time. The sound of another pair of footsteps echoed behind her, Byleth quick to turn around and see Hubert in the shadows. “It’s rather late, Hubert. Do you need something?”

The boy stepped out of the shadows, approaching the professor in the faint moonlight. “It seems I am discovered. I suppose that means assassination is out of the question. At least for now.”

A frown pulled down at Byleth’s lips, crossing her arms as she stared at Hubert in disbelief. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Merely keeping an eye on you, for the moment. Nothing to be concerned over.” Hubert looked off to the side, voice lowering as he mumbled to himself. “Unusually watchful--difficult to steal upon in slumber. Perhaps an odorless, tasteless poison…” He rose his gaze back to Byleth, as though just remembering they were speaking. “Lady Edelgard certainly took interest in a difficult one this time.”

Byeleth let out a sigh as her brows furrowed. “Why are you following me?”

“I suppose that question does warrant a response, considering it may mean your life. The answer requires me to explain some of the complex internal politics of the Empire.” Hubert brought a hand to his chin, that small scheming smile upon his lips. “Are you familiar with Volkard von Arundel? He is Lady Edelgard’s uncle. You may also know him as Lord Arundel, the Empire’s Regent. Many years ago, he took Her Majesty and fled to the Kingdom of Faerghus. Then, after a time, he returned to seize power. Joining forces with Prime Minister Aegir and my father, Lord Arundel rendered Emperor Ionius IX politically impotent. Lady Edelgard is Ionius IX’s daughter. I cannot begin to fathom the depth of her sadness at his betrayal.”

It began to all come together in Byleth’s mind. No wonder Edelgard and Hubert hated Lord Arundel so. He caused the princess so much pain. Removing her from her family. Taking everything from her father. And working with Prime Minister Aegir. If they had worked together, then Arundel no doubt knew of and supported those vile experiments, taking away everything Edelgard loved, destroying her childhood. It was sickening to think about.

Hubert removed his hand from his chin, looking back to Byleth as he returned to the present. “I see something of Lord Arundel in you. When I look at you, I feel I can almost see a second self lurking beneath the surface. It is as if you are in constant dialogue with something inside your heart--something with desires very different from your own. Does that description feel familiar to you at all? Because to me you seem unpredictable. As though you could turn traitor at any moment.”

Byleth looked away as she grit her teeth. She had no desire to be compared to Lord Arundel. He was one who brought great harm to Edelgard and destroyed her family. Byleth would never desire any such harm on another, nor would she ever allow such a thing to happen. The professor bit back with venom in her voice. “I am nothing like him.”

The boy glared at her. “The more I learn about you, the less I like. I had thought you might be of use to Lady Edelgard. But now I am beginning to think you may, through no fault of your own, present too great a risk. I hope you will prove me wrong, Professor. I would hate for this to come to bloodshed.”

Before the professor could even open her mouth to respond, Hubert disappeared back into the shadows. Byleth let out a huff. As much as she hated what Hubert said, he was right about her. She had come here with a seething hatred towards Edelgard, who’s to say she wouldn’t betray the girl? Not to mention Byleth spoke with Sothis from time to time.

“You mustn't let the words of others get to you like so. What he said may have had a dash of the truth, but he is unaware of the full story. You, on the other hand, have learned more from what the boy had to say.”

Right. Lord Arundel is involved in Edelgard’s suffering. I just wish I knew more. There must be something Hubert is hiding about him.

A sigh echoed through Byleth’s mind. “That, or you are looking far too deeply into the man. You should remember to care for yourself and sleep. Or have you forgotten that my life is dependent upon your own?”

Byleth stretched her arms, turning to return back to her room. Another long night was likely ahead of her. Finding peace within her thoughts became more and more difficult the closer they came to the war. A war that could likely never be stopped. Alright. But it’s not my fault if nightmares prevent me from sleeping.

Chapter Text

It had been a few days until Byleth was once again called to the audience chamber. When she entered, Rhea kept her usual disposition while worry was clearly stricken on Seteth’s face. The archbishop was first to speak, keeping her calm mask. “As I believe you are already aware, Seteth’s younger sister, Flayn, has gone missing. At present, all we know for certain is that she has not left Garreg Mach.”

Seteth shook his head, clamping his eyes shut. “Flayn is not the type of person to just wander off on her own without telling me where she is going! We have searched the monastery thoroughly, but have found nothing. I am now mobilizing the knights to begin searching the town. Troubling rumors have been running rampant lately. I do not wish to consider the worst, but…”

The man trailed off, no doubt lost in the worrisome thoughts plaguing his mind. “Troubling rumors?”

Due to Seteth’s distraction, Rhea began to speak. “There are rumors of someone prowling the streets and attacking innocents, night after night. The knights have investigated the matter. They have not discovered any remains, nor have they found any concrete evidence.”

“The people are panicked! They all insist someone called the Death Knight is coming to claim their souls with his blade.” Seteth took in a stuttered breath as his gaze wandered off. “There is no way she could have escaped unscathed if she were captured by such a fiend! Where is she?!”

The archbishop moved her gaze to the man as she spoke. “Seteth, recall that impatience begets error. Please do your best to calm yourself. I think of your...sister as family as well. You know that. You have my support. We will devote ourselves fully--mind, body, and soul--to recovering her.” Rhea turned to face Byleth. “Professor. Your mission for this month is to help find Flayn. The knights have the town covered, so I ask that you focus your efforts on searching the monastery again. We do not have time to waste. You have your orders.”

Byleth gave a small nod, turning to leave. She knew what was happening. Where Flayn was and who took her. Now was the time to act. The professor rushed her way to the Black Eagles classroom, having had previously told the students to wait for her there for the month’s mission. When she opened the door, she was glad to see all of them were already waiting. “Everyone, Flayn is missing. Our mission is to help search for her in the momastery.”

Hubert let out a low huff. “Flayn has gone missing? Most unsettling.”

Edelgard shook her head. “It doesn’t seem likely that she’s simply gotten lost. I’ll help in any way that I can.”

Pumping a fist up, Ferdinand gave a determined smile. “So, our mission this month is to find her? Well then, let us hurry and locate her before anyone else!”

Letting out a sigh, Byleth crossed her arms. “I think I already know where she is. I want all of you to prepare for battle in case I’m right.”

Byleth already knew she was right, but she couldn’t exude such confidence. Not when what she was saying was already teetering on the edge of too much. Lysithea quirked a brow from where she stood, obviously prepared to question such knowledge. “How can you be so certain? We’ve only just received the mission and all its information.”

“I already knew some of what was happening when Rhea spoke to me last week. Seteth had been in a panic over Flayn missing, which worried me.” It wasn’t a lie. Byleth had been there to hear of the girl’s disappearance after all. “I decided to do a bit of investigating myself and noticed some peculiar things. I think Jeritza kidnapped Flayn.”

The class met the revelation with wide eyes and gasps. Edelgard and Hubert shared a quick side glance, fast enough for the students not to notice, but not fast enough for Byleth to miss. The house leader gave a small nod. “Very well. We’ll prepare for battle in case your hunch is correct.”

“Good. I’ll go ahead to Jeritza’s quarters and see if I can question him.”

Byleth turned to leave, prepared to chase after the man who wore the mask of the Death Knight, but Edelgard’s voice forced her to a halt. “Professor, wouldn’t it be dangerous for you to approach him alone? It would be wise to have others there with you.”

The professor let out a sigh. “I’m going to Jeritza’s quarters and I’ll wait outside then. But only for a while. Once any of you arrive, I will speak to him.”

At that, the professor left, marching her way to the knights’ hall. She knew Jeritza was the Death Knight and she knew what she would find when she entered. But she still needed to at least try to keep up appearances, otherwise she would raise more than a few brows. Ignoring the chaotic state the knights were in, Byleth entered the knights’ hall, wandering down the eastern wing to find Jeritza’s room. She let out a sigh as she stood outside the door, waiting for her students. Though if they were too slow, she would enter without them, knowing exactly what to expect.

She was surprised to find that only a few minutes later Edelgard, Hubert, and Caspar showed. They were all rather quick. Though Hubert was a mage and Caspar was always in a rush to do things. Byleth gave them all a nod, leading them into the room to find it empty. As Edelgard entered, she called out to the missing man. “Professor Jeritza? Are you there?”

Hubert quirked a brow eyes scanning the room. “He does not seem to be here…” He let out a curious hum, eyes falling upon a woman’s body on the floor. When he realized just who it was, his voice rose with concern. “On the ground! Professor Manuela!”

Byleth and Edelgard kneeled next to the woman, giving a simple check over her. “Is she injured?”

The house leader’s eyes widened as she took in the sight. “She’s unconscious. Someone clearly attacked her.”

Hubert’s eyes took notice of Manuela’s oddly extended hand, one finger outstretched as the others remained curled. “Look at her hand. It looks as though she is pointing at something…” His eyes followed the path of her finger, noting something strange behind a hastily moved self. “There.”

Edelgard looked up, following what the boy pointed to. “There’s an opening behind that shelf. Perhaps a secret passageway.” Her lips pulled down into a frown as she began to move the woman, picking up one arm and hoisting it over her shoulder. “She needs to be taken to the infirmary.” Edelgard moved her gaze to Byleth. “Professor, I’ll be back shortly. Please be careful.”

The three watched as Edelgard carried the woman away. Despite her short stature, the house leader was quite strong, holding the grown woman with little issue. Caspar shook his head, trying to make sense of all that was happening. “Does this mean Professor Jeritza did it? Could he also have kidnapped Flayn?!”

Hubert turned his gaze to Byleth. “We should start by investigating this passageway. Do you agree, Professor?”

“Yes. Let’s investigate. We may not have the time to call for help.”

The boy gave a nod. “Agreed. The culprit could be hiding inside.”

Caspar pumped up his fist, his brows pulled down as he began to shout. “That settles it! We’ll take the offensive. Here we come, you monsters!”

Hubert approached the passageway, looking back to the others. “Shall we, Professor?”

Byleth gave the boys a nod, leading the way down the passageway. It went far, leading to a chamber deep beneath the monastery. Bars and chains filled the rooms. Was this a dungeon of some sort? Or something else? The professor never had the time or chance to really investigate the area properly. Hubert let out a huff from behind her as he took in the room. “I never would have imagined.” He let out a small hum, pointing to something on the other side of some of the bars. “I see someone. They’re unconscious.”

There were two collapsed girls on the other side of the bars, somewhat obscured by the darkness of the chambers. One was obviously Flayn, with her long green hair. The other was...Monica. To think of her made Byleth sick. But her feelings didn’t matter. Not around others, at least. “Is it Flayn?”

“Yes, and there is someone else too. It appears to be another student.”

A shout came from Caspar, noticing a large figure moving behind the bars. “Someone’s coming! I recognize that scythe and mask. It’s that jerk we fought at the Holy Mausoleum!”

The knight walked up to the bars, wrapping a hand about one, unable to pass through. His spoke in an obscured and guttural voice. “That sword. You must be…” He let out an amused huff, voice rising. “One of us will die, the other will live. I will enjoy this dance of damnation.”

The Death Knight stepped back into the shadows as shouts echoed from behind, the rest of the Eagles flooding out from the passageway. Ashe stepped beside Byleth, a concerned look on his face. “Professor! Are you okay? What happened?”

“It seems Jeritza is the Death Knight. He injured Manuela and escaped down here. Edelgard is getting Manuela help, but we need to focus on the Death Knight. He has Flayn and another student captive.”

All the students gave their affirmations that they were ready, waiting for Byleth’s orders. She took note of the strange dead end to the side. It had a warp sigil on the floor, though it would be hard to see the danger on the other side. There was also the obvious path before them, but it was likely enemies hid in the shadows ahead. “Ferdinand. I need you to lead Petra, Ashe, and Linhardt wherever that warp may take you. I trust that you will be able to keep them safe.” Ferdinand gave a nod, leading the three off, disappearing upon touching the strange sigil. “Everyone else is to follow me. Sylvain. Caspar. I need you two to help me act as the front line so we can defend the rest.”

They moved their way forward carefully. Arrows flew out from the shadows. There were multiple archers. Soldiers crawling out from the shadows made it clear getting to them would be difficult. Dorothea blasted them with lightning, temporarily lighting the whole room, making the archers visible for but a moment. Of course. “Dorothea, you’re the only one who knows fire and lightning magic. I need you to use it on any enemies you see. It will help all of us in the battle.”

The girl gave a confirmation by blasting lightning at another soldier seeping from the shadows, once again revealing the positions of the archers. “Sylvain, I need you to split off and take out those archers. If you use the Lance of Ruin, then we’ll be able to more easily see you.”

The boy gave her a nod, running off to handle them, the faint glow of his lance telling giving his position to the others. “Everyone, soldiers will likely try to swarm him, I need all mages to provide him with a good defense.”

The group inched forward, mages casting spells at any soldiers they could see while Byleth and Caspar handled those who moved too close. They slowly came to enter another room, the only exit being large door lit on either side by torches. The silhouettes of mages could be seen in the torchlight, slowly becoming more visible as they began to charge fire spells. Byleth charged forward, cutting one down as Caspar handled another. Sylvain caught up, assisting with handling an enemy that tried to sneak up on Dorothea from the shadows.

While the students handled the enemies in the room, Byleth took a key that hung from the mage she killed. She approached the door, fumbling with the key as she tried to find the keyhole. She eventually found it, sticking in the key and turning it, creating a satisfying click as the door unlocked. As it swung open loudly, a heavily armored knight charged, no doubt from having heard the noise. Though they never reached their target as a blast of dark magic from Hubert consumed them.

Byleth gave him a small thanks as she continued down the hallway beyond the door, finding another locked door. She pulled out the key, using it to open the passageway. The students filed through, taking out the enemies who inhabited the small room before flooding out into an even larger one. Across from them was a small alcove with a sigil on the floor. Ferdinand and his group suddenly appeared from it, prepared to fight Byleth before realizing it was their professor.

At the end of the room was a large set of wooden double doors, guarded by dark mages. Ferdinand rushed forward to take one out as Sylvain followed suit. The rest of the students followed Byleth to the large doors, the professor taking out the key once more to unlock the doors. Opening them revealed two mages and a knight alongside the Death Knight, the unconscious girls on the floor behind them.

Caspar, Ashe, and Petra handled the mages and knight as Byleth charged at the Death Knight, slashing at him. Before he could respond with an attack of his own, Lysithea brought down spikes of dark magic, injuring the man. The Death Knight would not give up so easily, though. He raised his scythe, prepared to slaughter, yet he froze when a figure I black armor warped behind him, face obscured by a white and red mask. “Halt. You’re having a bit too much fun.”

The Death Knight hardly addressed the figure behind him, barely turning his head. “You are getting in the way of my game.”

The figure let out a scoff. “You’ll have more opportunities to play soon. Your work here is done.”

Lowering his scythe in defeat, the Death Knight gave in. “Understood. I will go.”

The knight was suddenly enveloped in a flash of light, gone when it dissipated. The black-clad figure turned their head to look directly at Byleth. “We will cross paths again. I am the Flame Emperor. It is I who will reforge the world.”

Byleth reached out her free hand, taking a step towards the Flame Emperor. She was ready to dash at the figure as a pillar of light emerged around them. As her mouth opened, her voice rang out, no with anger as it did previous times, though. Instead, her voice filled with slight desperation. “Wait!”

But it was too late. They were gone. The students began to share whispers about the Flame Emperor as others set to work on assisting the unconscious girls, doing their best to carry them safely out and to the infirmary. Byleth kept her eyes on where the Flame Emperor disappeared, though, taking little care for all else that was happening around her.

Edelgard. I just want to help you. Please. Just let me know what you’re doing. What you’re thinking. Why were you involved in this?

She was pulled out of her thoughts as the students began to leave, begrudgingly following them out of the underground chamber. When they reemerged in Jeritza’s room, the students put the girls down, taking a small break. Linhardt took the moment to check on them now that it was easier to see. “They’re pale, and their pulses are slow. Still, I don’t believe their lives are in danger.”

Edelgard came running into the room, hardly looking at the girls on the floor as she spoke. “You found Flayn? Where?!”

Byleth wore a small smile. The house leader would have to work on her acting skills, choosing to exclaim on something she should not have seen or heard quite yet. But the others didn’t seem to notice it, Ferdinand glowing with pride as he responded. “You missed the most important part of the mission! We found her within that secret passage. The culprits were the Death Knight and...what was his name?” The boy let out a sigh as he tried to remember. “The Flame Emperor. Sadly, they got away.”

The house leader chose to quickly deflect from the topic of the Flame Emperor. No doubt because she couldn’t say she wished to stop herself. “All that matters is Flayn’s safety. Right, Professor?”

The small smile Byleth wore grew a little bigger, relieved to have helped Flayn. “Right.”

Hubert gave the two a bow. “We will take these two to the infirmary. Professor, please inform Seteth.”

The students picked up the two girls, carrying them off to get the attention they needed, leaving Edelgard and Byleth behind. “Whatever the circumstance, I’m glad Flayn is safe. Though I’m curious to find out who that other girl is.” The house leader’s thought process stopped as she noticed Byleth’s face. “Professor? Is that a smile?”

Byleth turned to fully face Edelgard, taking notice of the tingling feeling in her cheeks from the pull of her lips upwards. The professor brought a hand to her face, as though feeling this gesture for the first time. “I suppose it is.”

A small smile came across Edelgard’s own face as she let out a laugh. “You look...happy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you like this before.” There was a small pause as the noble seemed to take in and enjoy the moment, making Byleth smile wider. It was nice to see the girl so relaxed. But that slowly left as Edelgard remembered what must be done. “Anyhow, we should hurry to Seteth. He must be beside himself by now.”

Relief became apparent in Seteth’s features as Byleth told him of Flayn’s return. He gave a genuine smile to Byleth as he spoke from behind the desk in his office, providing thanks over and over. “Professor. Please, allow me to express my eternal gratitude once more. Flayn is safe and sound, and I have you to thank for that. Mere words could never express how thankful I am. I...I am indebted to you.”

Byleth gave a small nod of reassurance. “I’m just happy that she's safe.”

“Yes, indeed. I…” Seteth took in a deep breath, still getting over all of the worry he felt. “I, too, am overjoyed.”

The professor let out a sigh, holding a hand to her chin. “But why was Flayn taken to begin with?”

Seteth’s smile vanished as he thought to the information at hand. “Her kidnapper was the masked knight who vanished during the Rite of Rebirth. The one known as the Death Knight. Considering the circumstances, it seems plausible to assume that his true identity is Jeritza. And we cannot forget about the mysterious Flame Emperor. His true motives are yet unclear. However, I have an idea. I believe the enemy may have been after Flayn’s blood. The blood that flows through her veins is special. It is extremely rare...” He paused in thought for a moment. “And extremely dangerous. If enemies who know the secrets of Flayn’s blood have appeared, our only option is to leave the monastery and go into hiding.”

The door to the office suddenly creaked open, light footsteps slowly entering as a weak voice spoke. “Brother, wait.”

Eyes widening, Seteth walked around his desk, kneeling before the girl as he put his hands on her shoulders. “Flayn? What are you doing here? You should be resting.”

Flayn held the man’s wrists, looking up at him sadly. “I do not like the path of your thoughts. I do not wish to live in some lonely, remote location where I never get to see anyone. Not ever again.”

“If we stay here, you may be targeted again! Wouldn’t it be better for the two of us to live in peace?”

The girl let out a sigh, her brow wrinkled in thought. “Even if we ran off to some new, secret location, there is no guarantee that they would not find us. That is why I believe it would be safest to stay in the monastery, where we are surrounded by capable knights and professors.”

Seteth let out a sigh, his gaze lowering to the floor. “I see your point, I do. However…”

Flayn looked over to Byleth, a smile on the girl’s face. “You know it is the only reasonable option. What if I were to join the professor’s class?”

Byleth gave the girl a nod. “That’s a great idea.”

The girl’s smile widened even more as joy entered her voice. “You think so too? I am so very pleased to hear that! With a professor like you nearby, I shall be safe no matter what foe should appear!”

Seteth stood, begrudgingly agreeing with the idea. “I see. I am afraid you have a good point.” He turned to acknowledge Byleth. “Professor, due to my position, I have closely scrutinized everything about you. After all that has happened, I must admit that you are indeed a trusted ally. So, what say you? Can I entrust you with Flayn’s safety?”

Byleth gave a small smile. “It would be my pleasure.”

“I shall speak with the archbishop immediately.” The man’s voice lowered, wavering with doubt. “Please, promise to look after Flayn. She is all I have.”

A few days later, Byleth entered the audience chamber alongside Hanneman, prepared to speak with the archbishop. Rhea acknowledged the two, giving Byleth a smile. “Well done, Professor. I see that I was right to ask your class for assistance. I have been told that Manuela and Flayn are recovering nicely, as is Monica.”

Just hearing the name caused anger to boil within. But Byleth kept her outward indifference. “Who is Monica?”

Rhea let out a sigh as her face pulled down into a pained frown, as though she were disappointed in herself. “Monica, the girl you rescued along with Flayn, is also a student of the Officers Academy. However…”

When it became apparent the archbishop would have difficulty continuing, Hanneman spoke, pain obvious in his eyes. “She is a student from last year’s class. She went missing just before she would have graduated. It never occurred to us that something might have happened to her at the monastery. We assumed she had run away. I never dreamed that we would find her. Not like this.”

“Monica has asked to rejoin the Black Eagle House once she has fully recovered.” And icy dread clawed into Byleth’s guts at Rhea’s words. She had no desire to teach the murderer. “Our enemies are still out there, so we must remain cautious, and continue our investigation. However, we must also help the students to move on from this incident.”

Hanneman nodded in agreement. “After all, the Battle of the Eagle and Lion will be held in Gronder Field next month.”

That fake smile returned to Rhea’s face as joy sparked in her voice. “Yes. The students will remember it for the rest of their lives. Please guide them so that they may show us their best at the coming battle.”

The rest of the month passed by without incident, though one day after classes, Edelgard approached Byleth with a small box. She held it out to the professor, a nervous smile on her face. “I was told today is your birthday, Professor. This is a gift from all of us.” Lilac eyes glanced away. “Including myself.”

Byleth carefully took the box from the house leader’s hands, opening it to find a small pendant engraved with the eagle from the banner of the Black Eagles. It was beautiful. The professor looked up, a large smile pulling at her lips. “It’s lovely. Thank you, Edelgard.”

Edelgard let out a small laugh, her smile softening. “It was nothing, Professor.” She turned her head to notice Hubert standing behind her in wait. “I’m afraid I have work that must be done.”

She turned to leave, though Hubert remained. He was still until the classroom door shut behind Edelgard, taking that as his cue to walk up to the professor and speak. His voice was low, filled with a cold edge. “I don’t know what game you’re playing, Professor, but if you show any desire to bring harm to Lady Edelgard, I will dispose of you.”

The professor’s smile faded as venom filled her voice. “What are you talking about? I’d never hurt Edelgard. She’s my student.”

“Perhaps you say that, but there’s something dark I see hidden beneath that mask you wear.” Hubert’s eyes narrowed, disgust apparent in his features. “You seem to know things that no one should. Always knowing where our enemies will be in battle or when reinforcements will show. Only the enemy should have such knowledge.”

Byleth quirked a brow. “So you’re suggesting I work for all those people who have been attacking the church?”

“Well, it seems quite likely. With your distaste of Crests it would all seem to fit together. Why, you even knew where to look for the Death Knight and I hadn’t found a clue of you looking for such information.” Hubert’s lips curved up into a twisted smile. “You even sounded familiar with the Flame Emperor. I had never heard of or seen him before. Just why do you have such knowledge?”

Her blood felt like ice. She hadn’t been careful enough. Hubert noticed all the little things. And it wasn’t as though she could call him out on his own knowledge of the Flame Emperor. It would only send Byleth into hotter water, proving she knew too much. Not to mention she could show no proof for such a connection. Hubert likely realized this, having carefully chosen his words far beforehand. But what could he possibly be trying to prove? What could he gain? Unless...he thought Byleth could be a spy or like one of those who slither. “I’ve seen much as a mercenary. What can I say? It’s worked its way into my strategies. As for Jeritza, I have my own eyes. I can see what happens around the monastery without needing to ask questions. And the Flame Emperor? Well, I wanted to catch him and know more. It never hurts to try and gain information on our enemies.”

Hubert let out a huff, obviously not pleased with the answer, unwilling to believe it. But he likely knew there wouldn’t be much else he could gain from the professor. “I see. I have noticed you spending much time alone with Lady Edelgard. If you bring any harm to her--”

“I won’t.”

Byleth met Hubert’s icy stare with a determined glare of her own. She had no desire to harm her students, and that now included Edelgard too. The boy still let out one of his low laughs, knowing that the professor understood the unfinished threat. He gave a small bow. “Very well. Farewell, Professor”

Once Hubert was gone, Byleth looked back to the box in her hands. She had adjusted to his threats, though she supposed she could never be careful enough around him. Instead, she chose to focus on the gift that was given to her, taking the pendant out of the box and admiring it. Byleth put it on, allowing it to hang from her neck, brushing her fingers against the eagle. She was glad to have such wonderful students.

Chapter Text

Blue eyes gazed upon the deep blues of water, though they lacked the light of awareness, instead dulled over, lost elsewhere. Large smiles surrounded, looking forward to the coming battle at Gronder. The Battle of the Eagle and Lion. How could they all be so happy? It may be a mock battle, but it was to teach the students how to fight. How to kill.

A slight frown pulled down the corners of Byleth’s lips. She could feel the heat of fire surrounding her. Smoke filling her lungs. She was not at the monastery, but within fields set ablaze. Screams of death filled the air. The Sword of the Creator within her hands, stained with blood. So much blood. So much death. How many fell to her blade alone?

Who was she even fighting for anymore? Dimitri? Claude? Edelgard? Bodies littered the ground, yet Byleth couldn’t tell who died by her hand and who fell by that of others. Who even were those who lie dead upon the ground? They were all people who had lives of their own to live.Yet when Byleth looked upon them, she could tell nothing of who they used to be. Not even who they had fought for. War was a cruel mistress.

A sudden yank against her hands pulled Byleth out of her thoughts. White knuckles were wrapped around a bent fishing pole. She had a catch. Byleth fought against the fish, pulling it out of the water as it flopped helplessly on the dock. It was no doubt the fish Flayn desired. If that were the case, then this would mark the end of the fishing tournament.

The professor picked up the fish, carrying it over to the girl, a wide smile coming across Flayn’s face. “Oh, thank you so very much, Professor!”

A weak sigh escaped Byleth’s lips. “It was nothing.”

Green brows rose up in concern as Flayn took hold of the catch. “Professor, are you feeling well? Your face is rather pale.”

The professor shook her head weakly before turning to leave. Perhaps some tea with Edelgard would help calm her nerves. Byleth wandered some, keeping an eye out for the house leader before taking note of a red cape. She wore a smile as she approached the girl. “Edelgard. Would you care to join me for some tea.”

Edelgard turned to provide a smile of her own. “That sounds lo--”

A girl with deep red hair lept between the two, stopping before the house leader and grabbing her wrist. “Oh, there you are Edel! I need to talk to you about something in the library.”

The lord jolted at the contact, yet allowed the girl to pull her away, giving an apologetic look back to the professor. “Perhaps another time, my teacher.”

Byleth watched the two leave, her lips lowering back into a frown. Monica. She had been doing this ever since she was well enough to walk around. The professor hardly had a moment to speak with Edelgard alone, Monica always being there to take the house leader away for some business or another. It had been some time since the two had their weekly tea time together, instead Byleth being forced to watch as Monica spoke in whispers to the house leader from afar.

The embers of anger filled Byleth every time she watched Edelgard get pulled away. Monica was one of those who slithered. If Arundel was one of them, then they were a group who actively harmed Edelgard. So why was she working with them? Why would she allow herself to be taken away by them? Even when there was that pain in her eyes when Monica would take her elsewhere, suggesting she had no desire to be around the girl.

But Byleth would never get any answers. At least, not until she could ask the source.

A flash of white hair entered the corner of Byleth’s vision, forcing her away from her current task to follow the person. The professor found herself walking down the halls of the monastery before stopping by the doors to the library, peeking into the room. Lysithea stood by some of the shelves, hands on her knees as she took a deep breath. Edelgard stood over the girl, concern clear on her face.

“Lysithea? Are you all right? You don’t look well”

The younger girl stood up straight, still trying to catch her breath as she held her hands in front of her. “Oh! No, no--I’m fine! Really.” She let out a sigh. “Just not accustomed to so much manual labor.”

Lilac eyes widened as the older girl’s voice filled with a mix of surprise and concern. “You were cleaning the library all by yourself?!”

“Yes. The other student who was assigned to tidy up with me wasn’t feeling well, so it’s just me.” Lysithea looked over to the shelf she stood beside. “I figured I could at least dust the bookshelves or something, but I...uh...I got a little carried away.”

Edelgard looked at the surrounding area. Books were neatly stacked upon the tables and floor surrounding them. “So many books. You probably tired yourself out just moving them from the shelves.”

“As much as I love books, I can’t say I love carrying stacks of them to and fro. They’re so heavy.”

“Well, maybe you should think things through a little more next time. Surely you can tell how much physical strength a job is going to require before you begin.”

Byleth let out a small sigh. She wondered if Edelgard was aware that Lysithea was the same as her. The stark white hair would be a giveaway, yet both kept the truth behind their appearances a secret. Perhaps they both thought they were the only one of their kind.

“What do we have here?”

The professor was pulled out of her thoughts, turning on her heels to find a figure towering over her. “Hubert.”

The boy let out a scoff. “Would you care to tell me why you’re spying on Lady Edelgard?”

“I’m doing no such thing.”

Hubert leaned forward, venom clear in his voice. “If you wish to lie, at least make an attempt to be convincing. Now answer me: why are you so adamant on watching Lady Edelgard like this?”

Byleth remained still, her blood turning to ice as she stared into the boy’s eye. He was smart. There would be no escaping him here. “I...want to understand Edelgard better. But ever since Monica arrived, I haven’t been able to come close to her before something else takes her attention.”

The boy let out a huff. “And you expect me to accept that response? To me it seems that you’re plotting something. Perhaps you wish harm upon her.”

“If I wanted her dead, I would have let her die when I met her.”

But I did.

The image of an axe tearing through flesh entered Byleth’s vision. Edelgard screamed. Blood poured everywhere, staining the ground beneath her. Yet that stain doesn’t exist. It never did as far as anyone was aware. Only Byleth was witness to such an event. Was that blood, too, on Byleth’s hands? A death she could prevent, yet chose not to?

“Hubert, I just want to make sure she’s safe. There are people who would harm her for her ideals. And likely people who would try to take advantage of her, too.”

Hubert quirked a brow staring down at the blue-haired woman as he crossed his arms. “And you wish for me to believe that you are neither of those?” He let out a cold laugh. “How foolish. What I see before me is someone shrouded in mystery. One who has been spending more time with Lady Edelgard than any other. A perfect guise to get close to the future emperor only to kill her in a tragic accident.”

Byleth grit her teeth, staring at the boy as fury burned in her eyes. She hated every word he spoke. Not because it was true, but he was right. Right to believe such a thing could happen. She wanted to scream at him. To tell him everything she knew so that he would no longer breathe down her neck. But what would happen if such knowledge was put out there? Would Hubert kill her for knowing too much?

The library door opened, Lysithea emerging to see the two. “Professor? What’s going on here?”

Hubert straightened himself, bowing to the girl. “I was simply asking something of the professor. Please, excuse me.”

The two watched as the boy entered the library, no doubt to speak with Edelgard or assist with some task for her. Lysithea quirked a brow looking over to Byleth. “And just what was he asking you about?”

Byleth kept her gaze fixed upon the door, letting out a sigh. “Perhaps we could talk about this over some tea.”

The younger girl scarfed down another cookie before speaking. “So, Hubert believes you’re an assassin of some sort?”

Byleth stared down at the reflection in her tea. “It would appear so.”

“Then why do you spend so much time around Edelgard?”

There was a long moment of silence as the professor took a sip of her tea. Just what could she say? How not to give away future events and to keep her conversations with Edelgard a secret, like the lord requested. The silence ended with the clack of Byleth’s teacup against its saucer. The woman raised her eyes to look directly at the girl who sat across from her, determination burning behind blue eyes. “Tell me, Lysithea. Was your hair always white?”

The girl sat up straight, eyes wide. “Wha--why would you ask that?!”

“Well, I’m aware that it’s unusual for someone your age to have white hair.” The professor clasped her hands together, staring straight into the girl’s eyes. “I’ve heard that those who have two crests endure such strain on their body that their hair loses all color.”

Lysithea leaned forward over the table, paying no mind to the food as she closed the distance between herself and the professor. Her words came in a hushed whisper, a slight edge in her voice. “Don’t speak of such things in public. I don’t want people to know. But that begs the question of how you know.”

Byleth gave the girl a small nod. “Don’t worry. Your secret is safe with me.” Lysithea sat back in her chair, relief evident on her face. “The reason I ask is because I want to know your opinion on Crests.”

A frown came across the girl’s face as she scoffed. “I hate them. I wish they didn’t exist. Then I...I…”

There was a waver in Lysithea’s voice, making Byleth stand, reaching across the table to put a hand on the girl’s shoulder. “It’s okay. I understand.”

“You do?”

Byleth sat back down, taking another sip of her tea. “Do you remember what I said about Crests back when we were sent to fight Miklan?” Lysithea nodded, though confusion was evident on her face. “Well, I have my own reasons for hating Crests.” Byleth put a hand to her chest, feeling the pendant beneath her hand, bringing a small smile to her lips for a moment. “You see, I have a scar. It’s been there my whole life. And I’m certain it’s why I have my Crest.”

“What makes you say that?”

“The Crest of Flames disappeared over a thousand years ago. There’s no reason for me to suddenly have it when my father doesn’t. My strange scar and the sudden appearance of a major Crest of Flames. It seems too strange to be a coincidence.” There was a pause as Byleth questioned whether she should say more. “ lack of a heartbeat. Something was done to me.”

Lysithea backed her seat away slightly, eyes wide in horror. “Who would do such a thing? And how?”

“I’m not sure.” She had spoken enough of the truth of her Crest. What she’d said was already risky enough. “But I hate Crests. All they do is bring pain to people. I’ve...suffered my own problems beyond just my lack of a heartbeat.”

The two sat in a sad silence, tea and sweets untouched as they dwelled in their thoughts. A question burned at the back of Byleth’s mind, bothering her and becoming louder until she could no longer hold it back. “Tell me, if you could destroy the Crest system and possibly even the Crests themselves, would you?”


“Even if it meant going to war?”

Lysithea hesitated for a moment before determination took hold of her features. “Of course. I would do anything to free myself of this curse.”

Byleth breathed out a small laugh, earning an angered look from the girl, no doubt ready to shout at the professor for treating her like a child. But before she could, the blue-haired woman spoke. “You’re much stronger than me, Lysithea. I’m just a coward.” Standing from the table, the professor gave the girl a sad smile. “Don’t ever lose sight of your goals. Be the change you wish to see and take control of your own decisions. Your own life.”

I certainly wish I could.

Chapter Text

The Battle of the Eagle and Lion. Today was the day the whole of the officer’s academy would participate in a mock battle to assess the students’ growth. Byleth did her best not to frown in front of all the Eagles. They were excited to show her how much they had grown, after all. The class stood together in high spirits, awaiting the preparations for the battle to finish.

Caspar’s loud voice snapped Byleth out of her thoughts, forcing her to focus on the present. “Gronder Field. It’s part of my family’s territory--House Bergliez. It’s the largest field in all of Fódlan. The grain it produces sustains the whole Empire.” The boy paused for a moment, knitting his brows. “Wait, I sure hope we don’t destroy all that grain.”

A low hum came from Hubert’s lips. “It is considered the most suitable place for a large-scale battle.”

Edelgard put a hand to her cheek in thought. “Professor, if it were up to you, how would you approach this battle?”

“I would fight them head-on.”

The house leader pinched her nose, almost as if in disappointment, yet a small smile on her lips told Byleth otherwise. “That sounds like a certain someone we both know. But as you wish. We’ll use whatever strategy you think is best.” Edelgard removed her hand from her face, glancing as the other students as she smiled. “If the Black Eagle House bands together, we won’t lose.”

Hubert put a hand to his chin, scrutinizing Byleth. “Our strength is superior. So if we do lose, it will be on your shoulders, Professor.”

Ferdinand let out a loud laugh, looking over to Hubert with the utmost confidence in his demeanor. “If you’re not confident you can do this, just sit back and leave it to me.”

The black-haired boy breathed out a laugh. “The most you will do is make things worse. You’ll just get in Lady Edelgard’s way.”

“Are you two about to fight?” Caspar let out a loud laugh. “Count me in!”

“I think we should all calm down,” Ashe calmly requested from behind Caspar.

Looking up from preparing her bowstring, Petra spoke with confidence. “We have no lack of opponents. I am ready to go hunting for our enemies.”

“Hunting isn’t exactly…” Dorothea paused for a moment, letting out a thoughtful sigh. “Well, I guess they’re pretty similar, actually.”

“I’m just gonna hide in the fort and cheer everyone on.” Bernadetta took in a shallow breath, brows knit in concern. “There, um, is a fort, right?”

Linhardt, looked over to the girl. “Sure, but it’s deep in enemy territory. How kind of you to offer to cut through for us.”

Bernadetta let out a squeal, causing other students to let out their own sighs. “What?! No! That’s not what I meant!” Her voice lowered, mumbling to herself. “Ugh, good work, Bernie.”

Ignoring the archer, Lysithea jumped into the conversation, looking over to Flayn. “This is your first battle, right Flayn? It doesn’t seem like you’re very nervous.”

A large smile came across Flayn’s face as she let out a laugh. “Yes, but I shall give it my all!”

Sylvain seemed ready to make his own quip, but was interrupted by Edelgard, taking notice of the other houses preparing on the other sides of the field. “Our battle will begin shortly.” A serious look came across the house leader’s face, no doubt prepared to win. “The flag of the Black Eagles will soon grace Gronder Field!”

The students all let out their own affirmations and cheers, prepared to win. Ferdinand and Petra left to prepare their mounts as the others prepared their soldiers. Byleth had already informed the students of their starting positions in advance, giving them the time to acquaint themselves with leading their battalions. The professor had prepared all of them to lead soldiers, but hadn’t truly given them the chance to do so until now. It would be a good test to see if they were prepared, though.

Upon a distant cliff overlooking the field, Byleth spotted Rhea and other church officials, preparing to give the signal for the mock battle. Taking note of the situation, she shouted out her orders to the other students. “Everyone, listen carefully. We’ll split up into three groups and charge directly at the enemy. Ferdinand and Petra, I want you two to head directly for the Golden Deer. They’re the farthest from us and you have the greatest reach. Bernadetta, I want you to follow them and provide backup with your arrows. Sylvain will stay with you as protection.” Byeth turned her head to face the other direction. “Caspar, you’re to lead Lysithea and Ashe farther down the river before crossing the bridge. You’ll be in charge of luring and taking out the fliers from the Blue Lions. Afterwards, make your way through their ranks to take them out.”

Byleth looked ahead, staring at the small fort set up on the hill in the center of the field. “Edelgard, Hubert, Dorothea, and I will charge forward, heading into the center of the fray. Linhardt and Flayn should stay close to us to provide healing as we’ll be trying to draw as much attention from the other houses as possible so that the other two groups don’t take as much damage. We’re all to begin our advance once Edelgard gives the order.”

The students all let out their own confirmations. Riding off of the excitement from the students, Edelgard shouted. “It’s almost time to begin. Steel yourselves, everyone.”

Horns sounded from atop the cliff as the banner of the Knights of Seiros was raised to be seen by all who looked up. It was the signal for the battle to begin. There was a deafening silence within the field, Edelgard taking it as a chance to step forward and give a speech to both the students and soldiers. “Our victory must be absolute no matter what it may take.”

The sound of metal being unsheathed filled the air as Edelgard’s soldiers prepared themselves. Byleth held up the Sword of the Creator, staring at the blade within her hands. Yet it was not its usual bone white. All she saw was crimson. Gritting her teeth, Byleth looked away from the sword, staring over to Edelgard as she awaited the signal.

The other houses seemed prepared to charge forward, yet remained still. It seemed they were waiting for another to move forward before they did so themselves. “Forward! Now!”

Edelgard’s shout echoed across the field, ringing through Byleth’s ears as the Eagles began to move forward. Byleth began to move herself, Edelgard running up beside her. “There’s a ballista in the center of the battlefield. The house that secures it will have a clear advantage.”

Byleth gave her a nod, looking forward as the mages already moved to take out the armored knights before them. One of the Blue Lions already set up an archer on the ballista located there, meaning it would become more difficult to move forward. The archer took notice, shooting at the mages as they approached. Byleth ran forward, prepared to take down the archer, yet she froze as she stepped foot on the wood.

It felt like fire. The burning of smoke in her lungs. The stench of burning flesh filled the air. She watched in horror as Dorothea ran forward, taking out the archer. “Wait! Stop! Don’t go there!”

Dorothea looked back, giving her a concerned look, but continued forward as was necessary. Edelgard ran up beside Byleth, ordering the others to continue forward in the professor’s place. When the others gave their confirmations, the house leader turned to Byleth, concern filling her voice. “Professor, what’s wrong?”

“I…” Byleth stared at the burning bodies at her feet, disgusted by the crackling of their exposed bones. “Please. Ignore me and carry on with the battle.” There was a weak pleading in her voice, but she did not care. “If you’re worried about me, it can wait until after we win.”

Edelgard stepped away cautiously, almost unwilling to leave the woman, but she moved forward, knowing the others would need her help in the battle. Byleth took a long moment, closing her eyes as she took in stuttered breaths. She slowly opened her eyes. She was in Gronder. The Battle of the Eagle and Lion. This wasn’t the war.

She cautiously stepped forward, making her way over to her students. Petra and Ferdinand were fast coming, moving to reunite with the main group having had beaten the Golden Deer. Bernadetta was behind, doing her best to catch up with the mounted fighters. Byleth followed them, ready to rejoin the fray.

She slowed down as she watched Edelgard beat Dimitri in the distance, the rest of the Eagles taking down the remaining Blue Lions. They won. They hardly even needed the help of their professor. The class gathered together around Byleth as Seteth’s voice carried across the field. “That is the end of this year’s Battle of the Eagle and Lion! And the winners are the Black Eagles!”

Edelgard wore a large smile as she looked at the rest of the house, proud of her fellow classmates. “Thank you for your hard work, everyone! I daresay that prize is as good as ours.”

The students let out their cheers, celebrating their hard earned victory. Byleth took the commotion as a chance to slip away, distancing herself from the others. Though she did not go unnoticed. “Professor, are you okay?”

Byleth turned to face Edelgard, worry clear in her lilac eyes. Had it been anyone else, she might have lied, but Byleth found herself unable to. “No, I’m not.”

The house leader furrowed her brows, seemingly unsure how to speak to the professor. “What happened back there at the ballista? You didn’t seem like yourself. It was rather concerning to see you so scared like that. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you afraid.”

“I suppose you’re right to be concerned. I…” Byleth let out a sigh. “I have some painful memories. One of a battle where a wooden structure was set ablaze, killing everyone who stood there. I can never forget their screams of agony. The burning of their flesh as I remained alive to watch.”


The professor’s gaze fell upon the ground. It was free of the crimson stains of blood. At least for now. “There’s nothing you could do to help. They’re memories of the past.”

There was a long silence between the two, both unsure of what to say. Byleth doing her best to calm down, taking in deep breaths as Edelgard helplessly stared at her. It was only broken by a pair of approaching footsteps as Dimitri’s voice carried through the air. “Edelgard. Professor. That was a spectacular battle. You both fought exceptionally well.”

Claude shrugged from beside the boy. “Complete and utter defeat. I would hate to make an enemy of you two.”

Edelgard was quick to compose herself, turning to face the boys as Byleth did the same. “No need to get carried away with praise. I know you both feel we won by a paper-thin margin. And I won’t deny it. If we were to fight again, there’s no telling who would prevail. What do you think, Professor.”

Byleth swallowed back her sorrow. “They were nothing.”

The princess suddenly turned around, eyes wide with surprise. “Professor?! Well, I suppose it’s okay to let victory go to your head just this once.”

Claude let out a sigh. “In any case, I hope the day never comes when we have to put this experience to use.”

The prince nodded. “Agreed. I would hate to know a future in which I’m forced to cross swords with you.”

But you will. It’s inevitable.

“True.” Edelgard began. “Although the Battle of the Eagle and Lion was originally named after a war between the Empire and the Kingdom. But that’s all in the past. I’m sure the name will one day fade from the pages of history.”

That’s a lie. You know it.

“I hope so.” Byleth’s hopes were meaningless. But she could still vocalize them.

“How admirable, Teach! On that note, I have a proposition.” Claude held out his arms, trying to act as extravagantly as he could. “When we get back to Garreg Mach, let’s have a grand feast to break down the walls between our respective houses.” He quickly put a hand to his face as he continued. “And by a ‘grand’ feast, I mean a fairly regular feast in the dining hall.”

A smile came across Dimitri’s face. “It would be a fine opportunity to get to know each other better. Count me in.”

Edelgard was slow to begin speaking, caution present in her voice. “So be it. Let’s plan to meet up on the night we return. Is that okay with you, Professor?”

The positivity of the others had been infectious, a smile coming across Byleth’s face as she temporarily forgot about the past. “I’m looking forward to it.”

The princess’s eyes widened for a moment before she turned her gaze away in what seemed to be embarrassment. “Seeing such a big smile on your face is a rare gift. It makes me feel like I can maybe relax a little too.”

The conversation continued on between the house leaders, all excited by the proposition of the feast. Even if it was just temporary, Byleth enjoyed these peaceful moments. Perhaps they would come to an end in the future, but she could partake in them for now, watching as the students spoke happily amongst themselves.

The night of their return was a joyous one, full of celebration between houses. Students from different houses mixed together, talking about anything and everything. All of them looked so happy. If only such a peace could last forever.

Byleth sighed, leaving the festivities early, wandering off to the Black Eagle classroom. She leaned against her desk, scanning the room. It was so quiet. None of the chaos of students or the tense atmosphere of a written exam. A simple calm quietness. Is this what the classroom had been like during the war? Without anyone who dared to enter, is this what it would have been like?

The door swung open, students filing in as they let out laughs and talked amongst themselves. They spread out in the room, each having their own conversations they were wrapped up in. Edelgard approached the professor, turning to stand beside Byleth. The two stood still in silence, watching the others. The professor couldn’t help but feel it was nice to simply stand next to the house leader.

Edelgard eventually broke the silence between them, shifting her gaze to her professor. “Until today, I thought it would fall to me to command and guide our ranks all by myself. But with you leading us, I’ve gotten to experience what it’s like to fight alongside everyone.” The house leadered turned her head to face Byleth, a large smile on her face. “And I’ve happy it makes me, fighting under your command. The emperor doesn’t take orders from anyone. It’s their duty to stand alone and lead the entire Empire.” She then turned her body to fully face Byleth. “But maybe it’s better to have someone to rely on so that you can support and guide each other through the darkness.”

Byleth let out a sigh, turning to face Edelgard, a small smile coming to the professor’s lips. “Am I that someone?”

“I may be heir to the Imperial throne, but first and foremost, I’m your grateful student. That will never change, even when I fulfill my destiny and become the emperor.” Edelgard let out a sigh. “I told you long ago that I wished to enlist you in the service of the Empire. Well, I take it back. Now, I wish only for your continued guidance during my eventual reign.”

The professor smiled wider. “I would be happy to. I only wish for you to be the best you can be and to help you, even if it means being a light in the dark.”

A slight tint of pink seemed to brush Edelgard’s cheeks. She looked away suddenly, as though trying to hide it. Before Byleth could comment on it, the sound of footsteps surrounded, forcing her to look up and see the rest of the class. Sylvain spoke with a large smile on his face. “What are you two talking about? How dare you get chummy without us!”

From the back of the group, Linhardt spoke. “Don’t just hide away in the corner, Professor. You’re the reason we’re celebrating.”

“It’s because of you that I’ve had the courage to leave my room for a bit each day. I’m…” Bernadetta’s voice rose into a cry. “I’m so grateful, Professor!”

Ferdinand put up a grand display, as though to accentuate his words. “We were all just discussing how well you led us. Remarkable!”

Giving a bow, Petra spoke stiffly, as though her words were rehearsed. “Your guidance is without parallel, Professor.” The girl let out a small laugh, returning to her usual voice as a large smile pulled at her lips. “I have had practicing of that phrase.”

A loud laugh came from Lysithea. “I’m so pleased to be in your class, Professor. You truly bring out the best in us.”

Caspar punched up a fist as he held back from shouting. “Your training’s been top notch. Really!”

Ashe smiled from beside the boy. “Honestly, Professor? I was only able to achieve so much because you were with us.”

Letting out a small laugh, Dorothea smiled. “Whatever would we do without you?”

Flayn clasped her hand in front of her chest, joy apparent on her features. “I have had the opportunity to experience much. Please allow me to offer you my gratitude once more, Professor.”

“I feel the same…” Edelgard turned back to face Byleth, a smile back on her face. “You are something special, my teacher.”

The students continued to converse, though they now forced Byleth to join them in the festivities. The professor couldn’t help but smile and laugh. For now, she could allow herself the joy of peace.

After a few days when all the celebrating had died down, Byleth entered the audience chamber, Rhea and Seteth waiting for her. The archbishop smiled as she spoke. “I can only call your deeds during the Battle of the Eagle and Lion quite versatile.”

Seteth nodded, a smile growing on his face. “Comparing against their performance at the mock battle of the Great Tree Moon, the students have grown significantly. It is clear that this is a result of your guidance.”

“In appreciation of your efforts, and to show our high hopes for the future of your students, I award you with this.” The archbishop summoned a knight forward, who presented a beautiful lance. “Please continue to instruct your students as a model teacher.”

The knight gave a bow, leaving to add the lance to the convoy of weapons. Once they were gone, Seteth began to speak once again, though this time his face was pulled down into a frown. “It pains me to assign such a disturbing mission to you during such a blessed moment in time. However, next month your assignment will be to journey to Remire Village to investigate an abnormal occurrence there.”

Byleth’s lips pulled down. Not this. She had no desire to relive this again. “An abnormal occurrence?”

The man crossed his arms, brows knit in thought. “I have yet to ascertain the details, but it would seem that the villagers have been acting strangely. I have already dispatched the knights to verify the authenticity of this information. They should be back shortly. I suggest you begin by finding out what they have discovered.”

The professor gave a small bow, prepared to turn and leave when Rhea’s voice suddenly carried out “I pray this is not a bad omen.” The archbishop clasped her hands in prayer, eyes closed as she continued. “May the goddess protect you all.”

Byleth turned and left. The goddess could not protect them. Sothis was a part of Byleth, and she was never good enough to save everyone. Never fast enough to help the village. People would suffer because of her own incompetence. All she could hope was to be able to protect some.

Chapter Text

Shamir’s voice echoed out of the infirmary into the halls as Byleth and Jeralt walked by. “That’s what we’re dealing with. Is there no chance it’s an infectious disease?”

“There are no absolutes in medicine, but the chances are extremely slim. Restless movement, fits of violence, becoming bedridden or even impossible to wake. With symptoms that varied, there are only a few possibilities. It’s either a mixture of poisons or magic. And dark magic, at that.”

Jeralt entered the infirmary, Byleth following close behind as her father spoke. “You’re talking about Remire Village, aren’t you, Manuela?”

“Oh my, if it isn’t Jeralt.” The songstress gave a small smile before it quickly disappeared. “Tell me, what was the first thing you heard?”

The man let out a low huff. “Everything after you mentioned that it’s not likely an infectious disease. My child and I owe the people of Remire Village. If something’s happening there, we must help them.”

“We scouted the area ourselves.” Shamir stated simply. “Speak with the knights. Hear what they have to say.” She let out a sigh. “I must go. Thank you for your help, Manuela.”

The mercenary stepped past the two, leaving to continue her work. With just the three of them, Manuela gave Byleth a wink. “You know, I’m more than willing to go with you to Remire Village. After all, I owe you my life.” The songstress let out a small laugh, putting on her best seductive tone. “If you’d like, I bet we could even manage the mission all by ourselves. Just the two of us…”

Byleth let out a sigh. As beautiful as she could admit the woman was, there were far more important things at hand to risk such a thing. “I’m afraid not.”

The woman gave a slight pout, unamused by the response. “You’re saying no? Well, aren’t you just a great, big bore.”

A deep huff came from Jeralt. “Nice try, but I’ll be going to the village as well. Enough nonsense. It’s time to move out.”

Manuela let out a sigh, waving the two off. “As you like. Goodbye, Jeralt. Goodbye, Professor.”

As Jeralt retreated from the room, Byleth turned to follow suit. The two walked to the courtyard just outside the building, ready to part ways. Jeralt looked to Byleth, his face as neutral as ever. “I’ll be in my office making preparations. What about you? If you have the time, it would be helpful if you could go ahead and talk to the knights.”

A sudden pain seared in Byleth’s head, spreading through her whole body. Her knees felt weak as the world suddenly went sideways. She let out a pained groan as Jeralt suddenly rushed over Byleth, concern obvious on his face. “Hey! What’s wrong?!”

Byleth slowly pushed herself off the ground, gritting her teeth through the pain. “I’m just a little dizzy.”

Jeralt let out a sigh, giving a hand to help Byleth stand up. “If anything feels off, return to the infirmary. No need to just grin and bear it. Got it?”

The professor nodded in confirmation, good enough for Jeralt to leave and return to his work. A groan echoed through Byleth’s head. “Such dizziness...I felt it too. Just what do those people believe they’re doing?”

I’m not sure. But you’ve felt this before, right? I mean, before we were like this.

There was a long pause. “Yes. I felt this when those people made the Relics you use now. Just what do they believe they’re accomplishing right now?”

Byleth thought to the burning village. Screams of deranged villagers and dying innocents. All for some twisted experiment. I’m not sure.

Hushed whispers sounded from the dining hall, gaining Byleth’s attention. Who would be there at this hour having a secret meeting? The professor carefully entered, trying her best to be quiet. She saw Hubert and Edelgard together whispering about something. They suddenly paused, the boy turning to face Byleth, no doubt having taken notice of the new person in the room. She should’ve known better. He was far too watchful.

Letting out a sigh, Byleth approached the two. Her cover was blown and so was theirs. The three of them simply needed to accept the fact. As she approached, Edelgard turned, revealing a pale face. The closer Byleth got, the more she could see the slight shake in the house leader’s posture. The girl was unwell, but she was doing her best to hide it. Was she, too, affected by whatever those who slither were doing? Or was her lack of sleep finally catching up to her?

The questions would remain unanswered, being pushed back as Edelgard spoke. “Professor, I heard about our mission for this month. Something terrible is happening in Remire Village. That’s where you were when fate sent you our way. This feels...preordained.”

Hubert spoke emotionlessly from beside the house leader. “Are the knights making progress with their investigation?”

“It would seem they are.”

A small smile came across the boy’s lips. “If what is happening there is by design, there must be someone pulling the strings. There is the Death Knight, of course. And the mysterious mages who were implicated with the Western Church. They showed up when Flayn was kidnapped as well. And now there is another strange occurrence near the monastery. It seems an unknown organization hopes to make the monastery its stage for something.”

Edelgard quirked her brow, a question forming on her lips. “Do you believe that all of these incidents are connected, Professor?”

“I…” Byleth paused for a moment. Are they truly connected? In the past she would have said yes, but every time the Flame Emperor had shown, they ended the fight or condemned what the others had done. Except for the final time they appeared. When fighting those who slithered, Byleth remembered their lack of coordination. They all seemed to work together, yet the way they worked suggested they only put up with each other, their work simply seeming to aid another’s by chance. “I don’t think they are.”

The house leader’s brows shot up in surprise. “Oh? I’m surprised to hear you say that, but actually, I agree. It certainly appears that all of the events surrounding the monastery are connected by a single thread. However, I think it’s possible that it may just be a result of different motives overlapping.” A serious look came across Edelgard’s face as she stared into Byleth’s eyes. “Remember, Professor. If you think of people as simply enemies or allies, it may be impossible to grasp the truth.”

The two students left Byleth, no doubt to finish their private conversation. The professor remained frozen in place, unsure what to do. To think of people as something beyond just enemies or allies. Byleth had never done such a thing. That’s what her life was as a mercenary. There had never been a point to doing otherwise. What could someone even be beyond an enemy or ally?

The steam of tea was always a soothing experience for Byleth. Though she once again found herself sharing the experience with someone other than Edelgard. The professor was beginning to dearly miss her weekly tea times, but Monica and Hubert both actively got in the way.

“Now, Professor. What exactly did you bring me here for?”

Byleth looked up to the singer who sat across from her. Dorothea leaned forward on the table, giving no mind to manners as she used her elbows to hold herself up. When she spoke, her words carried their same charm as always. Carefully putting down her own cup, Byleth spoke. “Well, I have a question that I think only you can answer.”

The girl leaned farther forward, a large smile coming across her face. “Oh? Does the professor have eyes for someone?” She let out a laugh. “Tell me who it is. I want to know everything.”

The professor tilted her head to the side somewhat. “What are you talking about?”

Dorothea gave a small wink. “Don’t play stupid with me. You love someone, don’t you?”

Knitting her brows in confusion, Byleth stared at the girl. “Love? I don’t get it.”

The girl let out a loud gasp, putting the back of her hand to her forehead, mocking a faint. “How could our dear professor know nothing about love?” She removed her hand, giving a smirk. “You’ve come to the right person, Professor.”

Byleth held her hands up in defense to stop the girl from continuing. “No, no. I wanted to ask you about something else.” The professor paused for a moment, unsure how to continue. “Do you know what there is beyond enemies or allies? It may seem like a strange question, but that’s all the world has been to me. I’ve been told to try to see things differently.”

Dorothea sat back in her seat, eyes wide with surprise as she mumbled to herself. “No wonder she doesn’t know what love is.” The girl let out a sigh, giving Byleth a serious look. “You’ve really never heard of referring to people as anything other than allies or enemies?” A nod from the professor earned another sigh from the girl. “I think one of the words you’re looking for is friends. You do know what friends are, right?”

Byleth knit her brows in thought. Claude always called her a friend, but she'd never truly understood what it meant, just assuming it to be another word for ally. “Well, I’ve heard the word before, but I suppose I don’t really understand. What are friends?”

The girl looked at her, obvious bewilderment on her features. “How do I explain this?” Dorothea let out a thoughtful hum as Byleth waited, taking another sip of her tea. “Well, you could say friends are like allies who you share bond with and see eye-to-eye. They’re someone who you enjoy spending time with. Someone who makes you happy being around.”

The professor stared down at her tea. “Friends.”

Does that make Edelgard...a friend?

“Thank you, Dorothea. I think I understand.”

Friends. Edelgard was Byleth’s friend. The idea echoed about the woman’s head. Her friend. The word had a nice ring to it and the thought brought a smile to her face. She walked about the monastery, looking for something to do with her free time, eyes falling upon the house leader. Byleth let out a sigh. It couldn’t hurt to try again. She slowly approached the white-haired girl, gaining her attention with a smile and a wave. Both of which Edelgard returned in full.

But the moment was interrupted. Monica slipped out of the shadows, moving to pull the house leader away to speak of something or the other. Every time she grabbed Edelgard’s wrist, there was always that pain in the girl’s lilac eyes. Not to mention what Monica did. Or rather, what she would do. It lit a fire within the professor. She’d had enough of standing and watching.

Without a second thought, Byleth drew the Sword of the Creator, lashing it out at the monster. It never hit its target, though. The blade snagged just before her, whipping off to the side and hitting... Edelgard. No.

The professor dropped her blade, frozen as the house leader let out a shout. There was blood. The wrong blood. On the monastery grounds. Edelgard wasn’t dead, but she looked up to Byleth with pain and betrayal clear on her face. Monica let out a shout, alerting everyone nearby. “The professor! She…she just tried to kill Edel!”

Byleth took a step back as surrounding eyes glared at her, slowly closing in. “No! You don’t understand! Please!”

But her words fell upon deaf ears. There was only one solution.

The world shattered, suddenly returning just moments before. She calmly watched as Monica dragged Edelgard away. Everyone was none the wiser, all unaware of what Byleth had attempted. And Edelgard. She was unharmed. The idea of causing such pain to a friend--even by accident--created a twisting feeling in Byleth’s guts.

She let out a sigh. What Monica was to do really was fate, wasn’t it? Byleth’s attempts on her life were always blocked. When she looked for the girl, she was never around. Even at night. Monica’s room was always empty. She was like a ghost who could vanish or appear at any time she so desired. And when she was out in the open like this? Supposedly an easy mark? This would happen. Byleth thought back to her previous time through events. All the attempts she made on Monica’s life. All failed. She would never die. At least, not soon enough.

Chapter Text

There had been reports that the situation in Remire Village had changed. Villagers had been killing each other, but not much else had been reported. No one knew why this was happening, but whatever the case, it needed to be handled immediately.

The ride to the village was difficult for the horses, being forced to move full speed. Everyone had been silent, students unsure of what was happening and too scared to ask. All they knew was that they were in a rush and no time could be spared. When they arrived, those who were more used to combat on foot dismounted their steeds, tying them off away from the burning village.

The students grouped up, watching the travesty from afar. Screams filled the air as villagers attacked one another. Some let out ravenous cries as they stabbed friends or family, while others pleaded for their lives, cowering away as they wished not to die. The students let out gasps, horrified by the sight they bore witness to.

Jeralt growled from atop his steed. “What’s going on here.”

Edelgard’s breathing came out unsteady, anger apparent on her face. “This is horrific. It’s even more revolting…” She paused, taking in a stuttered breath. “More terrible than I expected.”

Baring her teeth, Byleth spoke with unrestrained rage. “It really is horrifying. We cannot allow this to continue.”

Nodding her head, Edelgard came to stand beside her professor. “Yes. We must find a way to save this village.”

Hubert crossed his arms, acting as the voice of reason. “True, but if we are not careful about how we proceed, we will only increase the death toll.”

“The villagers are attacking each other!” Caspar shouted. “Let’s knock them all out, one by one!”

A sigh came from Linhardt as he mumbled to himself. “Always so reckless.” The boy raised his voice so the others could hear. “You do know that if we mess up, we will either kill or be killed, right?”

Ferdinand was next to speak his mind, voice irritated by the lack of action. “Still, we cannot just stand here twiddling our thumbs and doing nothing!”

Ashe’s voice wavered with concern. “Those who have gone mad may be victims themselves. Is it possible to save them?”

“Ashe, our priority should be the unaffected villagers.” A pained look came across Lysithea’s face as she spoke. “We may not be able to do anything about the crazed villagers.”

“I’d r-really like to go home now.” Bernadetta was shaking, letting out a sigh as she tried to compose herself. “But there’s no time for thoughts like that.”

Sylvain gave the girl a reassuring pat. “Calm down, Bernadetta. It won’t do anyone any good if we panic and get injured ourselves.”

Anger was clear on Dorothea’s face, her hands clenched tightly into fists. “We have to help them!”

Petra gave her wyvern a pat, before looking to the professor, determination clear in the girl’s features. “I am waiting for your orders with full readiness.”

Edelgard’s eyes wandered away from the group, landing on something unknown to the others. “Wait. Those people over there. They seem to be observing the chaos.” Byleth followed the house leader’s gaze to see the small village square. There stood an old man along with some mysterious soldiers. Yet with the distance, it would seem the others couldn’t make out that the old man was Tomas. “They must be behind this. Eliminate them and rescue all of the unafflicted villagers.”

Byleth quickly turned around, prepared to shout out orders. “Alright! We don’t have time for fancy strategies or battle formations. You’re all smart enough to figure a plan out, but we should try to save the villagers first. We should split the village in two halves. Petra, I need you to go left and help villagers there. Since you can fly, you’ll go unobstructed by the flames and it seems the fire is the biggest problem over there. I want you to try to fly them to safety.”

The girl gave out an affirmation, flying off to help the villagers screaming for help. “Ferdinand! You need to go ahead and help the villagers on the right side of the village. You can move the farthest on your horse and you’ll be able to ride people to safety.”

Ferdinand nodded, is horse galloping ahead into the fray. “Everyone else, I need you to go help them. I’ll protect the knights who came along with us and push forward to fight those people who are watching the chaos.”

The students ran off in different directions, all prepared to support their fellow classmates and save the villagers. Byleth ran forward, rushing through the brush to fight the villagers who had lost their minds. She knew that some of the soldiers in the plaza would move forward to attack Jeralt and the knights, and she was prepared to defend them.

Byleth would hold out as long as she could, but the longer the students took, the more likely the remaining villagers would die. She tried to push the thoughts away, warding off the villagers who attacked her, doing her best to fight the feeling of the heat from the burning village.

A knight attempted to bury their axe into Byleth while she was distracted by one of the crazed villagers, but she was lucky that Caspar happened to be nearby, downing the mysterious soldier to protect her. She gave him a smile, praising the boy before lowering her gaze to the dead knight. Their armor was red and black. Just like that of the Empire. Was Edelgard willingly giving her soldiers to this fight?

A shout from the skies drew Byleth out of her thoughts, noticing Petra giving her a signal that all the unafflicted villagers had been evacuated. The professor waved back a confirmation before charging ahead, ready to kill Solon. She drew her blade, extending it and whipping it out at the deformed man as she moved. It slashed through him effortlessly, gaining a yelp from him as Byleth retracted her blade. Another hit would be enough to kill him.

She was prepared to strike again when Jeralt moved between her and Solon, more interested in taking the dark mage captive. “Why have you gone after this village? What are you planning?”

Solon scoffed. “I could have conducted this experiment on any test subjects. Now that I have what I came for, I must bid you farewell.”

Before either mercenary could move, Solon disappeared in a flash of light, not a trace of him left behind. A loud growl came from Jeralt, anger lacing into his very being. “Wait! Damn it, he’s gone!”

Edelgard rushed out from the bushes into the plaza, her face visible with distress and her voice upset. “We let him get away…” She let out a sigh, scanning the area. “I’ll survey the village. There may still be enemies in hiding.”

The house leader disappeared back into the bushes, leaving Byleth with Jeralt. The two left the village, prepared to help the villagers who had survived and been evacuated. The man let out a sigh as he stopped in his tracks just outside of the village. “Looks like we somehow managed to sort things out. And casualties were...kept to a minimum.” Jeralt’s face pulled into a frown as his voice lowered. “They said they weren’t picky about who they used as their ‘test subjects.’ Because of them, the people of Remire Village…”

The man trailed off, unwilling to finish his train of thought aloud. But Byleth was well aware what was left unsaid. The people died and those who survived lost everything.

“There you are.”

That distorted voice. Byleth’s head shot up to see the Flame Emperor standing at a bit of a distance from the two, yet close enough to easily be seen and hold a conversation. Jeralt stepped forward, angered by the Emperor’s presence. “That armor. So, you’re the Flame Emperor.”

“Yes.” The Flame Emperor spoke with their usual calmness, showing little emotion in the situation. “I believe you have met my subordinate, the Death Knight.”

“Oh, we’ve met all right.” Venom was obvious in the man’s voice as he spoke. “But back to you. You’re the one responsible for the destruction of this village.”

The Flame Emperor was quick to speak, a slight defensive edge in their voice. “Do not get the wrong idea.”

“What in blazes does that mean?”

They shook their helmeted head. “It is true that I am working with Solon. But that does not mean our objectives are the same. Had I known they planned to do this, I would have stopped it. You have my word.”

Jeralt took another step forward, more and more anger seeping further into his voice. “Your words are meaningless. Now, I’ll have to insist that you accompany us back to the monastery.”

“I cannot abide that. However, if you wish to join forces, I will hear your plea.”


The Flame Emperor turned their head to face Byleth. These words were never meant for Jeralt. They were meant for her. “If left to their own devices, they will commit countless more violent acts like this one. Do you not wish to prevent that? With the Sword of the Creator on our side, Solon would not be a threat.”

There was a pause as Byleth considered the words. She wished to help Edelgard, but now was not the time. Not when it seemed Imperial soldiers were helping in this atrocity. Not when she was unsure of what was happening. Even if the house leader’s current voice had a small pleading sound within, no signs of deceit showing. “It sounds as though you speak the truth, but how can I trust someone who I know nothing of?” Byleth paused for a moment, trying to find the right words to continue. “I must refuse.”

Byleth focused solely on the Flame Emperor before her. There was a slight pause between the two before the Emperor spoke. “Pity. Though not unexpected. Pray that you do not live to regret your choice.”

The conversation was interrupted as Hubert rushed over to them, shouting with uncharacteristic concern. “Jeralt! Professor! Have you seen Lady Edelgard?!”

Jeralt looked over to him, brow quirked. “What’s wrong, kid?” A sudden sound pulled all of their attention back to the Flame Emperor, though all that remained were the traces of warp magic. “Damn it! He’s gone.”

But the Flame Emperor wouldn’t be gone for long. Byleth was well aware of that. They would meet again soon. Very soon. And none would even be aware of it. None except for Byleth and Hubert.

The ride back to the monastery had been a gloomy one. All of the students were quiet, unwilling to speak of what happened as the villagers were put on horses with some of them. Children were crying over the loss of their home and family. But nothing could be done.

When the group had returned, Byleth was quick to leave the others, wishing for some space to breathe. Though Edelgard managed to find her, wishing to speak. The professor didn’t want their next conversation alone in some time to be after this of all things. The house leader’s lips were pulled down, sorrow clear on her face. “Professor, I don’t know if this is appropriate to say, but...admirable work out there. I really believe that we did all that we could.”

Byleth let out a sigh. She could have avoided this had she only revealed the truth. But then what would happen to her? “I wish that were true. Had we arrived sooner, so much death could have been avoided.”

“Jeralt said the same thing. We must try to stay positive, even through the horror.” Edelgard paused for a moment, seeming unsure about whether to speak her mind. Just when Byleth was ready to question her, she spoke. “I hear the so-called ‘Flame Emperor’ appeared in Remire Village as well. Hubert told me that you spoke with him.”

“Yes. He said he wasn’t involved in this incident.”

The house leader focused intently on Byleth, her features pulled into a scrutinizing frown. “And do you believe him, Professor?”

“I believe him.” Byleth stated with genuine belief. “I could hear it. In his voice. He was obviously disgusted by the event. And he didn’t seem like an enemy. Especially considering he’s never once shown a desire to harm us. But I’m not sure he’s an ally either. He chooses neither to harm nor help us.”

Edelgard’s brows shot up in surprise, her words coming out slowly and filled with a genuine curiosity the professor had never heard before. “But how can you trust someone without even knowing who they are?” The house leader brought a hand to her jaw in thought. “Even if his words are true, his objectives are still unclear. But if the Flame Emperor should someday reveal his true intentions...maybe then he will appear before you without his mask, and you can look in his eyes and decide what you believe.”

Byleth gave the girl a smile. “I would look forward to that day. Perhaps when I know his true identity and hear his own view, I would consider joining him.”

Almost as if on queue, Monica showed, her attention solely on Edelgard. “Edel! I need to ask you something!” She paused for a moment, looking at Byleth. “Oh, I’m so sorry. Did I interrupt?”

“No, not at all.” The house leader gave the professor a faint smile, though pain was evident in her eyes. “If you’ll excuse me, Professor.”

And once again she was gone. Just why was Monica so insistent on keeping Edelgard away from the professor?

Byleth begrudgingly found herself entering the audience chamber once more to report for the end of the month. Rhea had on that same emotionless smile, as though she had no care for the humans who had lost their lives. “You did well handling that awful business in Remire Village. I am certain the goddess shares in our grief at the senselessness of that calamity. More importantly, I was shocked to hear that our own Tomas was actually a dark mage. I must reflect on our blindness.”

A scoffed echoed throughout Byleth’s mind. “Grieving with me? Why, had I a body, I would do something about this instead of standing idly as the surviving humans suffer. Do not forget that you allowed a snake into your own ranks without realizing. How foolish.”

The professor held herself back from letting out an annoyed huff. “Why did you consider Tomas so trustworthy? He was gone for years. People change with time.”

“Tomas came to the monastery forty years ago, by recommendation of House Ordelia of the Alliance.” Seteth began. “Around eight years ago he went back to House Ordelia before returning to the monastery once again just last year. After having worked at Garreg Mach for decades, why would he betray us now? Just what did he hope to accomplish?” Seteth brought a hand to his chin in thought. “Jeritza became a professor at the Officers Academy because of a recommendation from the Imperial nobility. Supposing that he is the Death Knight, that means that our enemy is an organization that has taken root in at least two territories.”

“In the long history of the Church of Seiros…” Rhea paused, shaking her head slightly. “No, long before even that, there have been an endless number of threats to the peace of Fódlan. Yet, those who oppose us still operate in the shadows, their identities a mystery. I believe that Solon and the Death Knight are merely one part of a much larger whole.”

Byleth frowned, thinking of all the harm they had caused and the harm they could bring in the future. No. The harm they would bring in the future. “They must be stopped.”

The archbishop’s smile softened into a more genuine one. “I have truly come to rely on you. I believe that the monastery will remain safe so long as we have you. We do not yet know the enemy’s objective or whereabouts. For now, please devote yourself to preparing for whatever comes next.”

Sethet nodded. “That is all for today.”

The man walked off, Byleth turning and beginning her leave.

“Professor. Please wait.”

Rhea’s voice stopped her in her tracks, the professor turning her head slightly to acknowledge the woman. “I know there is much that you still do not understand. However, one thing is clear. You possess great power. I believe that you are destined to be a great source of hope for all. In any case, I expect great things from you. Walk this world proudly, dear Professor.” The archbishop clasped her hands together in prayer. “May the goddess Sothis protect you.”

Rage seethed within Byleth, gritting her teeth as she restrained herself from shouting at the woman. There were appearances to keep. Attacking the archbishop would no doubt end with the Professor’s death. She had no desire for things to end here. Not yet. Instead, she clenched her hand into a fist, doing her best to keep an emotionless mask on her face and voice. “Of course. Thank you.”

Byleth turned, quickly making her leave. Once outside of the chamber, she let out a sigh, trying to release the tension within her system. Rhea would pay for what she’d done to the professor someday. But that would not be today. There was a war to prepare for. And a decision to be made.

The professor looked at her hands. All her eyes saw were the crimson stains of blood. Whose blood, she was unsure. There had been many deaths by her hand. And the war would only add more. But their sacrifices would have to mean something. She had to make a decision that would prevent further suffering. Maybe that meant joining Edelgard to finish the war quickly. Or perhaps fighting against her so the emperor could cause no harm. But what did Byleth truly want?

She held her hands to her chest, where the Black Eagle pendant hung. She wore it every day. A kind gift from her students. And Edelgard. A friend. Someone who made her happy. But would the dead accept such a decision? For Byleth to fight for her own happiness instead of for the people? But, Edelgard did want to help the people. She desired to make all equal. Maybe Edelgard could even help Byleth find the humanity that Rhea had locked away when forcing Sothis’s soul within the blue-haired woman.

Is it so want to be selfish?

Chapter Text

“We are planning a grand ball for this month. I am sure the students will be most pleased.” Rhea began as Byleth stood before her, listening in for her details on the month.

Seteth shook his head, a frown pulling down the corners of his lips as he spoke. “Yes, certainly. However, we must not devote all of our time to frivolity. We have a new mission for you. We have found evidence of someone sneaking into an unused chapel.”

Byleth did her best not to grimace. “And what would you like us to do about it?”

“This month, your class is tasked with guarding the chapel and investigating these intruders.” Seteth lowered his voice as he continued. “With the recent state of affairs surrounding the holy church, we cannot afford to overlook any abnormality, no matter how seemingly trivial.”

Rhea’s voice carried with an indiscernible emotion as she spoke. “I am ordering a seasoned knight to assist you to ensure the safety of the students. In times like these, I am afraid we must always expect the worst.”

The image of Jeralt dying flashed before Byleth’s eyes. Holding her father in her arms as he bled out, staining his clothing and the daughter who knew there would be no saving him. Tears fell onto his face, mixing with the rain that fell. The light slowly leaving his eyes as he smiled up to her. Happy over seeing such an emotion from her. Happy to see her sad.


The large doors to the audience chamber opened, followed by the sound of heavy footsteps approaching. The sound stopped next to Byleth as a gruff voice spoke, causing the professor to tense. “Reporting for duty, Lady Rhea.”

The archbishop smiled at Jeralt. “I thought you two could use the time to bond. And to speak of important matters.”

The knight let out a huff. “Appreciate the thought.”

Crossing his arms, Seteth looked to the professor. “Bear in mind that Jeralt has a separate mission of his own. He will join you once he has finished it.”

Jeralt shrugged as he looked over to Byleth. “It’s true. I’ll be away from the monastery for a while. But when I return, I’ll come and watch you work. I’ll be looking forward to it.”

The blue-haired woman gave him a smile, trying to shove down her thoughts. If only the future didn’t have such a cruel fate in store for him. She gave a quick bow before leaving. The students would no doubt be excited for the ball, and Byleth had to make sure none of them got into trouble in the coming weeks. Not to mention she would do anything to take her mind off of the inevitable.

With the White Heron Cup coming up, Byleth was looking for the right student to represent the Eagles. While wandering the monastery, her eyes fell upon Edelgard. She approached the house leader, slightly relieved to find that Monica never came to interfere. Though that was short lived as a chill went down the professor’s spine. Monica had been absent for some time, nowhere to be seen. And Byleth knew where she would show next.

“Professor, is something the matter?”

Edelgard’s words snapped the blue-haired woman out of her thoughts, reminding her of what she was here for. “It’s nothing. I simply wanted to know if you’d like to represent the house for the White Heron Cup.”

The house leader’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “Oh.” Though the surprise melted away into a smile. “I would be happy to. Though I’m afraid some practice would be in order. I haven’t had the need to dance while here.”

Byleth returned the smile. “Well, you’re in luck. Manuela, Hanneman, and I have chosen to help students practice their dancing. And you happen to have a good teacher right here.”

The house leader let out a sigh as she followed the professor to one of the courtyards, where Manuela and Hanneman were teaching some of their own students. Byleth turned to face Edelgard, the two standing apart. “You know the basic steps, right? I want you to move through them.”

Giving a small confirmation, Edelgard got herself in position to dance. Before she was even able to begin, though, Byleth was quick to point out the flaws and fix small issues with her posture. Once done, the professor stood back, watching as her student went through all of the steps. She pointed out errors until an idea came to mind. “Edelgard, stop dancing for a moment.”

Edelgard halted her movement, quirking her brow as the professor approached. Without saying a word, Byleth took hold of Edelgard’s extended hand and placed her other hand on the girl’s shoulder. Lilac eyes widened. “Professor?”

Byleth gave her a small smile. “It’s easier to correct your mistakes if I can point them out as your dance partner. Now, take the lead.”

The house leader gave a slow nod as she began again, the professor making small adjustments to her posture and making comments on her steps. As they continued, the corrections lessened, until it became just the occasional one. “Tell me, Professor. Why choose me to represent the house in the cup? Surely someone like Dorothea would have been a better fit.”

“Perhaps, but I think you have your own charm that could help you win.” It wasn’t a lie. Byleth knew that people looked up to Edelgard and saw her as an elegant leader. “Plus, I thought this could help you with one of your glaring weaknesses in battle.”

Tilting her head to the side, Edegard couldn’t help but question the woman’s thought process. “How so?”

“Well, I’ve told you before that you’re too confident. This shows up in your fighting style. Sometimes you put too much confidence in your strength, giving up precision and leaving yourself open. But moving with grace and precision? You can learn that from dancing. And that skill can then be applied to battle. Controlling your stance and attacking with skill and grace.” Byleth’s lips widened into a large smile. “Plus, people are more likely to admire and follow a leader who carries herself with grace. You gain more from this than a simple dance lesson.”

As they ended the dance, Edelgard let out a thoughtful hum. “You always seem to think of everything, my teacher. I hadn’t considered other such benefits. Thank you, for the lesson.”

Byleth shook her head. “There’s no need to thank me. You did very well and managed to correct yourself.”

The house leader looked away. “There’s no need for praise.”

“You can choose to think that, but I know that you’re quite capable.” The professor gave Edelgard a pat on the shoulder. “I have no doubt that you’ll win the cup for the Black Eagles this year.”

Edelgard seemed just about ready to leave when something came to her mind. “Tell me. When did a mercenary such as yourself learn anything about ballroom dancing?”

Byleth paused for a moment. She already had an excuse prepared that she had used on Claude and the Deer in the past. “I’m not used to having so much free time like we do here. I’ve just been picking up and practicing anything I could.”

A faint smile pulled at the corners of her lips as she thought back to her past. While balls were a bore, Byleth still enjoyed some of the company she had at them with her students. Though it was always stifling to deal with nobles and the like who wished to obtain a favor from the archbishop or the new leader of the United Kingdom of Fódlan. To teach a student to dance or think about the school ball seemed much more freeing in comparison. Something that could be more fun. And Byleth was happy to make it all the more enjoyable for her students.

The blue-haired professor stood amongst the crowd of students, watching in wait for the beginning of the contest. Alois’s voice boomed across the room as he shouted about the event, though Byleth tuned it out, having no desire to listen to his headache inducing words. Instead, she kept her attention on Edelgard as the girl stepped up with the other two contestants.

When the house leader began dancing, Byleth couldn’t take her eyes off of her. The girl moved with poise and precision, coming across with charm and grace. The professor couldn’t help but smile as she watched, proud of how far Edelgard had come. Proud of everything she had learned. Though a dance was nothing compared to her ability in battle.

Byleth was pulled out of her thoughts when Alois’s voice boomed through the room once again. “The winner of this year’s White Heron Cup is the Black Eagle House!”

Dashing out of the crowd, Byleth stopped before Edelgard, holding herself back from grabbing the girl’s shoulders out of excitement. The professor wore a wide smile on her face as she spoke. “Congratulations, Edelgard! You did wonderfully.”

Edelgard’s lilac eyes widened slightly in surprise as she turned her head slightly away from the woman, a faint smile pulling at the corners of the girl’s lips. “Please, Professor. Praise isn’t necessary.”

A thought came to Byleth’s mind, thinking back to how her father used to praise her for good work. Slowly, the woman raised her hand, resting it atop Edelgard’s head. Her long white hair was surprisingly smooth and soft. A far cry from Byleth’s own hair. How much care did the girl put into keeping her hair so nice? The professor could only wonder. A small cough drew Byleth’s attention, causing her to notice a slight tint to Edelgard’s cheeks. “Professor. What are you doing?”

The woman slowly pulled her hand away, brushing her fingers slightly through the house leader’s hair as she did so. “Rewarding you for your efforts. Have you never gotten a pat on the head before? I won’t do it again if you don’t like it.”

Byleth gave a look of concern. What if she had crossed a boundary? Done something to upset and make Edelgard uncomfortable? She didn’t wish to lose a friend. A small quirk of the house leader’s lips soothed the woman’s anxiety slightly. “It’s fine, my teacher. Just new to me, is all.” Her voice lowered slightly, almost as though to mumble to herself. “Though perhaps you shouldn’t do so in front of so many people.”

A smile returned to Byleth’s lips. Edelgard’s reaction was somewhat sweet. Though the professor couldn’t tell if the words were just to please her or because the house leader genuinely enjoyed the form of praise. “Of course. But you should still know that I’m proud of your achievements.”

Once again, the Black Eagles found themselves gathered within the classroom after the day’s lessons. Edelgard spoke amongst the group, her gaze shifted to the ground. “The ball is tomorrow. I have no worthwhile memories of such events, yet I’m still looking forward to this one.”

Hubert let out a low laugh from beside her. “As am I, in the sense that I look forward to destroying all of the unworthy suitors who will inevitably swarm Lady Edelgard.”

“I will admit, Edelgard is adorable.” Ferdinand raised his voice as he made a grand gesture. “However, when it comes to elegance on the dance floor, I am superior!”

“You’re not a bad dancer, Ferdie.” The drag of Dorothea’s voice along with her brows knit with concern told otherwise. “But you do have some moves that are...hard to watch.”

The ginger let out a laugh, a wide smile on his face. “You honor me with your kind words! I understand that I am sometimes too dazzling to behold directly.”

Lysithea let out a loud groan. “Perhaps you missed the point because you’re too thick to understand, but you’re a horrible dancer.”

“Still, one can be envious of your positive attitude.” Linhardt stretched his arms as he let out a yawn. “I also know how to dance. In theory. Maybe I should participate as well.”

Shaking her head violently, Bernadetta practically shouted. “Not me! You wouldn’t catch me dancing at a ball any sooner than you’d catch a fish swimming through the sky!”

Caspar let out a loud laugh. “You do tend to flop around like a fish on land, after all.”

“Wh-why would you say that?!” The archer’s voice lowered. “Now I feel like a fish on a skillet.”

A small laugh came from Sylvain. “Perhaps I could help you. Maybe give you some dance lessons.”

“Really, Sylvain? Now is hardly the time.” Ashe frowned at the noble. “Perhaps you should also consider that some people don’t wish to stand in front of a crowd.”

Scratching his head, Caspar interrupted. “Speaking of the ball, do we get to pick who we dance with? I wonder who I should ask.”

“A bold subject change.” Hubert nodded. “Should Lady Edelgard wish it, I would be honored to…” He left the sentence unfinished as he bowed.

Petra clenched a fist in the air before her, letting out a shout. “I will fight with all that I have within me!”

“Fighting?” Dorothea gave the girl a concerned look. “No, that’s not really the point.”

“I will not be as a fish upon the flame!”

Dorothea simply shook her head, letting out a sigh. Edelgard let out a noise to get everyone’s attention, waiting a few moments for the class to calm down. Once all was quiet, she began. “I have a proposition. Let’s all agree to meet back at the monastery exactly five years from today.”

Caspar wore a grand smile. “Like a class reunion? That’s a great idea!”

Ever emotionless with his words, Hubert spoke simply. “Five years from today will be the millennium festival for Garreg Mach Monastery. I’ve heard the magnitude of the festivities will exceed all prior years.”

Dorothea let out a small laugh. “How exciting! Sounds like a great excuse to come visit our dear professor.”

“You will be seeing how much growing I have done.” A wide smile came across Petra’s face. “You will be pleased, Professor. This idea is good!”

“Who knows where each of us will be in five years’ time.” Edelgard paused for a moment, a dull pain in her eyes. “Or who we will become. Still, I have faith that all of us will gather and celebrate our reunion.”

“That’s assuming the professor is still here in five years and not enjoying a cozy early retirement.” Linhardt stated.

Edelgard let out a rare laugh. “Even if that’s the case, you will come, won’t you? Whether or not you’re still teaching here.”

Byleth couldn’t help but smile at the students. She knew what would happen. That war would ravage the land. And yet, even when fate tore her apart from her previous students, she was still able to keep her promise. No matter what would happen, even if she had diverted fate in a far different way from before, she would still wish for any excuse to see her students. “Of course.”

A smile grew on the house leader’s face. “Don’t forget, my teacher. Even if the millennium festival should be canceled, I promise to return here.”

Byleth felt a slight pang in her chest. It was a strange feeling. Edelgard knew of what she would do. The repercussions of her actions. It showed in the words she chose. And yet she still made a promise to meet everyone here in five years. It was a sad thought. But also, somewhat nice. Byleth was unsure what Edelgard expected, but the professor would be sure to return. To show her care and support for her students.

The night of the ball was as full of merriment and students as always. So many who would speak to Byleth and ask for a dance from their favorite professor. Though it was always a bit much for her. She’d never truly get used to such social events, but she certainly enjoyed seeing everyone so happy. The professor had her limits, though. She eventually slipped out.

She chose to spend time within the Goddess Tower. She hardly believed the stories spoken of it, rather just enjoying the peaceful solitude she was given there. No one had bothered her there in the past. Byleth leaned against the windowsill, staring out at the moon and stars above. The world was so beautiful and peaceful, unaware of what was to come.

The sound of footsteps echoed throughout the room, making Byleth turn around to find Edelgard walking up the stairs. The girl took notice of the blue-haired woman, approaching her by the window. “Here you are. Are you waiting for someone?”

Byleth shook her head. “No. I’m not waiting for anyone.”

Relief became apparent at the slight quirk of the house leader’s lips. “Good. I would not wish to interrupt anything.”

It was odd for someone to show, worrying the professor somewhat. “Has something happened?”

Edelgard shook her head, relieving the professor somewhat. “No, nothing in particular. In fact, that’s why I came here.” The house leader looked up, lost within her thoughts. “This place, the Goddess Tower. It was special to my parents. My father attended the Officers Academy himself. A few years after graduating, he was crowned emperor. One day, during a visit to the monastery, he snuck into the Goddess Tower on a nostalgic whim.” Edelgard brought her gaze back down to Byleth a small smile upon her lips. “And there she was, my mother. She had just enrolled in the academy that very year. They were instantly drawn to each other. Love at first sight, you could say. It was the first time either had truly been in love. Or so the story goes.”

Byleth tilted her head to the side. The last time she heard of love was from Dorothea. She’d never truly understood what the concept was, merely that it was something people spoke of feeling. “Their first love?”

“Yes. Of course, as emperor, my father had already married for political reasons. As the Empire demands many heirs, he also had numerous other lovers. In the end, my mother settled for becoming one of his many consorts. But I choose to believe there was genuine love between them.” Edelgard breathed out a laugh. “I suppose it’s a silly story to cling to.”

A small smile pulled at the corners of Byleth’s lips. “It’s not silly. If it’s a story you feel worth clinging to, then it’s a nice story for you.”

“Isn’t it?” A slight frown came across Edelgard’s features, her eyes clouded. “It’s a shame that the lovely stories ended after I was born. For as long as I can remember, my mother had already been exiled from the capital.” The girl let out a sigh, replacing her frown with a smile as her gaze returned completely to Byleth. “It’s strange. Something about you makes me reveal all of the things I so carefully keep concealed.” She shook her head slightly. “Anyway, what about you? It’s your turn to reveal some long-held secret! You can share a story about your past, or perhaps tell me a story about your first love.”

A story of her past? There was hardly anything to speak of beyond what the future could hold. That was hardly the proper information to share. And a story of love? How could Byleth have one if she hardly even understood what love was. Perhaps she could have entertained Edelgard with a small story if only she understood more. “I have no such stories. I’m afraid I don’t know a thing about love. It’s simply a word that people use.”

The house leader knit her brows in concern. “You’re telling the truth. I can tell.” The girl let out a small hum. “I wasn’t even able to make you blush.” Edelgard quirked a brow to the woman before her. “But how do you know nothing of love?”

Byleth gave a small frown. “I just...never felt anything in the past. Before meeting you and the other house leaders, I’d hardly ever felt a thing. My father never really talked to me about emotions, either. So all I know is that love is something people talk about feeling.”

Edelgard held a hand to her chin in thought. “I see. I suppose that makes sense, yet you really know nothing of it? Have you never even felt it while here?”

With a slight shake of her head, Byleth responded. “I couldn’t say. Maybe I’ll learn the feeling one day.” Byleth paused for a moment, giving Edelgard a weak smile. “Sorry that I don’t have a good story for you.”

A smile returned to the girl’s face as she let out a laugh. “No, I’m the one who should apologize. It wasn’t my intention to pry. I’m just intrigued by you and your mysterious past. You have supposedly always been a mercenary, but I believe there is more to your story than that.”

She wasn’t necessarily wrong, either. Byleth knew there was more to her story than the others were aware. But it was not a story that others should hear. Edelgard let out a small sigh. “Let’s leave it there for today and return to the ball. There must be plenty of students hoping to talk with you...” The house leader took a small pause, a slight quirk of her lips that most would easily miss. “And to dance with you. I would not wish to prevent you from mingling. I cannot keep you to myself, after all.”

A laugh escaped from Byleth’s lips as she leaned against the windowsill. “It sounds like you want to dance with me.” There were a few moments’ pause as the woman stared at the house leader. “I won’t object to a dance with you, but I’d rather not return to the ball. I came here to escape from everyone.”

Edelgard turned her gaze away, an embarrassed frown pulling at her face. “I see. My apologies, then. I suppose I should be leaving.”

“I never said you were unwelcome. You’re a friend after all.” The girl gave Byleth a slightly surprised look. “I enjoy your presence. It’s not a problem if you wish to stay here.”

The house leader warily stood next to Byleth, placing her own hands upon the sill. “A friend? If I’m to be honest, I thought of you as my teacher and guide. For you to think of me as a friend is rather...strange.”

“Is it really? We spend so much time talking and having tea together. I enjoy those moments.” There was a moment’s pause as Byleth looked over to the girl, a slight worry clawing at her, knitting blue brows. “That would make us friends. Or am I wrong?”

Edelgard shook her head slightly, a smile pulling at her lips. “No. I just...never considered it. I suppose you are a friend of sorts.”

The two stood together in silence, merely enjoying the other’s company. It was nice. Ignoring what was to come, instead just taking in the moment. Byleth couldn’t help but smile at the company, an idea coming to mind. “Do you still want to share a dance with me?”

“I thought you had no desire to return to the ball.”

The blue-haired woman shook her head, stepping away from the window as she held out a hand. “I still don’t. But we could have a dance here, even without music. It would just be the two of us.”

Edelgard paused for a moment before placing her own hand in the woman’s. “Very well. I accept.”

Byleth placed her free hand on the house leader’s waist. “Wonderful. This time, I’ll take the lead.”

The white-haired girl let out a small huff as she placed her hand upon Byleth’s shoulder. The professor began their dance, the two gracefully moving as one. Just as Byleth had taught. Yet now their positions were reversed. They moved in rhythm, their steps in sync as the two gave slight smiles to each other. A laugh began to bubble from Byleth, her joy pouring out and carrying across the room.

A tinge of pink came to Edelgard’s cheeks, but the professor never commented on it. The two continued to dance, enjoying the night of the ball together. Whatever was to come in the future, Byleth could at least have this moment to look back on and enjoy, drinking in the image of Edelgard’s smile as the two danced the night away together.

Chapter Text

The entrance hall was oddly quiet, a strange lack of students about. Today was the day. Byleth knew it was to come, and yet she wished she could do something to prevent what was to happen. The calm was interrupted by the loud booming of Alois’s voice. “Captain? Captain! Where are you?” He came to a stop before Byleth, looking over to the professor with anger clear on his face. “Hey, Professor. Have you seen your old man?”

Byleth gave him a slow shake of her head. “No. I don’t believe he’s returned from his mission yet.”

The knight let out a sigh as he held a hand to his face. “Too bad. I guess it will have to be you, then.”

A pair of footsteps echoed throughout the hall as someone approached. Jeralt. “I’m back. Sorry for the delay, my last mission took longer than expected.”

Alois let out a sigh, though concern was still apparent on his face as he spoke. “Captain! Thank goodness you’re here. There are reports of Demonic Beasts near the chapel!”

Jeralt knit his brows. “Nonsense. I haven’t heard anything about the monastery’s walls being breached.”

“That’s why I’m heading there now, to see what’s really going on.” Alois raised a brow in question. “You’ll join as well, won’t you?”

“Of course.” The captain’s features pulled down into a determined frown. “We’re both sworn to protect this place.”

Byleth already had the answers of what was happening. Of what would happen. But she had no clue where the Crest Stones for the beasts had come from. Where did those who slither get them? There could have only been so many to exist. The woman lifted a hand to her chin in thought, mumbling to herself. “Just where did they come from?”

“It’s odd. Just before they appeared, someone saw a number of students heading toward the chapel.” The cheer in Alois’s voice suggested that he was unaware of what happened to those students, unable to connect two and two together. “They were apparently acting strange, as though they weren’t in their right minds. Shortly after, Demonic Beasts started to appear, one after another.”

“I assume the students aren’t safe, then.” The professor already knew the fate of the students, but there was little she could say to the men. “Some of the students may have been killed. We need to hurry if we don’t want anymore harmed.”

Jeralt let out a hum in thought. “The students. There’s no way those Demonic Beasts got in from the outside. But none of that matters right now. We need to act. Go summon your students.” The man let out a low huff, upset at the situation he returned to. “Damn it. I wanted to talk to you about something important, but there’s no time. There’s never any damn time.” He growled before taking a deep breath to calm himself, defeat clear in his voice. “But this is much more urgent, so it can hold for now. I’ll meet you there.”

Byleth gave a quick nod, dashing out of the entrance hall and making her way to the Black Eagles classroom, hoping most of the students were there waiting for her, studying as she had asked them to. Upon opening the doors, she was relieved to see everyone there, the sound of the doors gaining all of their attention. “Everyone, get your weapons ready. We don’t have time to change into armor. There are Demonic Beasts by the chapel and we need to handle them. Now.”

All of the students looked up in surprise, even Edelgard. They remained frozen where they sat or stood, as though unable to comprehend the situation. Byleth grit her teeth before letting out a loud shout. “Come on! There are students in danger! Get moving, now! We’re all to meet by the chapel grounds!”

The Eagles snapped out of their daze, suddenly rushing past their professor and out of the classroom. Edelgard came to a slight pause by her teacher, giving a concerned look. “Professor, I…”

“We don’t have time for idle chatter.” Byleth didn’t look over to the girl. Her thoughts were more focused on what was to come. “Students’ lives are in danger. The more time we spend idling, the more likely they’re to die.”

Storm clouds loomed above. It would rain soon. Students were fast to show, joining Byleth and Jeralt just outside the old chapel’s grounds. When all had appeared, the group moved past the walls that separated the chapel grounds from the rest of the monastery. The area was practically in ruins, with Demonic Beasts prowling about. Though they were different from usual, their bodies looking as though they were made from wrappings and red glows coming from the tops of their heads. They looked less like the draconic form of the usual Demonic Beasts, and more like artificial beasts.

Jeralt took in the situation, surprise evident in his voice. “There really are Demonic Beasts here.” He paused for a moment, looking directly ahead to where the ruined chapel stood. “They’re emerging from the chapel! I’ll head that way. The rest of you, protect the students who weren’t able to get away.”

There were screams of terror coming from elsewhere on the chapel grounds. Cries for help. The students may have seen or heard the arrival of a rescue team. Though some shouts sounded more preoccupied with the beasts, students unaware of help, focus solely on the threats confronting them.

There was no time for strategy. Not with students’ lives at stake. There was no telling when the beasts would finally catch up to them, ending their lives right there in the supposed safety of the monastery. “Everyone, spread out in groups! One to the left, another to the right, and one straight for the chapel! We need to draw the attention of those beasts away from the students.”

Byleth didn’t speak of her own plans in which she would accompany Jeralt. She needed to at least try to keep him safe. There were so many possible scenarios that played through her head. Maybe, just maybe, she could finally save him. Logically, she knew she couldn’t, but she could hope beyond hope for the man to survive. Just this once.

She ran directly ahead, same as Jeralt, moving to take down the beast closest to the chapel. It would stand no chance against the Sword of the Creator. Byleth lashed out her sword at the beast as Jeralt pierced it with his lance. Caspar jumped in, landing a finishing blow with his axe.

The body of the beast dissolved, leaving behind the dead body of a student. Jeralt looked down at the sight in horror. But this was nothing Byleth had not seen before. This was no surprise. Every time, it had always been the students that were turned to beasts. It was no different now. All the evidence had been there before. Students disappearing to the chapel and beasts suddenly coming from there? When it had already been known that the Crests created these beasts out of humans in the first place? It should have been no surprise to anyone.

The professor shoved the thoughts down, moving to the next beast and shattering the stone upon its head with her sword, the beast clutching it’s face as magic poured down on it from one of the students. The damage was enough, the beast dissolving to show the dead body of yet another student. The screams of two other beasts let Byleth know the other Eagles had taken out the remaining beasts that prowled the grounds. The students would be safe now. There was one last matter to attend to.

Byleth followed Jeralt as he ran to the chapel, dismounting his horse to look around. The building itself had collapsed. Anything that had happened within wouldn’t be found. Those who slithered were smart with how they operated. Byleth could give them that. She followed as Jeralt walked about the exterior, looking for any clues. He eventually stopped as he let out a defeated sigh. “There isn’t a trace of evidence to be found in the chapel.” The man began to mumble to himself. “This must have something to do with Remire. Perhaps...”


Ice ran through Byleth’s blood at the voice that rang through the grounds. Monica. She needed to be stopped. Now. The world seemed to slow as Jeralt looked to the monstrous girl, confusion on his face. “Another student?”

Jeralt began to walk toward the girl, paying no mind to the hands she held behind her back. Byleth tried to reach out to him, to stop him. “Wait, dad, don’t.”

The captain turned his head, quirking a brow in question before continuing forward, giving Monica a small smile to reassure her that everything was safe. “Run along now.”

The girl gave a wide smile to the man. “Thanks for all your help, sir!”

Byleth tried to run forward. She tried so hard. Yet dread kept her feet solidly in place, as though they were made of stone. She watched as the girl began to walk behind Jeralt. She would stab him. Byleth knew it. Quickly, she drew the Sword of the Creator, whipping it out at Monica. But it didn’t reach her. It never did.

A man suddenly appeared between them, holding up a wall of magic that stopped the sword. Forcing Byleth to watch as Monica dug her dagger into Jeralt’s back, a wicked smile on those lips as the monster spoke. “You’re just a pathetic old man.” She scoffed, watching the captain as he fell to the ground. “How dare you get in the way of my brilliant plan, you dog.”

Monica slowly turned, taking notice of the strange man, confusion clear on her face. The man simply turned, grabbing the red-haired girl and disappearing into a flash of light. No. It wouldn’t happen again. Byleth wouldn’t allow it.

The world shattered and rewound. The professor ran into a sprint, raising her sword and bringing it down to kill the girl. But that man. That cursed man. He appeared once more, blocking the attack.

Again, the world shattered and rewound. Byleth attempted to use powerful fire magic. To destroy ground beneath the girl, yet he appeared again, bashing Byleth down, stopping her.

He was always there. Always in the way. He never let Monica die. Not here. Tears pricked at Byleth’s eyes. Was there nothing she could do to prevent this fate? There was one last idea that came to her mind.

The world shattered again. Watching as Monica moved around Jeralt. Byleth let out a desperate shout. It was all that she had left. “Dad! Look out!”

Jeralt turned around, giving a confused look, before turning his gaze down in surprise. It was too late. He was too slow to do anything as Monica shoved her dagger into the man’s stomach. Rage burned within Byleth as she drew her sword, running at the girl. She swung her sword down to once again get blocked by the strange man as he suddenly appeared. He stepped back, turning to grab Monica, and once again, they were gone in a flash of light.

Byleth’s attention turned to her father as the man fully collapsed to the ground, hands clutching his stomach in pain. The professor dropped her sword, running over to Jeralt. She knelt beside him, slowly picking up his torso and turning him onto his back, holding him slightly above the ground. She needed him here. She needed her father close. Alive. She couldn’t lose him. Not yet.

Jeralt let out pained groans, his eyes clamped shut as he spoke through grit teeth. “Sorry.” He slowly opened his eyes, looking up to Byleth’s saddened face. “It looks like...I’m going to have to leave you now.”

Tears fell, streaming down Byleth’s face and dropping on to her father’s, forcing him to look at her closely through the pain. And he smiled. He smiled despite being at death’s door. He let out a small huff, closing his eyes as that smile grew, as though he accepted the fate that befell him. Just how could he do so? Accepting that he would leave Byleth behind, alone in this world without her father. “To think that the first time I saw you cry...your tears would be for me. It’s sad, and yet...I’m happy for it. Thank you...Byleth.”

When was the last time he called her by name? He always called her kid. Before all of this. Before the monastery. Last he called her by name was as a child. It must have been during a mission. Byleth had been reckless and almost gotten herself killed. But Jeralt was there just in time to protect her, calling her out by name. He gave her a stern lecture afterwards, but still gave a smile and a pat on her head. He couldn’t stay angry at her as he allowed relief to show on his face, happy that she was still alive.

Jeralt let out one final breath, his chest ceasing to move as his head dropped. He was...gone. Drops of rain began to fall, mixing with Byleth’s tears on her father’s face. It would have been wise to find shelter from the rain. But she didn’t care. She mumbled to herself between sobs, clutching his body closely. “Please. You can’t leave me. Not again. I...I tried so hard. Please.”

The sound of boots squishing in the mud surrounded. But Byleth ignored them, focusing on the body in her arms. She buried her face into Jeralt’s chest. His warmth was quickly draining in the cold rain. That warmth that had always been a comfort, enveloping Byleth when her father gave her hugs as a child. Those were gone now. Forever.

The squish of boots returned, though this time the sounds faded away, only one pair coming closer and closer, stopping just behind Byleth. A warm hand touched her back, sending a chill down her spine as though she just recognized her jacket was damp with cold rainwater.


It was Edelgard’s voice. There was a long moment’s pause, Byleth never answering. The hand moved to the professor’s shoulder, giving it a slight shake. “Professor. We need to be going.”

“Leave me.”


Byleth raised her head, turning it to look directly into concerned lilac eyes. A slight venomous edge entered Byleth’s voice as she spoke. “Leave me. Now.”

Edelgard’s eyes widened. She took a step back, concern and slight betrayal stricken on her face. But Byleth didn’t care. She lost everything she tried to protect. Everything. She watched Edelgard walk away, saying not another word. The professor turned her gaze back to Jeralt. “Sothis, what if I--”

“If turning back the hands of time was not enough to save his life, you must accept what came to pass was fate.”

Her clutch on the body tightened, vision filled with the red hair of Monica. She killed him. She always killed him. But she wasn’t alone. There were others who slithered. “They will pay.”

“Agreed. We cannot let the wicked ones run free.”

Byleth remained kneeling in the mud for some time, holding the body closely. Her eyes were dry, no more tears left to shed. The moment was interrupted by the sound of boots running through the mud, a loud voice booming out. “Byleth!”

The woman slowly looked up to see Alois, the man slowing down and kneeling before her. His voice lowered as he spoke again, uncharacteristically quiet. “Here you are.” He paused for a moment, looking down at the body in Byleth’s arms. “I hope you know that you were the most important thing in the world to him.”

“What do you want?”

Her voice came out tired. Alois only seemed more concerned as a result. “He wasn’t the most emotional guy. I’m sure expressing his affection wouldn’t have come naturally to him. But you should know he loved you.”

That word again. Love. Just what did he mean by it? Alois carefully moved his arms beneath Jeralt’s body, moving to lift him from Byleth’s arms. “Lady Rhea wants to see you. I’ll take Jeralt.” He paused a moment, glancing to Byleth. “If you don’t mind.”

The professor gave a small nod, removing her arms from her father’s body. She watched as Alois carried him off. She would never get to see her father’s face again. Letting out a stuttered breath, Byleth stood. Rhea was expecting her.

Entering the audience chamber, Byleth barely lifted her head, looking to the archbishop. She wore that same mask. That same fake face. Uncaring as always. She tried to hide that with emotion in her voice, but her face was always wrong. “Professor. I have been waiting for you.”

Her words were so distant. Like Byleth wasn’t some human Rhea could talk to.


She had a name. She wasn’t just a professor.

The archbishop’s lips pulled slightly downwards as she spoke. “I am filled with grief at the loss of our most celebrated knight. Jeralt was an ally of many years...and also a dear friend.”

Venom laced itself into Byleth’s voice. She didn’t care to hide her anger towards Rhea. Not now. Not when that thing pretended to care. “It had been so long since you last saw him. What would you know?”

Rhea tried to explain. To talk about what Jeralt was like before Byleth was born. To talk about his love for her mother. But Byleth cared to hear none of it. At least, not from Rhea. If she hadn’t done this to Byleth, then maybe she and Jeralt wouldn’t have been dragged into this. Even if it meant Byleth would never live. She clutched her hands into fists. What she wouldn’t give for her father to remain.

She was pulled out of her thoughts when Alois rushed into the room. “Sorry for the interruption, Lady Rhea. There’s something you must hear immediately. A report from the knights patrolling the area.”

That same emotionless masked returned to Rhea’s face as she looked to Byleth. “Very well. Professor, you are dismissed for the day. Please rest and focus only on mending your heart. Understood?”

Byleth let out a small huff, turning to take her leave. Mending her heart. That would be impossible. What heart did she have after Rhea had taken it from her as a baby? The pain she felt now was more crushing than it had ever felt before. It was suffocating. To heal from this felt impossible. Like she was stuck in an abyss without walls, unable to climb up to the freedom of the outside world, instead trapped to wallow in her pain.

Chapter Text

Byleth curled in on herself, letting out another sob. A hand rested on her shoulder, providing minimal comfort compared to the cold stone of Sothis’s throne against the professor’s back. Byleth’s words came out muffled as she spoke into her clothing and flesh. “I couldn’t save him, Sothis. He died because of me. If only I was stronger. Then maybe...”

“You have become stronger, better than before I first turned back the hands of time, returning us to the beginning. If you could not save him as you are now, then you must accept what came to happen as fate.”

“But...he didn’t need to die. He never had to.” Byleth curled deeper into herself as she spoke. “Why did Monica have to kill him...and not me?”

There was a long silence. The pain within the professor’s chest felt as though it was festering, becoming greater and greater as time carried ever forward. She could feel the sorrow flowing from Sothis. That pain in the goddess over seeing her vessel in such a sorry state.


That was Edelgard’s voice. Byleth was back in her room, curled up in the corner of her bed. She didn’t dare look up at the visitor. Just how did the house leader get in, anyways? The sound of footsteps slowly approached, stopping just beside her bed. “’ve been crying.”

Byleth ignored her, hugging her legs closer to her chest. She wanted to be gone. What was the point of living through this pain? There was a long silence before Edelgard spoke again, her voice wavering with concern. “My teacher, it's been over a week. Are you so blinded by grief that you can’t see what’s going on right in front of you?” An edge suddenly entered the girl’s voice, as though she were berating the professor. “Are you waiting for time to heal your wounds? Or have you curled up in a corner and lost the will to carry on?”

Finally raising her head, Byleth glared at Edelgard. “Does it matter?”

The corners of Edelgard’s lips pulled into a deep frown. “It does. You’ve lost yourself.” The house leader sighed as she allowed her frown to slip away. “Only you can truly understand your own sadness. Others can sympathize or even empathize, but all anyone else can offer are the tears of an outsider looking in. So I have no intention of crying for you, or of standing still with you. All I can do is promise to reach out my hand when the time comes for me to move forward.”

Byleth shot up, grabbing Edelgard’s jacket and towering over the girl. Lilac eyes widened as the professor let out a low growl. “What the hell would you know?” Byleth’s knuckles slowly turned white as she grasped tighter at the cloth, her voice rising with her emotions. “I did everything. Everything! I tried over and over to save his life. But no matter how many times I tried, he always died!” Loosening her grip, Byleth roughly pushed the girl away, tears beginning to prick once more at blue eyes. “You wouldn’t understand how it feels to have all the power needed to save someone and still failing.”

Lilac eyes looked up to Byleth, filled with fear and confusion. “What are you talking about?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know.” Byleth practically spat out the words. “Leave me be. You can’t bring my father back.”

Edelgard’s lips pulled into a deep frown, a defensive edge entering her own voice. “Perhaps not. But you should be made aware that the mysterious organization that was carrying out experiments in Remire Village and the chapel is up to something near Garreg Mach. The archbishop has sent the knights to undertake a large-scale investigation. No information has surfaced yet, but our enemies will soon be discovered. When they are, will you lead us into battle? Or will you just sit here with no thought for the future that is fast approaching?”

The two stared at each other, a long silence between them. Anger burned within blue eyes as a slight sorrow whirled within lilac. Edelgard let out a sigh, her voice low as she continued. “My teacher, there is a choice to be made. I hope you make the right one.”

The house leader suddenly turned and left, shutting the door behind her. Byleth let out a huff as Sothis’s voice echoed within her mind. “My, my. She really is quite arrogant. She spoke her mind without an ounce of reservation!” There was a moment’s pause between her words, as though in thought. “But she is right. The time has come to stand again. You know already what your answer is.”

Byleth let out a sigh, wiping away the tears that streamed down her face. “I’ll make sure they die for their deeds.”

Sothis’s voice rose with anger. “You must not allow yourself to be consumed by the desire for revenge. If you act so, then you will push away all you care for that is before you. Like you have just done to that girl.” The goddess let out a scoff. “And to think you called her a friend.”

Falling back onto her bed, the professor took in a deep stuttered breath. A pange of regret filled her chest at the thought. But it felt like nothing compared to the pain of losing Jeralt once more. “I know my students need me, but this pain is more than I’m used to. I just need a little more time.”

Sothis manifested in the air, floating before Byleth as she placed a hand on the woman’s shoulder. “If you must weep, then weep. I shall be here for you.”

“Thank you.”

When Byleth finally returned to wandering the monastery grounds some couple weeks later, whispers from amongst the students traveled to her ears. They thought they were being quiet and discreet about their words, but they were far from it. They began to connect threads together, noting how Monica always spent her free time hanging around Edelgard. Some would suggest this implicated the house leader as well, while others tried to hush them over saying something so treasonous.

Monica was one of those who slithered, Byeth knew that. And Edelgard worked alongside them, acting as the Flame Emperor during her school days. She could have easily known this was to happen and simply allowed Jeralt to die. Byleth frowned. The girl wouldn’t allow that. Would she? Her words back in Remire suggested a disgust towards those she worked with, wishing to kill them.

But she hasn’t lifted the mask yet. She won’t tell the truth. At least not the full of it. Everything could have been a lie. She could have been fine with what those who slithered had done. Yet, the emotion in Edelgard’s voice when she spoke betrayed such an idea. The girl’s sadness over losing her family. All due to experiments. Experiments that likely would have been carried out by the shady organization.

Byleth let out a sigh. She needed to speak to the house leader herself. She moved about the grounds, searching for the girl before finding her just outside the dining hall. The professor approached from behind, gently placing a hand on the girl’s shoulder, causing Edelgard to stiffen. “Edelgard. I’m sorry. About when I yelled at you before.”

Edelgard turned, surprised to see the professor out and about. She let out a sigh, shaking her head as a slight smile pulled at her lips. “I suppose I was rather blunt, Professor. But I’m so happy to see you. You’re finally returning to your old self. To see the light in your eyes again is a gift. It inspires me to carry on as well.”

A smile, however small it was, came to Byleth’s face. Somehow, speaking with Edelgard seemed to have a positive effect on her. At least when she wasn’t consumed by other emotions. Suddenly, Byleth stepped forward, wrapping her arms around the house leader, surprising the girl. “Professor?!”

“My father used to give me hugs when I was injured. I didn’t feel much emotion then, but I remember it feeling nice.”

There was a slight moment of hesitation before the girl spoke. “And now?”

Byleth buried her face into the white hair atop Edelgard’s head. She smelled of bergamot. It filled the woman with a slight comfort and relief for a moment. “Better than I remember.”

When the professor noticed that the girl was stiff within her arms, she stepped away, letting go as she spoke. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.” There was a long pause as Byleth smiled at Edelgard. “But I want you to know that when the time comes, I will lead us in battle. That organization won’t get away what they’ve done.”

Edelgard gave a smile, glad to see her old professor return to her. “As you know, the knights are searching furiously for any trace of the enemies who escaped. I’ll inform you immediately if I learn anything relevant.”

The two continued to talk, Byleth inviting the girl to tea so they might hold their conversation in a more comfortable environment. She was rather happy when Edelgard agreed. She had missed these moments.

“I’m afraid I must be going now, my teacher.”

Byleth watched as Edelgard stood from her chair, her teacup empty. The professor gave a small nod. “Thank you for joining me. It’s always a treat to spend time with you like this.”

Edelgard tilted her head to the side. It was unusual for the professor to remain when a student was leaving. “Are you not done?”

Shaking her head, Byleth poured herself another cup of bergamot. “No. Someone else is going to join me soon. It’s best if I just wait here.”

The house leader quirked a brow, but left it at that. The two exchanged their goodbyes before the girl left, leaving Byleth to sit at the table alone. But she wouldn’t wait for long. Footsteps approached as a red-haired boy sat in the chair across from Byleth. “Hey, Professor. Can’t believe you finally want to have a date over tea with me.”

Byleth let out a sigh, shaking her head. “If you think this is a date, you’re sorely mistaken, Sylvain.”

The boy held up his hands in defense. “Okay, okay. You were pretty insistent on this, though. So why’d you invite me here if not for a date?”

Taking a sip of her tea, the professor sifted through her thoughts. Upon the clack of her cup hitting its saucer, Byleth began. “I know you dislike the Crests. And as much as you disliked him, they’re what killed your brother. As for you, well, all people care about when they look at you is your Crest, right?”

Sylvain scowled. “Yeah. All girls want from me is a chance to have a child with a Crest, gaining their worth in society. I hate it.” He pointed a glare directly into Byleth’s eyes. “What do you want?”

“I don’t want your Crest, if that’s what you’re suggesting. I just want your view on something.” The professor paused for a moment, closing her eyes in thought. “Whether people know it or not, the world is on the brink. There’s so much tension among the people and so much wrong happening. I wouldn’t be surprised if a conflict began.” She opened her eyes, returning Sylvain’s gaze. “If such a conflict begins, which side would you take? The one that keeps the nobles and Crests in place as a dominant power? Or one where Crests no longer matter and the people are free to govern themselves?”

“I…” Sylvain paused in thought. It was as though no one ever asked him his opinion on the system. Asked him what he would do given the chance to change things. “I’d help the people. I don’t care how other nobles would view me as a result and it would be nice for me as well. I’d enjoy a world free from my Crest. No one breathing down my neck to produce a legitimate heir.”

“Then it seems we’re on the same page.” Byleth smiled as she took another sip of her tea. “Crests do nothing but bring harm to everyone. And the people deserve a chance to have a say in how to improve their lives.”

The boy knit his brows, leaning slightly over the table. “Just why are you talking about this, Professor? What do you know?”

“A storm’s brewing and I want to know where people lie. I need to be sure I’m making the right choice.” Byleth finished her tea, standing up from her seat. “Thank you for coming. I should be going now, though.”

Before the boy could say another word, the professor turned and left. Byleth knew the Eagles would support Edelgard, but she needed the perspective of outsiders. She needed to be certain that whatever choice she made was thought through and helpful to everyone. Not just blindly clinging to one nation or person.

Chapter Text

Edelgard marched over to her professor, a determined look on her face. Quickly, she pulled the woman aside to a corner. “Professor! I know where the enemy is.” She paused for a moment, checking to see if anyone was listening in before lowering her voice. “Where Solon is. They’re in a place called the Sealed Forest, close to the monastery. The archbishop is gathering the knights to begin a search. She’s doing so in secret, behind our backs.”

Byleth scoffed. “She doesn’t want us to fight them, or more accurately, for me to fight them, does she?”

The house leader gave a small nod. “She must be afraid that a thirst for revenge will compel you to seek them out. Now that you know, will you give us the order?”

A large number of footsteps approached, the two turning their heads to notice Rhea followed by Seteth and a knight acting as her guard. Anger was obvious on the woman’s face as she walked towards the two. “No. I will not allow it.”

Unlike Rhea, Seteth’s face showed no anger, rather showing some sign of concern within his voice. “This discovery comes just when the knights are at their busiest. It is all too likely that our foes revealed themselves to lure you out there. They are the ones who took Jeralt from you. I know how you must despise them, but I must ask you to rein in your personal feelings for now.”

Byleth growled at the two, venom clear in her voice. She cared not for what the church told her. “You can’t stop me.”

“Please, Professor.” Rhea’s voice wavered with emotion, though her care was by far more for Sothis’s heart than that of Byleth. “Do not act carelessly. I ask that you leave this to us. Losing you so soon after losing Jeralt would be unbearable.”

Having taken in the situation, Edelgard stepped forward, keeping a calm and composed demeanor. “Lady Rhea, our professor is not acting out of revenge. Sending us out there is the most strategic move we can make. You can’t deny it. Most of the knights are still far away. Not only does our professor wield a Hero’s Relic, but there is no one here who is more powerful. Seteth and the few remaining knights can’t leave the monastery unattended. We have fought under our teacher’s command countless times. We are the most effective army here, and we are already prepared for battle. You must also consider that we have no idea what the enemy is plotting. The time to act is now!”

Rhea took in a deep breath, turning her attention over to Byleth. A frown pulled at the archbishop’s features as she spoke. “Professor, do you agree with this strategy?”

Byleth gave a nod, calming herself. “Of course. It’s the most sound course of action given the circumstances.”

“Understood. I will give you the order.” Rhea allowed her frown to dissipate, slipping back on her emotionless mask. “Destroy the enemy that is hiding in the Sealed Forest. You have the protection of the goddess on your side. Whatever happens, you shall overcome.”

The house leader turned to face her professor, a small smile pulling at the corners of her lips “Let’s go, my teacher. Whatever happens, do not lose your conviction out there.”

The professor returned the smile, shaking her head. “I won’t. Let’s go.”

As the group approached the entrance of the forest, Byleth stopped, turning to take in how the students were faring. Hubert held a hand to his chin, obviously in thought. “We are now within the Sealed Forest. We must not let our guard down.”

Bernadetta spoke up, making exaggerated motions with her arms, being more forward than usual. “Professor, we’ll avenge Jeralt for you, no matter what!”

A sigh came from Ferdinand. “Remember--it is a bad idea to get distracted by revenge.”

Sylvain shook his head as he let out a sigh. “Fighting Tomas. It will be difficult, that’s for certain.”

“I have readiness. Our enemies will be taking…” Petra paused for a moment, trying to find the words for what she meant to say. “We will take our enemies down!”

Ashe nodded in agreement. “Leave it to us, Professor. I’ll give it my all.”

Lysithea spoke with complete determination. “It is a difficult task, but we will succeed.”

“Well, it’s not like we have any other missions this month.” Linhardt stated. “I suppose this is as good a way as any to spend our energy.”

Caspar’s eyes widened with surprise. “Linhardt spending energy? We had better finish this fast before the pigs start flying everywhere.”

Dorothea hushed the boy. “Lower your voice. The enemy could be close!”

Flayn ignored the singer’s words, her voice rising as she spoke. “It is time to repay the kindness of the professor who saved my life!”

Byleth turned her attention directly to Edelgard as the house leader spoke. “Professor, I know I’m the one who insisted we come here, but don’t doubt for a moment that the enemy is waiting for you.”

Hubert’s eye widened in surprise as he looked over to the girl. “Lady Edelgard! What are you saying?”

Edelgard raised her voice, biting back at the boy. “What other objective could they possibly have?” She let out a breath, turning her gaze back to Byleth as she spoke in a low voice once again. “We have no clue what kind of trap is waiting for us. Please be careful, my teacher. We can’t afford to lose you...”

Byleth placed a reassuring hand on Edelgard’s shoulder. “Don’t worry about me.” The professor looked up, eyes scanning all of her students. “I’m not going to fall into any traps they may have here. It’s far from my intention to die any time soon.”

“The enemy is strong, but you will prevail.” A genuine smile seemed to come from Hubert’s lips as he spoke. “You must.”

Removing her hand from Edelgard’s shoulder, Byleth turned her attention forward. “Let’s go then.”

The class moved onward as a whole, keeping quiet so as not to be caught off guard by enemies that may be lurking in wait to ambush. A sudden shout from Edelgard caught Byleth’s attention. “Look there! Demonic Beasts!” The house leader lowered her voice, mumbling to herself. “I suppose they aren’t holding back.”

Looking forward, Byleth noticed a large beast tearing through the trees, destroying everything in its path. To the left of the group was another beast approaching. Byleth quickly pointed to the beast to the left of them. “Edelgard, I need you to lead Ferdinand, Petra, and Ashe to take down that beast. I’ll lead the rest to take down the other one. We’ll regroup farther into the forest.”

The house leader nodded in affirmation, giving out a shout for the three students to follow her. Byleth looked to the beast charging directly at them. Unsheathing the Sword of the Creator, she moved into a sprint, slashing at the monster as she ran forward. The damage was enough to slow it, but not kill it. The students would finish it off. They were strong enough to handle themselves.

Byleth had another goal in mind as she moved forward, extending her sword, lashing it out at enemies in hiding. She already knew where they were. The students were lagging behind somewhat, but the professor had no doubt they would catch up to her.

She passed around some of the trees, eyes locking on Monica. The girl gave a large twisted smile as she spoke in an excited voice. “Hello! You’re here! Welcome to the forest of death!” She let out a deranged laugh before speaking in an amused tone. “My name is Kronya. This weakling girl was just a borrowed look for me.”

The girl’s features suddenly warped, her skin greying and hair falling from her buns, turning to a light ginger. Her eyes were still that same burning red as she stared at the professor, though now one of them was covered by hair. She let out another of her laughs as she spoke. “This is what I really look like! Now, you vermin. I’ll take you down and every last one of your precious students!”

A rage burned within Byleth at seeing the girl’s true form. The pleasure she took in the deaths of others. It sickened the woman. The professor extended the Sword of the Creator, whipping it out at Kronya. Though she was quick to dodge letting out a slight yawn. She held her hands behind her back as she rolled her eye. “If this takes too long, I might be forced to escape.” The girl gasped. “Or do you simply intend to let me go? How accommodating of you! As for me, I intend to kill you all.”

Kronya let out another laugh as she dropped into her fighting stance. Byleth grit her teeth in anger, rushing as the girl. She brought down another swing of her sword, Kronya once again dodging it and slashing her dagger at Byleth’s side. “You’re a fool to be so brazen. You’ll never avenge your father at this rate.” She let out a hysterical laugh. “I’ll have to kill you too! With my own hands!”

Something broke within Byleth. She screamed in anger. Her sword once again extended, yet this time, the professor whipped it in a circular motion around her, sweeping the surrounding area so none could escape the attack. The sword slashed into Kronya’s leg, disabling the girl, causing her to fall. A single red eye widened in fear, as the girl tried to drag herself away along the ground. Byleth raised her sword, ready to strike down the monster before her. “You’ll pay for what you’ve done!”

A blast of dark magic hit Byleth in the chest, causing her to stagger backwards, falling to the ground as she dropped her sword. Her vision blurred, eyes closing in pain as a familiar voice rang out. “Well.”

Byleth cracked her eyes open to see the warped old man standing above Kronya, looking down on the girl as she shouted at him. “Solon. Don’t just stand there and stare. I need your help!”

A smile came to his lips as he leaned over her. “Yes. You most certainly do.”

Solon opened his hand, plunging it down into the girl’s chest, lifting her off the ground. Blood trickled down her body as the crunching sounds of bones breaking came from her. She let out pained shouts as the man slowly walked backwards, his hand clenching something within the girl’s chest. “Have no fear, Kronya. Your sacrifice will help to rid this world of the filthy vermin that have long infested it.”

Darkness began to seep out of the girl’s body, surrounding the area. Byleth had to get up. She needed to leave now. She picked herself up off the ground, grabbing the Sword of the Creator before trying to run forward and kill the man. But it was too late. As she moved, the strange magic grabbed her limbs, slowing her to a halt. The more she tried to fight against it, the more it would constrict her, crushing Byleth’s body. She was trapped. Forced to watch.

Solon tore his hand out of Kronya’s body, raising something up to the sky and crushing it, shouting something Byleth was unable to understand. The strange dark magic spiraled, becoming greater and greater as it flew out of Solon’s hand. Byleth watched as Kronya’s body fell. The girl weakly reaching her hand out to the professor, pleading to the blue-haired woman. “ me…”

Darkness consumed the girl’s body, rushing forward from her before coming directly toward Byleth. The woman tried to brace herself, the magic constraints weakening as she covered her face. She could feel the dark magic blowing against her. Consuming her. It was like a wave, pushing down on her and enveloping her in a sort of cold.

Slowly, Byleth lowered her arm, looking around to find herself in pure darkness. “No. No, no, no.” The professor clenched her fists in anger, knuckles whitening. “Shit! I’m a fucking idiot!”

Sothis and her throne appeared before Byleth, anger evident on the goddess’s face. “What were you thinking, charging right into an enemy’s trap? Are you just a boulder that rolls down whatever hill it’s on? No, even a boulder has more sense!”

“I know. I tried. I really tried. But now…”

The goddess let out a sigh as she sat back within her throne, defeat clear in her voice. “I know. This is not the first time for this to have happened. It seems that this, too, is fate.”

Byleth took a step forward. “Please. Don’t say that. I don’t want this to be ‘fate.’ I don’t want to lose you, too.”

“There is no other choice.” Sothis leaned on one of the arms of her throne. “I must relinquish all the power that I have to you. The time has come for you and I to join as one. But do not worry.” Sothis smiled as she sat up in her throne, leaning forward slightly. “My soul will join with yours, and you and I will never be apart.” Her smile pulled down into a frown. “But...I will no longer have the chance to speak with you. I shall miss it.”

The professor looked away, drooping her head. “I’ll miss it, too.”

“So long have I been on this path with you. Through you, I got to see and hear this world. I even got to chastise you from time to time. I may not have acted like a goddess, was certainly fun. Fun to be able to speak with you once more. For all that you have done...thank you. I’m glad that it was you to whom my fate was bound.”

Byleth looked up to the girl, knitting her brows in concern. “But, we’ll see each other again, won’t we? When you set back the hands of time to the beginning once more.”

A sigh came from the goddess’s lips. “ uncertain of whether that will happen again. You are well aware of how it is I exist within you. If you don’t wish to suffer the war any further, then it would be wise to remove the Crest Stone within you. But then, you would never see me again. I’m not even certain I would be able to continue living within you.”

“Oh.” There was a long pause as Byleth allowed the information to settle, before looking back up to Sothis. “Fine then. Let’s begin.”

“I have one last request of you, before we become as one.” Byleth quirked a brow as Sothis stood from her throne. “Whatever is to come, I want you to be certain of your decision. Walk a path of your own making instead of following the tides of others.”

Byleth swallowed. There was a choice to come. A choice of who she would be within the war. Who she would side with and what ideals she would help uphold. “I will. I promise.”

The goddess smiled as she breathed out a laugh. “Good.”

She began to descend the stairs, keeping her smile focused on the professor. The girl stopped directly before Byleth, smiling up to the blue-haired woman. The throne burst into light, coming down to circle around the two of them, enveloping them in a glimmering gold. Sothis rose from the ground, coming to eye level with the professor. Byleth reached out her hand for Sothis, the goddess mirroring the action as she floated closer.

Their hands came to touch, Sothis’s slowly dissipating into a blue light. The closer she came, the more contact she made with the woman, forcing more of her body to disappear, until only her head was left. Byleth closed her eyes, feeling the warmth of Sothis evaporate against her cheeks.

The particles of light suddenly surged into Byleth, a single tear falling down the woman’s face as she felt the goddess’s power wrap her in a warm embrace. The sudden buzzing feeling surged through her body. She had forgotten what the true extent of Sothis’s power had felt like. Her mind suddenly felt clear, like a fog had been lifted. All of her knowledge moved about freely, unconstricted by a disconnect between herself and Sothis.

“Sothis. I won’t let your sacrifice be in vain.”

Byleth suddenly unleashed her new power, opening her eyes as she drew the Sword of the Creator, now glowing an even more brilliant red than before as she held it high into the sky. She focused all her power into the sword, thinking of Edelgard and the rest of the Eagles. She had to get to them. To keep them safe.

She brought down the sword, cutting through the fabric of reality, leaving a hole in the air before her. She jumped through, falling back to the ground she had previously been on before, standing tall. She took in her surroundings, more enemies than before had appeared, attacking the students. And Edelgard stood next to her.

The house leader turned, lilac eyes wide as she looked at the woman. “ is you, right?” She let out a sigh, a smile coming to her lips. “I knew that you would always come back to us. I’d like to ask about your appearance, but for now, let’s dispose of our enemies.”

Edelgard turned her back to Byleth, running off to fight an enemy. Those who slithered were cowards. All they needed to do was kill Solon and the enemy would retreat, unwilling to die without something to fight for. But killing them here meant fewer Byleth would have to deal with in the future. A worthwhile trade. Byleth let out a shout to her students, surprising them all with her sudden arrival. “Everyone! Take out all of the enemies! We can’t allow a single one of them to escape and cause further harm!”

Some of the students gave confused confirmations as others shouted out in agreeance, continuing their charge. That was all Byleth needed as she ran forward, making use of her new power to destroy the enemy. They would be no match against the Sword of the Creator. Her blade cut through them like nothing, no matter their armor. None of them would stand against her might.

Byleth ran up the steps, taking note of Solon standing amidst some ruins. His end was near. The professor charged at him, terror apparent in the old man’s eyes. He tried to conjure dark magic to kill her, once and for all. But it was too late. Byleth brought down her blade, cutting the man’s torso wide open, blood pooling at their feet. He let out one final breath as his body fell limp to the ground.

It was over. Those who destroyed Remire and killed Jeralt were dead. They could do no more harm. There were still others who slithered, but Byleth wished to bask in this small victory.

The sounds of fighting slowly died down, Byleth turning to find Edelgard waiting behind her. “Now, Professor. About your appearance…”

That’s right. Byleth took note of how her bangs had changed from their old blue to a strange light green. She hated it. A reminder that she couldn’t be human. Edelgard eyed the woman cautiously, her voice distant. “That hair...and those remind me of someone.” A slight edge entered the girl’s voice. “What happened to you?”

“The goddess…” Byleth looked off to the sky. “She gifted me her power.”

Edelgard furrowed her brow, a frown forming on her face. “The goddess?” She let out a sigh, the frown suddenly disappearing behind a neutral face, her voice slow and cautious. “I see. Well, I’m happy for you. Your weapon is called the Sword of the Creator, after all. It’s no wonder she looks favorably upon you. Just as it was with Saint Seiros, no doubt.” There was a slight pause before a question formed on the girl’s lips. “And just how will you use this new power, Professor?”

Byleth didn’t appreciate being compared to Seiros. Not when she knew what the woman had done to her. She pushed back the feelings for now though, focusing on Edelgard’s question. “I’ll use my power for the people of the world.”

The house leader wore a small smile on her face as she let out a laugh. “That is so like you to say that. Tell me.” She paused for a moment, finding the right words to speak. “If the world, and your students included, were to divide and go to war with each other, what would you do? In that scenario, each side would represent both the world and your students. Who would you--”

The world seemed to begin to blur, Byleth unable to keep her eyes open and listen to Edelgard. The professor’s legs felt weak, giving out beneath her, the world going sideways. It was difficult to keep her eyes open, lids slowly closing. She was so...tired. Edelgard’s voice was audible, but Byleth couldn’t make out her words. She felt strong arms slowly wrap themselves beneath her, lifting her off the ground.

Byleth tried to fight her tiredness, cracking her eyes open slightly to see Edelgard’s face before they closed again. Was Edelgard carrying her? She didn’t have the energy to think about it, her mind lulling into a deep sleep. The rocking movement of arms carrying her was soothing.

She allowed herself to fall into the deep darkness of slumber, seeing a hint of a man with green hair in the darkness. Though he suddenly disappeared as a sound rang through the darkness.

“In time’s flow...see the glow

of flames ever burning bright…

On the swift river’s drift,

Broken memories alight...”

A beautiful singing voice reached Byleth’s ears, making her slowly open her eyes to see Rhea above her. One of the woman’s hands has resting atop her head. Byleth was lying on the archbishop’s lap. She tried to move to get up, but Rhea pushed her back down, a smile on that face. “Professor. You must remain still.”

The professor let out a groan. “Please, I want to see my students.”

“Everything is all right. There is no need to worry.” The smile on Rhea’s face grew. “Those who are trying to harm you are far away.”

The woman closed her eyes as she continued to hum the tune she had been singing. There was a moment of silence before the woman let out a sigh. “How lovely it would be for this moment to last forever. I wish I could hold onto this time we have stolen...that you and I could create a world without end…”

The archbishop opened her eyes, looking lovingly upon the professor. “I have heard whispers of what happened to you. Your have received power from the goddess. From the moment you took hold of the Sword of the Creator, I prayed that one day the radiant power of Sothis, which bathes Fódlan in its celestial light, might reside within you.”

Closing her eyes once more, Rhea stroked the hair upon Byleth’s head. “But you are so much more than the light. You are my…” There was a long pause as Rhea sighed. “Close your eyes, dear one. Sleep, just a while longer. I will be watching over you, always. Always and forever...”

Byleth shot up, pushing herself off of the woman. “Get away from me!”

Betrayal was evident in Rhea’s eyes, but she did nothing, frozen in place as she watched the professor. Byleth stood, backing away from the woman. They were in the archbishop’s room. The professor backed into the door, quickly turning and leaving the room, shutting the door behind her as she let out a breath.

The war was fast approaching. Byleth had a decision to make and soon. Where would her allegiances lie? What mattered to her most of all? And what would be her answer to Edelgard’s question? She could think about these questions later though. For now, she just wanted to get away from Rhea.

Chapter Text

As Byleth stepped into the audience chamber once more, she noted a tension between the archbishop and her aide. Seteth seemed tense, stiff and distant from the woman. Rhea ignored him, smiling at the professor. “I have been awaiting your arrival, Professor. Now that you have received sacred power from the goddess, there is somewhere you must pay a visit to at once. You must go to the Holy Tomb so that you may receive a divine revelation from the goddess.”

Byleth frowned. She was done with this neutral facade around the archbishop, venom dripping from her voice. “And why must I?”

Rhea let out a sigh. “Only a select few know of it, but there is a legend about Seiros and the Holy Tomb. Saint Seiros, the first soul to be gifted power from the goddess, received her revelation there. She was told that it was her sacred duty to save the people of Fódlan, and that she must use her power wisely in order to lead them. The words that were handed down to Seiros from the goddess will likely fall upon your ears as well.”

Crossing his arms, Seteth finally spoke, voice cold and distant. “Prepare yourself to go at once. There, may you find out why you were blessed with such power.”

“There will be a ceremony at the Holy Tomb.” Rhea smiled, no doubt happy to finally bring her mother back. “It is then that you will receive the goddess’s revelation. You may share this mission with your students.”

The ceremony at the Holy Tomb. That was where it all truly began. It would be the time for her to make her decision. And a good place to test Edelgard. She let out a hum in thought before speaking. “I see. Very well.”

“It is said that when Seiros received her revelation, she had holy warriors by her side, protecting her. Your students, who have followed you and fought alongside you through the darkest of times, are well suited to stand by you for the ceremony.” A smile quirked at the archbishop’s lips. “Of course, as the leader of the Church of Seiros, I will be by your side as well.”

Crossing her arms, Byleth let out a scoff. “Really now?”

Rhea gave a nod. “The occasion is too significant to be missed. Even if something were to happen, I am more than capable of protecting myself.”

The professor scowled, thinking to Rhea’s draconic form. She was certainly right about that, but would she truly ever choose to use such a form within the tomb? Byleth was drawn out of her thoughts as Seteth began to speak. “Much has changed, but your duty has not wavered. Steel your mind for the ceremony, and prepare your students well.”

As Byleth wandered about the monastery, she couldn’t help but notice that students seemed distant. They were wary of her. When she spoke to them, they would only comment on her change of appearance and new power. She hated this. Being considered some other. Some distant thing of power.

Rhea had given her a new set of clothing, more similar to that which the archbishop herself wore. Looking at the outfit disgusted Byleth. She had chosen to shove it away, hidden in the back of her drawers, never to be seen again. She was glad she had chosen to do so. Had she worn them, the students would have been much more distant.

She let out a sigh as she stopped in the entrance hall, leaning against one of the large columns as she closed her eyes. She wished to get away from the world, even if for just a moment. Yet when she entered the world of her mind, she was reminded of how alone she was.

Sothis no longer sat upon her throne. Instead, a young man stood before the empty seat. He wore the same clothing as Byleth. Was he her? Any movement that the woman made, the man copied. Slowly, Byleth raised her hand, reaching it out towards him. He mirrored the action, and their fingers touched. His hand was cold. Like the stone of the throne.


Byleth’s eyes shot open to notice Edelgard standing before her. It was odd seeing the girl standing around the monastery. The professor could have sworn she was always busy, gone from the monastery during free days at this time of the year. But here she was. Standing before Byleth. “Edelgard. What is it?”

The house leader knit her brows as though she was uncertain what to say. She cleared her throat as she spoke to the woman. “Will you join me? There’s something I must do. It will take a few days, but I promise we’ll be back in time for the ceremony at the Holy Tomb.”

Tilting her head to the side, the professor gave the girl a confused look. This was something new to her. She was unsure what was happening. “Just where are we going?”

Edelgard shifted her eyes to make sure no one was listening before she spoke in a low voice. “It’s meant to be a secret, but I’m going to Enbarr, the Imperial Capital. There is something I must do there.”

Byleth paused for a moment. For Edelgard to ask her to join required a great deal of trust. It sounded as though it was likely something important. Something that would help Edelgard with the war or her assault on the Holy Tomb. But just what it was eluded Byleth. Still, she gave the girl a smile and a simple answer. “I’ll go with you.”

The house leader returned the smile, relief apparent on her face. “Thank you, my teacher.”

Edelgard never explained what they were doing in the Imperial Capital, instead, leading her professor wordlessly through the Imperial palace. The palace was an expansive building, easy for a person to get lost in. Byleth had never spent much time here beyond her time fighting the emperor.

“I wanted to walk with you.”

Byleth’s eyes widened as the woman’s final words echoed through her head. She grimaced at the thought. Killing Edelgard. The idea seemed like something difficult or even impossible for her to carry out now. Remembering such an event disgusted her. Edelgard seemed to take notice of Byleth’s discomfort, quirking a brow at the professor. “Is something the matter, my teacher?”

Byleth shook her head, putting back on her neutral mask. “No. I was just thinking.”

The house leader seemed ready to question further, but their approach to the throne room was at an end. Soldiers opened the large doors, allowing them to pass. Edelgard began her march to the throne, Byleth slightly behind her in step. They were followed by two guards as they walked up the steps.

As they stopped before the throne, Byleth took note of the frail man sitting upon it. He was sickly, uncovered skin clearly showing how pale and gaunt the man was. He let out a cough before Edelgard spoke. “Father, forgive me for asking this of you. I know how much pain you’re in--how the burden of the throne weighs heavily on you--and so…”

The Emperor looked up weakly to the girl, his sunken eyes full of sorrow. “There is no need to apologize, Edelgard. You must know…” The man’s body was wracked with coughs for a moment before he continued. “That I do not have much time left in this world. The time has come.”

Edelgard bowed for the man. “Thank you, Father.” She took a deep breath, steadying her resolve. “Now to complete the Imperial succession, you must relinquish your crown here in the throne room.” The girl turned her head to look over to Byleth, the woman quirking her brow as she realized what was happening. “The archbishop of the Church of Seiros would normally act as witness, but my professor will fill that role instead.”

A sad frown came across the Emperor’s face. “Edelgard…”

The girl looked forward, determination apparent in her voice. “From this day forward, the weight of the Empire’s future shall rest upon my shoulders. All that I do will be for the benefit of the people of Fódlan.”

Emperor Ionius IX weakly stood from his throne, Edelgard stepping forward and kneeling before the man. “Edelgard von Hresvelg...the crown is yours.” A knight came beside the emperor, holding up a pillow with an intricate golden crown. Ionius carefully lifted it, placing it upon the girl’s head. “By the covenant between the red blood and the white sword, and by the double-headed eagle upon your head, I hereby pronounce you the new emperor. Are you prepared to take those responsibilities as your own?”

Edelgard bowed her head, speaking her part. “In accordance with the ancient covenant, and in keeping with the Hresvelg legacy, I swear that upon this throne, I shall use my reign to lead Fódlan to a new dawn and achieve peace for all.”

The girl stood as one of the knights assisted Ionius in sitting back down upon the throne. The old man gave his daughter a sad look. “The Imperial succession is complete. My daughter, I regret that I could not do more for you. When you were stolen away to the Kingdom. When the prime minister did those horrible things.” The man’s voice broke, filled with pain. “I could only watch in horror.”

“I…” Edelgard paused, a slight shaking in her limbs that was apparent to Byleth. “I understand, Father. In those dark times, your eyes and your fists were my salvation. Within your eyes, I saw true care. And upon your fists clenched tight with indignity, I saw the blood that dripped and fell. Even as I bled, I felt that you, too, must also be bleeding.”

He was never there for you, was he? You were all alone.

A pair of footsteps rushed up the stairs, a large man with receding ginger hair approaching beside the throne. “Your Majesty! You must not leave your sleeping chambers in your condition.” The man’s face pulled into a frown as he seemed to finally take notice of the girl and her professor. His voice suddenly turned to one of distaste. “Ah, Edelgard. I did not expect to find Your Highness here.”

Edelgard scoffed at the man. “Prime Minister, you have misspoken. I am no longer Your Highness but rather Your Majesty.”

Duke Aegir took a step back, eyes wide with surprise. “Impossible!”

Ionius looked up at the prime minister. “It is true. Edelgard is the new emperor of the Adrestian Empire. We will summon the officials and prepare and ordinance at once.” The man let out another weak cough. “And you, Prime Minister--”

“Are dismissed.” There was a slight hint of pleasure in Edelgard’s voice, no doubt from being able to bring justice to one of her old captors. “It will be some time before you are allowed to make contact with the outside world again.”

Duke Aegir stepped farther back, unwilling to be treated like so. “No! How can this be?! I…” The guards seized the man by his arms, holding him still as he tried to resist, before he gave into his fate. “Understood, Your Majesty.”

The guards carried the man off. Edelgard seemed prepared to leave when Ionius spoke one last time. “Edelgard…” His body was wracked with coughs once more. A grim reminder of how little time the man had. “My dear El. I leave the fate of Fódlan in your capable hands.”

The girl gave the man a sad smile as she looked upon him. “Father.”

There was a silence between the student and professor as they rode back to the monastery. It was just the two of them on horseback so as to keep a low profile, leaving Byleth the space to go through her thoughts. To think Edelgard would trust Byleth enough to act as witness for her coronation in place of the archbishop. Doing so was by far a great act of heresy in the eyes of the church. But Byleth didn’t mind it. She cared little for what the church thought.

Edelgard broke the silence, keeping her eyes forward as she spoke. “Thank you for staying by my side, Professor. Now that I’m the emperor, it’s time to grasp my destiny. After the ceremony at the Holy Tomb, I must return to Enbarr. This may be the last we see of each other.”

A twisting feeling entered the professor’s gut. What Edelgard left unsaid in those words was her plan to assault the Holy Tomb. But Byleth wouldn’t let the girl go alone. Letting out a sigh, the woman spoke. “Edelgard, it was you who asked for me to continue to act as a guide for you. And we have our promise to meet at the monastery in five years. Just because you’re emperor doesn’t mean we’ll never meet again.”

“But you can never be certain what the future holds.”

Edelgard’s voice was distant. Was she trying to distance herself from Byleth so she wouldn’t be upset when fighting broke out in the Holy Tomb? The professor frowned, thinking back to how powerless Ionius was. Edelgard never had anyone to rely on. No one who would come to her aid and actually help protect her. Not until that fateful day when Byleth defended her from those bandits.

An idea came to the professor’s mind. “Edelgard. I never answered your question.” The girl finally turned her head to look at the woman, confusion apparent on her features. “Back before I collapsed. You asked me what I would do if the world divided and fought itself. I think I have my answer.”

“Oh? And what is that?”

“I would weigh what both sides have to say and make a decision based on that. I know my students are smart. They wouldn’t fight unless they had a good reason for doing so.” Byleth smiled at Edelgard. “Like you. You have ideals for an equal society. I would choose students like you whose plan would be to help the world. In that case I am fighting both for my students and the world. Perhaps some students will fight back against me as a result, but all I wish for is a chance to bring about peace and support a better world that would result afterwards.”

There was a long pause as Edelgard returned her gaze to the road. The look in her eyes suggested she was trying to process the information, unsure of how to proceed. “I see. But how can you put such faith in people? And in me?”

“Because I trust you.” Byleth saw the emperor grimace slightly in response. The girl tried to hide it by keeping her focus ever forward, but the professor didn’t miss it. “You showed a great amount of trust in me by having me bear witness to your coronation. And after everything we’ve been through, I can’t help but trust you. I know that you’ll make a better future for everyone.”

Silence returned once more between the two. There was something on Byleth’s mind she wanted to say, but she was unsure how to go about it. Taking in a deep breath, she sifted through her thoughts. “Edelgard. I want you to know that I’ll always be here for you. Whatever happens, I promise to never allow anyone to hurt you again.”

Edelgard knit her brows looking over to the professor with concern clear in her eyes. “Don’t make promises you cannot keep, my teacher.”

“I’m not saying this as your professor.” Byleth looked directly into Edelgard’s eyes, determination clear on the professor’s face. “I’m saying this as your friend. As Byleth.”

The girl’s face became conflicted with emotion, unsure how to respond. She quickly turned her head away, hiding her face from the professor. “I…” She paused, her voice wavering. “Thank you, Byleth.”

When the two returned to the monastery, Byleth noticed Ashe about the grounds. The professor gave the newly crowned emperor a wave goodbye before running off to catch the boy. Ashe took notice of the woman, giving a small wave. “Professor! Where have you been?”

Byleth gave the boy a small smile. “Sorry. I had to take care of business outside the monastery for a few days, but I’m back.”

Ashe let out a laugh. “I can see that. Did you want to talk to me? You seemed to be in a bit of a rush to get over here.”

“Yes. I had a question for you, actually.” The boy raised his eyebrows, signalling the professor to continue. “I wanted to know your opinion on the church and the Crests.”

The boy let out a thoughtful hum. “I’m not sure how to answer that. Could you tell me why you’re asking?”

Byleth let out an amused huff. “I suppose it is out of the blue. I ask because the church is the one to enforce the Crest system, putting nobles with Crests in charge while keeping them under the thumb of religion. I just...wanted the viewpoint of someone who grew up on the streets.”

Ashe crossed his arms, deep in thought. “Well, with how things are, people don’t get the chance to survive. I think it’s important to listen to what someone has to say no matter their standing, but we punish people who just want to live. Why, I spoke to Caspar the other day over the fact that there was a food thief and he simply wanted to fight whoever they were without learning why they stole the food. It would seem that some nobles are stuck away from the thoughts of the people. Why should they be allowed to govern when they don’t understand the people under them? Because the church told them to?”

“I see.” Byleth nodded her head in thought. “Thank you for telling me, Ashe. I imagine Lord Lonato was one of the few nobles who actively listened and reached out to his people.”

“I…” The boy paused, a sad look coming across his face. “Yes, he was. Why are you really asking this?”

The professor let out a sigh. “Everything is on the brink. People just don’t realize it yet. I want to know what others think when the time comes to decide what to do.” Byleth leaned in slightly, whispering to Ashe. “Rhea is acting strangely around me. I’m worried she’s planning to do something questionable to me.”

Ashe knit his brows in concern, looking up to his teacher. “Professor, if Lady Rhea tries anything against you, I’ll do whatever I can to help you. I don’t want to lose another great person to the church.”

Byleth stood straight, smiling down at the boy. “Thank you for the thought, Ashe.”

Chapter Text

The Black Eagles followed Rhea, Byleth one step behind the archbishop as they stepped foot within the Holy Tomb. The area was lit by glowing stones, giving a faint turquoise light. Rhea turned her head slightly back to look at the professor as they approached the stairs on the other side of the room. “Are you surprised, Professor? This is the Holy Tomb.”

Byleth let out a huff. She was done playing games and pretending to be someone she was not. “Hardly. I’ve seen this place before.”

Rhea simply smiled, looking back to the stairs before them as they continued forward. “This is where the goddess who created the world was laid to rest, along with her children.”

Once they had made their way up the steps, Rhea stopped, staring at Sothis’s throne, waiting for Byleth to step up beside her. “It is said that our creator--the goddess Sothis--sat upon this very throne.” She looked over to Byleth once more, an expectant smile on her face. “Professor, do you recognize this throne?”

The professor frowned. “Of course I do.”

“So long…” Rhea practically breathed out the words. “I have waited so very long for this day. Sit upon the throne. I have no doubt you will be gifted a revelation from the goddess.”

Staring at the throne, Byleth let out a huff. “No.”


The archbishop breathed out the word in disbelief, as though she had misheard the woman. Byleth turned her head slightly, looking at Rhea from the corner of her eyes. “I said no. I’m not your puppet. Whatever it is you want to happen won’t.”

Anger became apparent on the archbishop’s face as she turned towards the professor. “What is the meaning of this?!”

Rhea bared her teeth, no longer concealing the true emotion beneath her mask. She would not be able to act on those emotions, though. Not yet. Byleth knew what was to come. Edelgard’s voice carried out away from the rest of the students, halfway down the steps up to the throne. “Stop right there!”

A strange man and Hubert stood on either side of Edelgard, Imperial soldiers behind them. In fact, Imperial soldiers were filing into the tomb from the entrance, stopping as they got into position, awaiting their orders. The strange man beside Edelgard let out a twisted laugh. “Don’t move, any of you! If you move, your lives will be forfeit!” A deranged smile grew on his face as he spoke. “Thank you ever so much for guiding us this far. The Imperial army will now take possession of everything in the Holy Tomb!”

Dorothea let out a gasp. “What’s the Imperial army doing here?!”

“Wait!” Ferdinand exclaimed. “Does he work for the Flame Emperor?”

“So the Flame Emperor is connected to the Empire…” Linhardt let out a hum in thought. “I never thought that possible.”

Bernadetta spoke, her words holding no fear, but rather just curiosity. “Edelgard. Did you know about this?”

“Yes.” Edelgard’s words were calculated, almost as though she was trying to hide any emotion. “In fact, I gave the order. I am the Flame Emperor.”

Hubert let out a huff. “I guess that’s the end of play-at-school, Lady Edelgard.” The boy let out a chuckle, readjusting himself. “I mean Your Majesty.”

The strange man beside the emperor turned, shouting out orders to the Imperial soldiers. “Get to work, everyone! The Crest Stones belong to us now, and take those filthy bones too!”

The man made his retreat, likely to remain protected behind the soldiers as they began to spread about the tomb, on the move to each of the graves. Rhea turned her anger towards Edelgard, finding her the more threatening issue in the moment. “Insolence! You will atone for the sin of trampling on this holy resting place! Professor. Destroy these villainous traitors who dare dishonor our creator!”

Caspar ran up beside Byleth, sadly looking to the former house leader. “Wait! What’s the meaning of this, Edelgard?”

“You…” Petra paused, trying to find the right words to get across her dismay. “Made use of us? Why?”

Edelgard let out a sigh, looking up the steps to her former classmates. There was a sadness in her eyes as they landed upon Byleth, but she steeled her face and voice with determination. “I’m sorry, my teacher. I cut this path, and now I must follow it.” Her eyes scanned the class. “My friends...I ask that all of you stay back! It is not my intention to fight you.” Edelgard turned, addressing her troops. “By order of the Adrestian emperor, Edelgard von Hresvelg, I command you to collect the Crest Stones! If anyone attempts to stop us…” She hesitated for a moment, almost unwilling to finish the order. “Kill them.”

Byleth reached her hand out to the girl, no anger within her voice. “Edelgard, wait.”

The emperor glanced back to Byleth before Hubert took hold of the girl’s shoulder and warped them away to the other side of the tomb. Byleth grit her teeth. So it would be this way? Edelgard wouldn’t even give her a chance to talk when she had spoken of being given a choice when the Flame Emperor would reveal themself?

Rhea’s anger bubbled to the surface, shouting at the Black Eagles. “I will not allow such violence from the Empire! Strike down the rebels and protect the Holy Tomb!”

Byleth turned her head to face her students. She didn’t care what they did. She had something to take care of. “Take out those soldiers and protect the Crest Stones! But whatever you do, don’t fight Edelgard. She’s mine.”

The students exchanged concerned looks before nodding affirmations and running down the steps into battle. When Lysithea, Sylvain, and Ashe tried to pass, though, Byleth stopped them. “You three. I want you to remember what I spoke to each of you about. Please, make your own decisions when the time comes and don’t just blindly follow me.”

Lysithea furrowed her brow. “Professor, what are you talking about?”

“I’m going to talk to Edelgard.”

“Woah, wait right there.” Sylvain held up a hand as he shook his head. “You’re going to talk to her? She’s ordered her soldiers to kill us!”

“I know. But she’ll listen to me.”

Ashe hummed in thought. “Why are you so concerned about us?”

Byleth quirked a smile at the three. “I know quite a bit more than you may realize. I may be about to make some...questionable decisions. I want you to consider why I’m making them and really think of where you’ll stand in this conflict.”

Before any of the students could question her further, Byleth ran down the steps, unsheathing her sword. Upon reaching the bottom, she broke out into a sprint, passing her students. She didn’t care if she was running directly into the enemy. They couldn’t stop her. Not when she had something else to do.

Dark mages tried to stop the woman, shooting out their dark magic. Though the attacks missed as Byleth extended her blade, slashing it out at anyone who stood in her way. As she climbed the stairs towards the exit on the other side of the room, the strange man jumped at her, narrowly missing the professor with his dagger. Making use of his slip up, Byleth rammed her arm into the man’s chest, causing him to lose his balance before cutting him down. He was an annoyance at best.

Edelgard was within reach. Byleth locked her eyes on the girl, slowing down to stand before her. Edelgard knit her brows, an obvious frown upon her lips. She would be unable to hide her emotions from her friend. “Professor.” The use of the title to distance herself felt like a stab at Byleth. Even if it was how all of the students referred to her. With Edelgard, it felt different. “I will make no excuses. Thank you for all that you did for me. In truth...” She looked away, unable to finish the thought. “No. Let’s leave it at that.”

“I walk with you…”

The professor took in a sharp breath as those dying words echoed through her mind. Seeing her like this, with that face, reminded her of the throne room. When Byleth executed her. The woman’s blade wavered, eyes widening as she stared at the blood-stained emperor before her instead of her student.


Byleth’s voice came out quiet, almost broken, trapped within the past.

“Don’t say that.”

There was a pause between the two, but the emperor was first to move, bringing down her axe. But she was slow. Clumsy. The attack was easy to dodge, yet it was just enough for Byleth to snap out of her daze and back into the present. There were matters to speak of. The professor ran forward, bringing down her sword. Though she held back, giving Edelgard the chance to block the attack with her shield. And the girl did just that, holding up the large metal shield, deflecting the attack.

“Edelgard! You’re better than this! You don’t need the Crest Stones to bring about your ambition.” Byleth’s voice didn’t come out angry, but rather dismayed. “Do you even know what those stones are?!”

Edelgard swung her axe at the woman with a shout. “There is no other option!”

“Yes there is!” Byleth swung again, this time more aggressively as her blade grazed armor. “Your trust in others will be your rise or fall. If you rely on beasts instead of people you trust, then you’re doomed to fail.”

The two stood still, Edelgard staring at the green-haired woman. A scoff from the emperor acted as her response. Byleth let out a sigh, an idea coming to mind. “Edelgard.” She outstretched her arms, leaving herself open to attack. “If you think that’s the only way to fight, then prove your resolve. Kill me.”

The girl’s grip tightened on her axe, stepping forward to swing it down. Yet it stopped just inches from the professor. The weapon shook. “I…”

Byleth grabbed the handle of the girl’s axe, gently pulling it from her grip. “You don’t need that organization or any of their sick work to bring about change.” Looking back, the professor noticed the students had taken care of most of the soldiers. “It’s over, Edelgard.”

Edelgard stepped back, looking off to the side, unwilling to meet her professor’s gaze. “So, the end has come.”

Rhea approached behind Byleth with some of the students, venom laced in her voice. “You have disappointed me, Edelgard. To think that a descendant of House Hresvelg would dare betray the holy church.” The archbishop practically snarled. “Professor. Kill Edelgard at once. She is a danger to all of Fódlan. Such a rebellious heart cannot be allowed to keep beating.”

Byleth breathed out a laugh. “I have no loyalty to the Empire or its crown…” Edelgard shirked back slightly at the words. “But neither do I have loyalty to the church.” The professor suddenly turned, putting herself between Edelgard and the archbishop, pointing her sword at Rhea. “You failed to take into account where my loyalty truly lies. You will not lay a finger on Edelgard so long as I breathe.”

A range of emotions flickered on the archbishop’s face before settling upon rage. “You. How dare you!”

Edelgard let out a breath, surprise laced into her voice. “My teacher...I…” She paused for a moment, sighing. “Thank you, Byleth.” The professor looked back slightly to the girl, giving her a smile. “But are you certain that--no. Now isn’t the time for discussion.”

The distinct feel of warp magic filled the air behind Byleth, Hubert’s familiar voice carrying to her ears. “Words cannot properly express my gratitude, Professor.”

The rage suddenly left Rhea’s face, an unnerving calm taking her features as she lifted her head. Her voice lacked emotion, only the slight sound of disappointment making its way in. “So, this is the choice you have made. You are just another failure.” Her voice began to rise with each word she spoke. “Your presence soils this Holy Tomb and disgraces my brethren. I will not allow one who would lend our enemies strength to wield the power of the goddess Sothis.” Rage returned to Rhea’s face as she began to scream, putting the students off. “I have passed judgement, and now I shall rip your chest open and take back your heart myself!”

A strange glow emanated from the woman as she shouted. Byleth’s eyes widened. “Everyone! Get away from her! Now!”

The students stumbled away in fear, watching as Rhea’s body warped into a large white dragon, letting out a roar. A small laugh came from Hubert. “That must be the Immaculate One.”

“Yes. The monsters that have controlled Fódlan in secret for far too long.” Edelgard faced her professor, a serious look on her features. “Rhea is their leader.”

Byleth gave a nod. “I know. But we need to leave. Now.”

The professor turned, running to the exit with Edelgard and Hubert close behind. She quickly inspected the mechanism they had entered the tomb with, finding a large switch and pulling it, starting their ascent. Byleth watched as they left the Eagles behind, the students distraught and unsure of what to do as Flayn tried to calm the dragon.

Byleth’s attention was pulled away as a hum came from Hubert. “Professor, just what did you know?”

Pausing for a moment, the green-haired woman looked up. “That isn’t something I can explain. At least, not in a short amount of time. For now, I think we should focus on our escape.”

Edelgard quirked a brow at the woman. “And how do you plan to do that? You killed all of my men and there are too many of us to warp.”

“I…” Byleth brought a hand to her chin in thought. “I’m not sure. I’ve never experienced this before.” Edelgard and Hubert shared a look as Byleth ignored them, thinking of how to escape. “We take the horses.”

“What of the knights?” Hubert let out a hum in thought. “They’ve most certainly noticed the soldiers who entered the tomb.”

“I’ll stay behind to hold them off then. All that matters is Edelgard’s safety.”

“Absolutely not.” An intense frown came to Edelgard’s face. “I will not allow you to sacrifice your life for my own.”

Byleth let out a sigh. “If you’re worried about me, then come back and grab me after you have horses.” A slight smirk came to the woman’s lips. “Plus, wasn’t it you who said I had the power to take on the Knights of Seiros?”

The emperor furrowed her brows. “That was in the past. I--”

The girl stopped when the mechanism came to a halt. They were here. No time to argue. The three walked down the halls, approaching large doors and opening them to find Seteth urgently organizing knights. The man turned, taking notice of the new arrivals. “Professor, what are you doing? Where are Lady Rhea and the others?”

Byleth leaned over to Hubert, whispering a command. “Take Edelgard and go.”

The boy nodded, stepping back and putting a hand to the emperor’s shoulder before warping away. Seteth furrowed his brow, realization entering his eyes as he stared at the professor. “What have you done?”

“Nothing wrong, if that’s what you’re asking.” The man frowned at the professor’s response. “I don’t want to fight you, so step out of the way, Seteth.”

Lowering into a fighting stance, Seteth brandished a lance. “You will not go free until I know Lady Rhea and Flayn are safe.”

“Then you leave me no choice.”

Before the knights could react, Byleth drew her sword, extending her blade and lashing it out across the ground. The knights stumbled back, running into each other. Retracting the blade, the woman stood prepared to fight. “Leave now.”

Seteth’s grip on his lance tightened, his knuckles turning white as he charged at the woman. “You dare use that sword against us?!”

Byleth dodged the attack before kicking at the man in his stomach, forcing him backwards. “If you don’t want me to use it against you, then step away.”

Taking in a deep breath, the man turned his head, shouting at the knights. “Apprehend Byleth Eisner at once!”

The knights drew their weapons, charging at the woman. Byleth managed to slash down a few before she realized there were too many, enough to easily overwhelm her. Quickly, she let out a blast of thunder magic, forcing the knights to part or be fried. Byleth made use of the opening, dashing through the enemy and towards the stables. The galloping of hooves echoed through the air, the woman noting the emperor riding atop a horse.


Turning, Byleth let out a blast of powerful fire magic, destroying the ground between her and the knights to slow them. The horse came to a stop behind her, Edelgard awaiting her teacher. “We need to leave.”

Byleth gave a nod as she mounted the horse, wrapping her free arm tightly around Edelgard’s waist, sitting behind the emperor. She pressed herself to the girl’s back, almost as though to instinctively protect her. “Let’s move.”

Edelgard urged the horse forward, the steed breaking out into a gallop, running across monastery grounds towards the exit. Luckily the commotion hadn’t gone far, the gates still wide open as they rode forward. Byleth took note of a lack of Edelgard’s shadow. “Where’s Hubert?”

The young emperor kept her attention forward as she spoke. “I ordered him to ride ahead and check for danger.”

A hum came from the professor’s lips. “Most danger will be coming from behind.”

“I’m well aware, but you can never be too certain. Hubert will likely be waiting for us farther from the monastery. It wouldn’t be safe for him to come back.”

There was a silence between the two as Edelgard focused ahead. Thoughts ran through Byleth’s mind, partially unable to comprehend what she had done. She made a choice. She no longer just listened to another’s orders. She was doing something she should have done long ago, taking her destiny into her own hands. This time she would protect Edelgard and guide the girl. Guide her friend. Edelgard wouldn’t be alone. Not anymore.

The hours long silence was eventually broken as heavy wings flapped in the air, drawing Byleth’s attention. The professor looked back to see wyvern riders chasing after the two. The woman’s grip on Edelgard tightened. “They’re catching up. We need to move faster!”

“If I force the horse to go any faster, then we’ll kill it and ourselves!”

Byleth let out a huff. Without a free hand, she couldn’t blast magic at the riders. The Sword of the Creator could extend, but using it would prove difficult in her current position. Before she could find a proper course of action, one of the wyverns let out a horrid screech, falling from the sky and crushing its rider. She watched as another fell, an arrow having hit it from behind.

Her eyes scanned the wyverns, falling upon one behind the rest. The rider was taking the others down without slowing. How could they do that? Byleth had no time to think as some of the wyverns caught up. The professor had no choice, loosening her grip on Edelgard to turn and lash out her sword, whipping it backwards. The blade slashed the wing of one wyvern and hit the rider of another.

Byleth retracted the blade, but prepared herself to fight the final wyvern that approached. A wave from the rider and flash of maroon hair calmed Byleth’s nerves as she lowered her sword. “Petra? What are you doing here?”

The wyvern lowered, flying alongside the horse, revealing Ashe also riding atop it. Petra gave the professor a serious look as she spoke. “We were not wanting to be left behind.”

The blue-haired archer who accompanied Petra gave Byleth a smile. “We told the other students everything you talked to us about. We all decided we wanted to help you.”

Byleth quirked a brow at Ashe’s words. “All of you?”

Ashe gave a simple nod. “Of course. We want to help you, Professor. And Edelgard, too. The rest of the Black Eagles are riding to catch up. We had to fly ahead and make sure you were okay, considering the knights are hunting you down.”

The horse came to a slow, forcing Byleth to look forward and see Hubert waiting for them. He seemed to be preparing a spell, noticing the wyvern joining them. Byleth waved her sword in the air, shouting at the boy. “Don’t hurt them! It’s Petra and Ashe! They’re friends!”

The mounts came to a halt before Hubert, who quirked a brow. “Are you certain they can be trusted, Professor?”

Byleth smiled. “I’d stake my life on it.”

Hubert let out a low huff, a mischievous smile pulling at the corners of his lips. “Very well, then. We should rest here. The horses likely won’t be able to push much farther at this rate.”

The professor dismounted the horse, before offering a hand to assist Edelgard. The young emperor accepted the assistance, giving a small thanks to her friend. The five prepared themselves to rest, Byleth opting to take watch. The rest of the students eventually joined them, all choosing to talk amongst themselves before resting and eventually sleeping.

Byleth sat upon a rock, watching her students as night fell. Edelgard eventually came to sit beside her, keeping her eyes away from the professor. “Thank you. For choosing to join me. But why did you?”

A sigh escaped the green-haired woman’s lips. “Now isn’t the time to ask. There’s a part of me that still wonders myself.” Byleth’s lips pulled into a thin line as she thought. She remembered Edelgard’s hesitation when she was told to prepare for battle in the chapel. “I do have one question before I follow you any further.” Byleth furrowed her brows, unable to look at Edelgard as she pointed her gaze to the ground. “Did you know? About Monica?”

“I…” Edelgard paused. “I knew that she was working with Solon.”

“Then why did you let her--”

“I didn’t.” Byleth raised her head to look at Edelgard, tears pricking at green eyes as they stared into determined lilac. “I didn’t know she would kill Jeralt. She threatened me.” Edelgard’s hands clenched into fists on her lap. “She told me that if I or anyone else were to stop her, she would harm you and the Black Eagles. I was never quite sure what that would entail.”

A tear fell down Byleth’s face as she took in a breath. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“You know as well as I that Monica kept me away from you.” There was a slight pause. “Not to mention you’d question such information.”

“But I…” Byleth took in a stuttered breath. “I already knew your identity. As the Flame Emperor.” Lilac eyes widened. “I would have trusted you. Believed in you. I thought I made that clear.”

Edelgard’s gaze darted away. “Even so, I was afraid. The walls have eyes and ears, after all. I fear that if I told you, she would hurt you.”

Byleth tried to wipe away her tears, but more fell as she let out a sob. “She still did anyways.” The green-haired woman felt a hand hesitantly brush against her arm. “I miss him.”

The young emperor took in a deep breath, pain apparent in her features. “I know.”

Unable to hold her emotions back anymore, Byleth buried her face into the nook of Edelgard’s neck, wrapping her arms around the girl as she sobbed. The emperor tensed for a moment, though her arms slowly came up around Byleth’s back. The green-haired woman allowed the tears to flow for some time before they finally died down. She could feel Edelgard’s body shaking, not from Byleth’s sobs, but something else.

There were a few moments of silence before Byleth broke the hug, unable to look Edelgard in the eye, doing her best to compose herself. “I think I need some time. Time to think.” The woman paused for a moment. “I have more to ask, but this is enough for now.”

Edelgard hesitated, staring for a moment at the professor. “Of course.”

Byleth watched the emperor walk away, sitting amongst the other students, but never going to sleep. It brought a frown to the professor’s lips. She allowed her thoughts to brew as she kept watch. But one was louder than the others, repeating over and over in Byleth’s head.

All that matters right now is protecting my students.

Chapter Text

“We have arrived, Professor.”

Byleth cracked her eyes open, having had fallen asleep in Ferdinand’s arms as they rode the remaining distance to the fort Edelgard’s soldiers had occupied. The former professor had spent the previous night awake, keeping watch and sifting through her thoughts. She didn’t want to wake the other students, forcing another to take up watch. Luckily, no more knights had found their way to the group. No doubt they were in disarray with the betrayal of not only a top student, but rather an entire class and trusted professor as well.

Ferdinand dismounted his horse before giving Byleth a hand. As she stepped foot on the ground, she stretched her arms. She looked over to Edelgard, the emperor dismounting her own horse, focus on the Black Eagles. Byleth approached the girl, fatigue apparent in the emperor’s features. Before the professor could speak, she noticed the rest of the Eagles group together, looking to the two for guidance. Edelgard let out a sigh. “We somehow managed to escape.”

Hubert stepped up beside the emperor, speaking so as to give Edelgard a moment to get her thoughts together. “This is one of the Imperial army’s provisional camps. Here we can organize our forces.”

Something pulled at Edelgard’s features, a dull pain in her eyes as she looked upon the Eagles. “Before we go any further, I want all of you to really ask yourselves if you’re certain you wish to join us.”

“When I saw our professor running off, I ran about as fast as I could to catch up.” Caspar noted.

Petra shook her head. “Caspar. Death finds those who run without thinking. You gave no thought to the war fog.” The girl’s tone became far more serious as she gave a determined look to the emperor. “My grandfather was the leader of Brigid, and I hope for us to be allies with the Empire. I will be staying.”

Bernadetta cowered slightly behind Ferdinand, unsure of herself. “W-was this a good idea? Did I make the right choice?” She let out a small sigh. “But my family is a part of the Empire, and our professor is here...”

“You’re fine here with us.” Sylvain stated. “Though I’ve heard some houses were against the Imperial princess.”

“I assume you are referring to my family.” Ferdinand’s voice carried without it’s usual positivity. “I must believe that the conclusion I came to was the correct one.” The ginger turned his attention to Edelgard. “You are the emperor now. I am the only one left who is qualified to guide you at this point.”

Lysithea smiled to Edelgard. “I have no doubts in the professor. And if she chose to follow you, then I can only believe that your heart is in the right place as well. I will support you as best I can.”

“You can count me in, too.” Ashe furrowed his brows in determination. “I can’t bring myself to trust the Church of Seiros. Not after they killed Lonato and my brother. I need to know the truth.”

Linhardt shook his head, stifling a yawn. “I’m only here because I know it would be troublesome to stand against you.”

Dorothea wore a comforting smile as she spoke. “I’m not just here for you, Edie. I’m here to follow our dear professor.” The songstress held a hand to her cheek. “Of course, I don’t have any territory to offer, so Hubie may not even want me here.”

“The greater our numbers, the better.” Hubert stated. “Your reasons for being here are of no consequence.”

A slight sigh that could almost be missed came from Edelgard’s lips. “I think I understand where you’re coming from. But now, I wish to hear of your resolve. Like you, I have risen to meet my destiny. I cut this path, and I will see it through to the end. Following me is akin to pointing a sword at the goddess herself. One misstep, and we fall to our ruin.”

Edelgard’s features wrinkled in thought. “You have now witnessed the archbishop’s true self. She is a cruel beast. Those who rule this world use that beast’s power to fabricate miracles, all to control those who blindly believe in the goddess. They conceal the truth and force their lies on the nobility. They mercilessly annihilate anyone who defies them.” There was a slight hesitation in the emperor’s voice before she continued. “I know this because I have lived it.”

The girl’s face was filled with determination as she spoke, yet her lilac eyes were dulled with uncertainty. “After what you have seen, is there any room for doubt? The Church of Seiros has great influence and power. Their control over the lords of the Kingdom and the Alliance is nearly absolute. We are the only ones who can stop this indomitable enemy that has plagued our world for ages. We fight for humanity! For all of Fódlan! If you dare walk this path with me, take your first step. It’s now or never!”

The Eagles all stood tall before the emperor, some bringing their fists to their chests in a salute. All of them wore looks of determination, their belief and trust in the two before them strong. A slight smile pulled at the corners of Edelgard’s lips as she continued. “Thank you, my friends. We are the true face of the Empire, and we will triumph!”

Byleth watched as Hubert leaned to whisper something to Edelgard before the two walked off. The professor let out a sigh. She supposed she would have to wait for an opportune moment to speak with the emperor. For now she looked over to her students, letting out a sigh. “If we’re to go to war, then it’s time you all did more training. The battlefield is dangerous and I don’t want to lose any of you.”

Having not seen the emperor for the rest of the day, Byleth came upon Edelgard’s quarters, giving a light knock on the door. There was a brief moment of silence before the tap of footsteps could be heard. The door opened slightly, Edelgard looking up to Byleth with concern. The former professor cleared her throat. “May I come in?”

The girl stared at her for a moment before responding by fully opening the door, allowing the woman in. Byleth stood in the center of the room, scanning it before choosing to sit on the edge of Edelgard’s bed, urging the girl to join her. Edelgard hesitated for a moment before sitting beside the former professor, though she was unwilling to look at the woman. When Byleth spoke, her words came out soft, carrying no judgement or anger. “Edelgard, I want answers.”

The girl tensed slightly. “Yes, of course. What do you need to know?”

Byleth let out a sigh, going through the thoughts she had mulled over. “Tell me, why did you work with Solon and the others? Couldn’t you leave them?”

“I…” Edelgard’s hands clenched into fists, shaking on her lap. “I had no choice. As princess, I was just a tool they could dispose of if need be. If I didn’t work with them, then I would be killed. I needed to live, if only to act as a tool to bring about the change Fódlan needs.”

“But you’re not a tool.” Byleth gently placed a hand on Edelgard’s shoulder. “You’re Edelgard. A person, same as any other. Whatever they tell you, you’re still someone with feelings and motivations.”

Edelgard remained still, giving no response to the woman’s words. Byleth knit her brows with slight concern, but continued. “I knew you were going to start this war for some time, but just how long have you been planning it?”

Lilac eyes widened, looking up to the green-haired woman. “How did you know?”

Byleth removed her hand from Edelgard’s shoulder, clutching her own arm, thinking back to the blood on her hands. “I’d rather not say.” There was a silence between the two, only broken when Byleth breathed out her words. “Please, I need an answer.”

“Years.” Edelgard stated. “I’ve been planning for this day since the moment my second Crest manifested. I cannot give in now. Not when I’ve come this far for them.”

A frown came to the former professor’s lips. She had no doubt that the girl referred to her dead siblings. Byleth let out a sigh, thinking back to her old desire to stop the emperor from starting her war. It seemed that dream never would have been possible. “I see.” There was a pause as Byleth swallowed. “One last question.” There was a slight pause as the former professor looked for the right words. “If you knew Kronya was going to kill my father, would you have stopped her?”

A long silence dragged on between the two. Just when Byleth thought she would get no answer and prepared to stand, Edelgard’s mouth opened. “I would. I never wanted any harm to come to you.”

It was a simple answer, but Byleth accepted it, giving a small nod. “Thank you. For answering my questions.” The woman stood from the bed. “I should be leaving now. You need your rest, after all.”

Byleth crossed the room, making her way to leave. Once her hand reached the door, a voice rang out.


The former professor turned to see Edelgard now standing, yet unwilling to look at the woman. “I understand if you no longer wish to lead us, but please tell me as much to my face.”

Byleth quirked a brow in confusion. Edelgard had told her the truth. That was all the woman needed to know. The girl was a victim of circumstance who used her chains to try and free the world. Byleth simply wanted to help free both the world and the girl. “What are you talking about?”

“You…” Edelgard paused, grimacing. “You have every right to hate me for what I’ve done. Surely you have no desire to fight alongside me.”

Stepping back towards the emperor, Byleth gently placed her hands on Edelgard’s shoulders. “I’m not leaving. I believe in your cause and want to help you. I just wanted to know your thoughts on that organization.”

“I worked with them!” Edelgard finally looked to Byleth, pain evident in those lilac eyes. “I allowed them to kill Captain Jeralt. I cannot fault you if you choose to leave. So why would you want to stay?”

Byleth shook her head, giving the girl a reassuring smile. “You told me yourself that you would have prevented his death if you could. You had no choice but to work with them. I cannot fault you for that.”

Edelgard’s features only became more pained. “An army far larger than the one that attacked the Holy Tomb last month will soon be locked in battle. So many generals and soldiers will die. It’s inevitable that civilians will get caught up in the chaos as well. There will be countless casualties. With a single command, the flames of war will rage across all corners of this realm. And I am the one who is giving the order.”

Letting out a sigh, Edelgard furrowed her brows. “Tell me the truth, my teacher. Are you happy with your decision to stay by my side? Unlike me, you can still walk away from all of this.”

The smile grew on Byleth’s face as she tried to comfort the girl’s fears. “Edelgard, I chose this path too. I have no plans to abandon you, no matter how many enemies we gain. I want to be here, beside you. I promised to never allow another to hurt you again, and I plan to keep it. But the only way I can do so is if I stay here with you, as your friend.”

A tear rolled down Edelgard’s cheek, the girl trying to hide it as she spoke in a shaky voice. “I never thought…”

Her words stopped as more tears fell, trying to hide the emotion behind her gloved hands. Byleth moved to wrap her arms around the girl before pausing, remembering the stiffness she felt from the previous times. “Edelgard, may I...?”

The emperor responded with a small nod, Byleth taking the moment to hug the girl closely and provide her comfort. One of the woman’s hands moved to support the Edelgard’s head while the other moved to her back, rubbing soothing circles. “It’s okay. I’m here for you. I won’t leave you.”

Edelgard’s sobs continued, her arms now clinging tightly to Byleth’s back. “Even if that’s so, it feels like the weight of this burden is crushing me.”

“I’ll help you carry that burden, then.” Byleth whispered to her. “I’ll be here as your guiding hand. I’ll make sure you never lose your path. If you fall, I’ll be there to pick you back up. So don’t be afraid to lean on me for support.”

The girl’s sobs eventually died down, though she remained in the hug for a bit longer. “Thank you, my teacher.”

Byleth breathed out a small laugh. “I’m not your teacher anymore. I’m just your friend, so call me Byleth.”

Edelgard separated from the hug, stepping away from the woman as she wiped away the remainder of her tears. “Very well...Byleth.”

The green-haired woman gave the emperor a small smile. “I should be leaving now, though. We both need our rest. But you should know that I’ll always be here should you need me.”

The emperor breathed out a laugh. “Is that another of your promises?”

Byleth frowned for a moment, thinking back to the times she was separated from her students for years. All due to an attack from Thales. All because she fought Edelgard. But this time she would not fight them. She would be free of that fate. Free to work alongside the emperor. “Yes. It’s a promise.”

Edelgard let out a small sigh. “I believe in you, Byleth. And you believe in me.” She seemed almost in shock at the truth, but a smile pulled at the corners of her lips nonetheless. “With that knowledge, I have the strength to keep fighting.”

The two exchanged their goodbyes before the former professor left, yet when outside the room, she paused. Byleth stood beside the closed door, one of her hands grasping the pendant that hung upon her neck.

I will keep you safe. No matter what.

Byleth walked alongside Edelgard to meet Hubert for one of their meetings. Unlike at the monastery, Byleth had become included as a part of their meetings, now noted as a trustworthy companion. The former professor had been spending many of her moments beside Edelgard, speaking with the young emperor on her plans. Moving her away from the use of Crest Stones and beasts and more towards the reliance on strong and trustworthy allies.

When the two approach Hubert for their meeting, the boy bowed before speaking. “Your Majesty, the latest report indicates that our main army is advancing as planned. Also, the preparations for your manifesto are almost complete.”

Byleth quirked a brow. She’d never heard of Edelgard’s manifesto. If it had been distributed in the past, it certainly never reached those in the monastery. That or it never reached the professor. “Your manifesto? What about?”

Edelgard looked over to the green-haired woman, realizing she hadn’t informed the woman. “We will be distributing our manifesto to every lord within Fódlan. We will expose the dark side of the Church of Seiros and the foul practices of the nobles from both the Kingdom and the Alliance. We will force the people of Fódlan to open their eyes to the truth and relinquish any remaining conviction to unite against the Empire. Certain nobles have already offered us their support.”

Hubert crossed his arms, a dark smile pulling at the corners of his lips. “Yes, there are other nobles who oppose the church. We will condemn those who deserve condemnation and forgive those who deserve forgiveness. We have already purged some of the Imperial nobles who are morally rotten. My father among them.” He let out a low laugh as he spoke the words. “How unfortunate.”

The young emperor nodded in agreeance. “And soon we will invade and conquer Garreg Mach. Our main army has already departed the Imperial capital. They will arrive in two weeks’ time. There, we will join forces with them. As for us, I’d like your opinion on how we should be positioned within the army.”

Byleth gave the idea some thought before a determined look came upon her face. “We are the Imperial sword, cutting a path forward for the Empire.”

Hubert let out a scoff. “Your Majesty intends to fight alongside the professor, correct? In that case, you will not be incorporated into the Empire’s main army. Your squad can move freely about the battlefield under supervision of the Imperial forces. That would be most prudent.”

Letting out a thoughtful hum, Edelgard took Hubert’s words into account. “Now that I’m the emperor, we can’t let slip that I’m following your command in battle, Byleth.”

“I suppose so. You wouldn’t want the people to think less of you.” Byleth agreed. “We can keep our team to those we know and trust, then. Our soldiers could just be the Black Eagles. We’re mobile and well aware of how to work with one another. Me acting as everyone’s commander would be no different than normal.”

Shaking his head, Hubert objected, his focus on the emperor. “I fully object to the notion of you fighting on the front lines.”

“Hubert.” A slight frown entered Edelgard’s features as she spoke. “We’ve already discussed this.”

“My apologies.” The boy bowed. “I overstepped.”

Sighing, Edelgard turned her attention back to Byleth. “Now that the details are settled, all that’s left is to come up with a name for ourselves. In honor of our time at the academy, how about we call ourselves the Black Eagle Strike Force?”

Byleth breathed out a laugh as a smile came to her lips. She could admit that the name was a bit much, but she rather enjoyed the sentimentality of it. Not to mention how proud Edelgard looked, the twinkle in her lilac eyes as she suggested the name. “I love it.”

A smile pulled at Edelgard’s features. “I’m so happy you feel that way. I must confess that I spent all night thinking about it.” Byleth’s own smile grew at her friend’s admission to her somewhat childish behavior. Edelgard allowed her own smile to fade away, forcing on a more serious demeanor as she continued. “I’ll leave it to you to prepare the Black Eagle Strike Force for departure.”

With that the three ended their meeting, parting ways to prepare for the coming battle. Byleth found it upon herself to check on the other students to make sure they were prepared to fight. She knew all of the Eagles were scared, but she would be there to soothe their struggles. There to calm them and prepare them for they path they’ve chosen.

Chapter Text

As the Strike Force prepared for their march on the monastery, Edelgard stood before the Eagles with Hubert and Byleth by her side. “We will soon arrive at Garreg Mach Monastery. Forcing a surrender here is extremely significant, both strategically and symbolically. Of course, this is personal as well. This is where we all came together to learn and grow. I have no intention of yielding to our former classmates, so I ask that you prepare yourselves for anything.”

Linhardt shook his head. “I’m not thinking about friends right now, and I’m certainly not prepared.”

Caspar elbowed the boy in his gut, disappointment clear in his features. “Damn it, don’t go around saying things that lower morale before we even get started!” The boy pumped a fist in the air as he let out an excited shout. “I’m ready! Let’s go! Let’s fight!”

“I have nothing to lose aside from my friends who are here with me.” Dorothea stated, a smile on her lips. “Does that answer satisfy you?”

“I have been ready for this since leaving my land of home.” Petra’s face and voice were clear with determination. “I will fight and win!”

Bernadetta shrunk behind the others. “How can you prepare to fight? Maybe I can prepare to prepare…”

Ferdinand spoke with his usual determined positivity. “There is no reason that I should not be prepared. It is my duty to stand up and battle!”

“This is the only way to bring about change to the system the church has created.” Lysithea stated, no fear apparent in her voice. “You have my full support. I will not back down.”

Ashe nodded in agreement. “After everything I have witnessed, I’m prepared to point my weapon at anyone in order to grasp the truth. Even if it means pointing it at Faerghus, I will not falter.”

“If I’m going to be honest, I’m terrified of pointing my weapon against my old friends.” Sylvain spoke with a slight waver in his voice. “But I will fight them if I must. I believe in this cause and will support it to my final breath.”

Byleth smiled at her students, proud of them. From the corner of her eye, she noticed a slight smile pull at Edelgard’s own lips as the emperor spoke once more. “Thank you all. Now, let’s talk strategy.”

Edelgard turned her attention to Hubert, urging him on to go over the tactics the three had discussed. The boy cleared his throat before speaking. “As the raiding force, we will attack the area nearest to the monastery. The Knights of Seiros certainly won’t stand down after they catch sight of Her Majesty and the professor. At the same time, the remaining areas with be surrounded and annihilated by the main army. In other words, we are the decoy that must suppress the enemy’s most elite soldiers.”

“We know more about the area near the monastery than anyone else in the Imperial army.” Edelgard stated. “Still, we must prepare for the worst. It’s possible we will have to face the archbishop’s true form--the Immaculate One. Fight with all you have, but don’t be reckless. As promised, I will leave command to our professor.”

Byleth furrowed her brows, scanning the students who stood before her. “I’ve taught all of you everything I can. I’ve seen your strength with my own eyes and have seen how far each of you have come. I believe you all have the power to prevail in this battle, ready to survive and bring about a better Fódlan. We will not lose.”

Hubert let out a small huff. “Naturally. With both Her Majesty and yourself on our side, defeat is impossible.”

“This will be our first battle as the Black Eagle Strike Force.” The young emperor stated. “All the more reason to prevail!”

The students brought their hands to their chests to salute the emperor, shouting out their support before the march on the monastery was to begin. Byleth had faith in them to pull through and win the war. They would bring a new dawn to Fódlan.

As the students dispersed to prepare to march, Byleth pulled Edelgard aside. The former professor knew that she wouldn’t fight the Empire and be sent into a slumber thanks to Thales, but uncertainty had begun to creep into Byleth’s mind. What if something happened to her and she disappeared for five years once again? What if Rhea did something to her, forcing Byleth back into that long slumber? There was no telling what the future would hold.

Edelgard quirked a brow at her friend, who remained silent after pulling her aside. “Byleth, is there something you wished to speak of?”

“Sorry, just lost in my thoughts.” Byleth let out a sigh. “I just...want you to know that if something happens to me, we will meet again. During the millennium festival.”

Concern filled the emperor’s features, Byleth now gaining her undivided attention. “What are you talking about? Won’t we stand together?”

Byleth shook her head. “I have every intention of staying by your side, but if something happens to me, I need you to know that I will come back. Even if it seems like I’ve died, I’ll be back. You’ll just have to wait for me to return.”

Edelgard knit her brows, staring into pale green eyes. “And what makes you can return from death?”

“Trust me.” The former professor gave a reassuring smile. “When the goddess gifted me her power, that included the ability to heal fatal wounds. It just takes some time.”

The young emperor let out a huff. “You said that once before--gaining powers from the goddess. But is she truly even real?”

The smile fell from Byleth’s lips as she let out a sigh, thinking back to Sothis always scolding her, forcing the woman to live so that the goddess herself wouldn’t die. And thinking back to Rhea’s truth. “She’s...not exactly a goddess, if that’s what you mean, but I’m unsure what else to call her that people would understand.” A quirk of Edelgard’s brow earned another sigh from the former professor. “I don’t have time to explain this now. We need to march. Perhaps I can explain after the battle.”

Edelgard gave a simple nod. “Well then, you should be sure nothing happens to  you in that case.”

Byleth smiled. “I don’t plan on leaving you.”

As the Strike Force neared the monastery, they took notice of fliers high in the sky, acting as watch and prepared for battle. Byleth was well aware the church knew they were coming, but it was odd to be on the opposite side of the battlefield.

Letting out a sigh, the former professor turned her attention to the Eagles. “Everyone! Remember what I told you before! We’re to split into three groups. Edelgard will command a group to head straight for the monastery gates while Hubert and I will lead two groups to attack from the sides and surround the enemy. There’s no need to kill everyone. Our focus is on the commanders. If they fall, then the rest will retreat, claiming us a victory. But be wary of ambushes, you may never know if there are enemies in hiding amongst the buildings.”

The Black Eagles shouted their affirmations as they split into their smaller groups, prepared to take down the enemy. Byleth led Dorothea, Bernadetta, and Lysithea. Their group split off to the left to aid Ladislava, the church soldiers pushing back against the general. The four ran forward, taking the enemy down effortlessly. Ladislava praised Byleth and her students’ efforts, glad for the assistance. “Just what we need! I knew Her Majesty’s allies would help us out.”

Byleth nodded back to the woman. “It seemed right to help an ally in need. Now! Let’s push forward and defeat the church!”

Ladislava gave out a shout, raising her lance as she and her troops joined the charge forward. Byleth led them, finding Gilbert farther into the monastery grounds, holding his ground to protect the inner gates of the monastery. Brandishing the Sword of the Creator, Byleth ran directly at the man, who quickly brought up his large shield to block the attack.

The knight growled in response, knocking the green-haired woman away. “If you side with the Empire...if you turn your sword on the church and on the Kingdom...I care not who you are. I will end you just the same.”

With a shout, Gilbert hoisted his axe, bringing it down to attack the former professor. Byleth dodged the man’s slow movement with ease, making use of the opening he left to get behind him and slash at him where his defenses were weakest. The knight fell to his knees, letting out a shout of pain.

Raising her sword, Byleth prepared to kill the man. But she hesitated, seeing the one who helped her try to get Dimitri to see reason. The one who helped protect the Kingdom when Dimitri failed to. The man who made some poor decisions, but still had a kind heart.

She couldn’t kill him. At least, not fast enough. Gilbert took advantage of the opening the woman left to retreat, leaving a bloody trail behind. The students who joined her gave questioning looks, but Byleth shook them off. “There’s no need to chase him. He’s in no condition to fight. He can’t do anything as is.”

Ignoring any questions she would get, Byleth pushed forward to reunite with Edelgard. The group moved to the main gate, watching it open as Seteth flew off, moving to retreat deeper within the walls. Large golems poured out of the monastery, ready to attack the young emperor and her troops.

Moving as quickly as she could, Byleth ordered her troops to attack the golem. They followed orders, working in unison to attack and stun the golem. Edelgard and Ferdinand took the opening to finish the automaton off, felling the large enemy before them. As the thing fell, Rhea came into view, standing atop the stairs as she looked down on them. Rage burned within the former professor at the sight of the woman, visceral hatred taking control of her thoughts. A low growl came from Byleth’s throat as she stepped forward. “Rhea’s mine.”

“Byleth, wait!”

Edelgard tried to reach out to the former professor, but is was too late as the woman ran off, rage fueling her. She’d kill Rhea for what she’d done. Byleth ran up the steps, ignoring soldiers around her, only slashing at those who got in her way of her path to Rhea.

Upon reaching the top of the steps, she glared at the monster before her, the archbishop returning the woman’s look in full. “You.” Rhea spit out the words like they were poison. “How dare you betray me. You worthless piece of garbage! I will punish you myself!”

Byleth scoffed. “As if I betrayed you. I never agreed with you to begin with.”

The two green-haired women charged at each other, each brandishing their own blades, prepared to kill the other. Byleth was just a bit faster, dodging the archbishop’s blade and slashing at the woman’s side, inciting a scream of pain from the woman. Though that scream quickly turned from one of pain to anger. “I will not allow Garreg Mach or my mother to fall!”

Rhea let out another shout, a green glow coming from her body.


Byleth fell back, the archbishop transforming into her draconic form above the former professor. The Immaculate One let out a terrifying roar, freezing Byleth in place upon the ground as the dragon shouted. “You will not be forgiven!”

“Byleth! Look out!”

Edelgard’s voice sliced through the air, forcing Byleth to scurry off the ground. She had to run. Had to survive. She needed to remain with Edelgard and keep the girl safe. But it was too late. The dragon’s large form smashed through the walls and ceiling of the castle, breathing out a beam of light to destroy the area around Byleth.

Byleth watched as the Immaculate One took flight, retreating from the monastery grounds, no doubt believing her work was done. Rubble fell near Byleth. She was running out of time. She quickly turned to run back to her students.

Genuine worry was laced in Hubert’s voice as it carried through the air. “Professor! Take cover!”


Edelgard’s broken and worried voice pained Byleth to listen to. She wanted to escape the building and show the girl that all was well. But it was too late. Stone fell in front of Byleth, forcing her to a halt before trying to climb around it, reaching her hand out to the white-haired girl.


The worried young emperor tried to reach back out to her, but the girl was pulled away by Hubert, no doubt to protect her from the collapsing building. She was so close though. Just meters away. Edelgard’s terrified form wishing desperately for her friend to escape the chaos.

That was the last thing Byleth saw before the world crumbled around her and all went to darkness.

I guess I broke my promise. I’m sorry, Edelgard.

End of Part I: White Clouds

Chapter Text

Part II: Crimson Flower


Edelgard’s shout echoed in Byleth’s mind as she was enveloped in darkness. The despair in the emperor’s voice gripped at Byleth’s guts with icy claws. So, some things couldn’t be avoided after all. She wished she had been faster, better, less prone to her anger. But it was too late as the woman allowed herself to sink deeper and deeper into the darkness of her slumber.

Time ceased to hold meaning as the darkness stretched onwards, leaving Byleth alone in the vast expanse of nothingness. She felt her feet touch the ground, the sound of liquid splashing beneath her boots. Looking down, she noticed a thick layer of blood upon the ground.

“How long do you plan to sleep?”

The voice that spoke echoed, carrying the sound of both a young girl and a grown man. Stepping out from within the darkness, the man who looked just like Byleth stood before her, his face lacking all emotion.

“You can feel it too. The blood of war being spilled upon the ground. In order to survive, they kill. And so, the people of this world are lost in an abyss of suffering. Countless deaths, all due to your decisions.”

The wails of the dead filled the air. People letting out their final breaths, screaming for friends, family, and lovers. Cries of pain as they slowly died, their blood trickling to the ground, staining the soil upon which they died.

“But…” Byleth paused, the thick crimson liquid now pooling at her ankles. “The war was unavoidable. Edelgard was planning it for years!”

“And you’ve chosen to support her. Are you certain this is the path you wish to follow? To have more blood staining your hands? This time, you are no longer a victim, but rather the assailant.”

Edelgard’s words echoed through Byleth’s mind, a reminder. “It would be disrespectful to consider them simply victims when they died for what they believed in.”

“I was never a victim!” The woman shuddered as she thought back to the war she fought in. The deaths by her hand. “I fought for a cause! I was never innocent!”

“Are you prepared, then, to face the consequences of your decision?”

Blood now pooled around Byleth’s knees, before she suddenly sunk into the liquid. She let out a shout, her lungs burning as her body begged for air. She flailed her arms out, trying desperately to escape, but her body would not float up. Just when she was prepared to let go, an arm violently took hold of her throat, lifting her out of the liquid effortlessly.

Byleth gasped for air, coughing out blood that made its way into her lungs. She slowly opened her eyes to find messy blonde hair and an angry blue eye. “You! You’ll pay for all you’ve done!” The arm violently shook her in the air, Byleth’s feet far from the ground. “I’ll have your head hung beside that woman’s on the gates of Enbarr!”

The green-haired woman tried to kick her legs out, struggling to speak. “Dimitri...please. You’ve been deceived.”

“You are the one who’s been deceived by that vile woman’s words!” The prince spat out, grip tightening on the woman’s throat. “All I see before me is a monster who’s been convinced they’re human.”

Byleth kicked again, this time hitting the man hard enough that he let go. The woman fell to her knees, gasping for air before noticing the Sword of the Creator at her feet. Carefully, she took the weapon in her hands before looking up to Dimitri, the man charging at her with his lance. “You will die for the blood you have spilled!”

Getting on her feet, Byleth lashed out her sword, extending it and slashing through the man. Dimitri fell forward, hand clutching his throat as blood seeped from it. He let out one final gurgled breath, his other hand reaching to Byleth before falling completely limp. His blood would not stop, only adding to that which pooled upon the ground. Byleth looked down at her hands. They were crimson from the blood that stained the ground and her sword. How many would she have to kill?

“This wasn’t the conclusion I had hoped for.”

Byleth turned around to see Claude, holding Failnaught as he drew back the bowstring, a sad look on his face. “Edelgard’s ways are too violent. Our ideals may not be very different, but the way you go about it matters.”

“Claude! Stop! I don’t want to fight you!”

“Sorry Teach.”

Claude released his arrow, allowing it to fly through the darkness and lodging itself in Byleth’s shoulder. Letting out a cry of pain, the woman fell back into the liquid, sinking amidst the blood she spilled. As she fell deeper and deeper down, she slowly opened her eyes, seeing Marianne’s body.

The girl was limp. Dead.

“One of them has already lost their life due to your choices. And soon others will follow.”

The bodies of her former students slowly filled her vision. Dedue, Felix, Mercedes, Annette, Ingrid, Lorenz, Raphael, Ignatz, Hilda, Leonie, Flayn. All of them were there. All of them dead like Marianne. All because of Byleth.

The woman clamped her eyes shut, trying to will the thoughts away. She brought her arms up to her face, curling in on herself. She just wanted it to stop. For the pain and death to go away. Why was fate so cruel to her? She just wanted to be free of the shackles of time. Free of the shackles of war.

“You cannot hide from the truth. No longer can you wallow in the past, desiring what could have been. You must open your eyes to the future.”

Byleth felt her feet hit the ground, slowly standing and opening her eyes to see Emperor Edelgard kneeling before her, using her sword to hold herself up. Her cape splayed out behind her, turning into a trail of blood. Within that blood stood the man, staring at Byleth with critical green eyes.

“Can you do it? Can you support a monster whose path lies across the dead? Is this truly what you desire?”


Edelgard looked up to the green-haired woman, despair in her lilac eyes as she breathed heavily. As she opened her mouth, her words came out as a plea. “Strike me down. You must. Even now, across this land, people are killing each other. If you do not act now, this conflict will go on forever.”

Not this again. Byleth didn’t want this.

Slowly, the former professor stepped forward, approaching the woman who begged for death. Each step was heavy, echoing out and followed by the pleas of her students. Former students. Screaming at her to stop. To come back to them. Byleth grit her teeth the closer she came to the emperor, ignoring her former students. They didn’t know everything. They didn’t know why this was happening. They simply fought against the tides of change, unwilling to see where the current would take them. Upon reaching the white-haired woman, Edelgard looked up to her former professor, lips pulling into a frown as a pained look in her lilac eyes.

“I wanted to walk with you.”

Byleth dropped her sword, falling to her knees and pulling her friend into a tight hug, letting out a sob into her friend’s shoulder.

“I wanted to walk with you too.”

Tears fell from green eyes as Byleth took in stuttered breaths. Her arms tightened around Edelgard’s form. She didn’t want to let go. To lose her. The emperor never returned the gesture. Never even reacted. But Byleth didn’t mind. All she cared about was holding her close.

“I’m so sorry I left you. I should have told you everything then and there. I never should have made a promise I couldn’t keep.”

A warm hand touched Byleth’s shoulder, forcing her to look up and see the man giving her a small, reassuring smile. It was warm. Kind. Understanding. Like that of a friend. Similar to the smiles that Sothis would give her.

“The only one who knows the nature of this world is I. Or rather, you.”

Byleth quirked a brow at the man. “What are you talking about?”

The man let out a huff, knitting his brows in annoyance. Yet his lips curved up into a smile. “You still don’t recognize me?” He closed his eyes, shaking his head. “It matters not. Go now. Wake up so you might see her again.”

Byleth’s eyes slowly opened, taking in the view of the dark skies above. The sound of flowing water filled her ears as she regained her senses. Slowly, the woman sat up, noticing she had been lying on the edge of a river, her body drenched from the water. Looking down, she took note that her armor was bent out of shape and broken apart into a state that would be unusable for combat. The clothing beneath was torn, requiring either a great amount of mending or complete replacement. Luckily, her sword was undamaged.

Letting out a sigh, Byleth combed a hand through her hair, taking note that it had grown far too long, now reaching a bit beyond her hips. Standing, Byleth took her hair in one hand and her sword in the other, chopping off the excess that had grown. It was still a bit long for her taste, but it was more manageable. She could worry about cutting her hair shorter later.

Allowing her eyes to wander, Byleth eventually spotted the monastery in the distance, standing amongst the mountains. She held a hand to her chest, fingers brushing against the pendant she wore. That’s right. There were people who cared about her. People who were no doubt worried.

It would be quite a walk to get to the monastery, taking hours upon hours, but if today were the day Byleth thought it was, then it would be important to start her trek now. After all, tomorrow would be the millennium festival. There would be others waiting for her there. If she moved now, she might be able to make it before dawn.

Chapter Text

The bright colors of sunlight slowly began to enter the sky as Byleth walked before the gates to the monastery. Soldiers stood their guard, halting the green-haired woman’s approach. One of the soldiers spoke, voice gruff. “State your business here.”

Strange. She was used to the building being abandoned, not occupied. Though the colors of their uniforms gave away that these were Imperial soldiers. Byleth crossed her arms, slightly annoyed by the setback. “I’m here to see Edelgard and my students.”

“That’s Emperor Edelgard to you.” The guard scoffed. “Do you have any papers?”

Byleth tilted her head. She supposed she had no form of identification that would be recognized. And after being gone for so long, there was no doubt people would have assumed her dead or forgotten. “I guess not.”

The guard sneered, pointing their lance at the woman. “Then leave these grounds before we have to get rid of you. Forcibly.”

Frowning, Byleth dropped her hand to the hilt of her sword, clutching the weapon tightly as it let out a brilliant red glow. “That would be a mistake. Let me through. Now.”

The second guard took notice of Byleth’s sword, nudging the first and whispering something. The guard suddenly lowered their lance, giving an embarrassed bow. “Apologies, Professor Eisner. We should have recognized you earlier. Please forgive my rudeness.”

The second guard gave a bow of their own. “Would you like an announcement of your return and an escort to the emperor?”

Byleth let go of the hilt of her sword, quirking a brow. She shook her head. “No. I have a feeling I know where she is. Plus, I’d like to keep this a surprise.”

The soldiers silently stepped aside to let her through. It was strange, returning to the monastery’s grounds like this, though the area was quiet as could be. The former professor found herself walking through the ruined monastery grounds, few people walking about at these early hours. Of the few people who were awake to see the woman, most ignored her. There were some surprised glances, though, faces looking as though a ghost walked through.

She ignored the looks she got, instead focusing on her current goal. Byleth walked across the monastery grounds, passing through the reception hall and around the cathedral, finding herself before the Goddess Tower. Taking a deep breath, she opened the small door, entering the building to ascend the narrow staircase.

Byleth paused upon reaching the top step, staring at a crimson cape. Edelgard. The emperor took notice of the woman’s footsteps, her head turning slightly as she spoke with a commanding voice. “Halt! Who’s there?”

The former professor stepped forward, slowly approaching the emperor as a sad smile came across her face. “Edelgard, it’s me.”

Edelgard suddenly turned to fully face the green-haired woman, lilac eyes widened in surprise. She reached a red-gloved hand up slightly, as though in disbelief of who stood before her. “It can’t be…” The white-haired woman took in a stuttered breath. “Byleth? Is it really you?”

Byleth nodded, grasping her friend’s outstretched hand. “Yes. I’m here.”

“But I searched everywhere and never found a trace.” Edelgard’s surprise melted away, turning to a sad frown. “What have you been doing all this time? Where have you been?!”

Green eyes fell, lowering their gaze from the emperor towards the ground. “I was sleeping.”

Edelgard cheeks flushed slightly, a small smile coming to her lips. “Joking? At a time like this? You do realize it’s been five years since you disappeared!” Tears began to prick at lilac eyes. “Do you have any idea how guilty I felt? How broken my heart was?! I searched high and low after you vanished.”

Every word felt like a dagger in Byleth’s chest. She abandoned Edelgard. Vanished without a trace. Leaving her all alone in this cruel war. All when Byleth promised to remain beside her. To protect her from any who would harm her. And yet Byleth hurt Edelgard by leaving her for five years. The green-haired woman grimaced at her own failures.

The emperor suddenly pulled Byleth into a hug, letting out light sobs into her shoulder. Edelgard continued to speak through her sobs, talking as though she was holding back her tears. “All this time, I led everyone as best I could and fought with all my heart. It’s been a difficult path to walk alone.”

The former professor was surprised for a moment, not used to Edelgard initiating such contact. Slowly, Byleth brought up her arms, wrapping them around the woman to return the gesture. She nuzzled her face into white locks that smelled of bergamot. “I’m sorry. I broke my promises. I should’ve known better.”


“I…” Byleth took in a deep stuttered breath, her voice coming out in a broken whisper. “I hurt you. I left you alone all this time.” Tears fell from green eyes. “You were right to tell me not to make such promises. And yet, here I am, having broken everything. I’m…” Byleth let out a sob. “I’m sorry.”

Edelgard pulled back slightly to look at Byleth’s face. “You did keep one promise, though.” The emperor smiled at her friend through tears. “You came back. Just as we promised five years ago.”

Byleth brought up a hand, wiping away Edelgard’s tears. “I suppose I did.”

The emperor’s smile softened, eyes glistening, full of admiration. Byleth couldn’t help but think that Edelgard looked beautiful in that moment, standing in each other’s arms. “Welcome back, Byleth. I’m so happy that you’re safe.” Edelgard sighed. “Five years. Such a short time, but it feels like an eternity ago. Do you...” The emperor paused, her arms tightening around the woman. “Do you still feel the way you did all those years ago?”

Tilting her head to the side, Byleth quirked a brow. “What do you mean?”

“You said then that you would fight at my side no matter how many enemies we should amass.” Edelgard’s eyes filled with determination as she continued. “As for me, my resolve has not faltered. I’m determined to see this through to the end. I will defeat the false goddess. I will save this world from those creatures and give humanity its freedom back. So, Byleth, are you prepared to stand with me?”

Byleth gave the woman a wide smile. “Of course I am. Nothing has changed. I will stand beside you, no matter what.”

“I…” Edelgard paused, smiling at her friend. “I thank you. Truly.” The emperor let out a sigh before stepping away from the woman. “Now then, I assume you understand the situation at hand, yes?”

Things seemed a bit different from when Byleth had last gone through the war, likely due to her decisions. The former professor gave a sheepish smile. “I don’t know, actually. I really was asleep for all this time.”

“Another joke? Or…” The emperor paused, eyes widening in surprise. “Are you telling the truth? I suppose you must be.” Edelgard let out a sigh. “In that case, I’ll tell you all that has transpired as you slumbered these past five years.”

Edelgard pulled Byleth along, taking a walk with the former professor as she caught the woman up on the current state of affairs.

After having stopped by Byleth’s old room and allowing the woman to change out of her destroyed armor and into a plain pair of pants and a shirt, they continued on their walk, speaking of what happened during the former professor’s long slumber.

Unlike in the past, Edelgard was far less aggressive, making no use of Demonic Beasts or connections within the Kingdom. Instead, the Kingdom stood strong against the Empire. As Edelgard finished explaining what had happened during Byleth’s slumber, the two stopped before the doors to the archbishop’s office.

The emperor let out a long sigh. “And that is where we are now. The war is at a stalemate. Dimitri is the new king of Faerghus. It’s clear that his territory will continue to support the church. Meanwhile, Claude’s leadership has thrown the Alliance into chaos. He maintains neutrality in their internal conflict. The situation has created a deadlock. We’ve been awaiting an opportunity for our squadron to return to the monastery.”

Edelgard turned her full attention to Byleth, looking at the green-haired woman. “With you in the fray, I believe the state of the war will shift immediately. The church, as well as the Kingdom and the Alliance...the time has come to eliminate them all.”

Byleth’s lips pulled down in a slight frown. “The Kingdom and the Alliance. I can’t say I’m the happiest to fight them.”

White brows furrowed, clear regret within lilac eyes. “Although we were of different houses, we were companions who lived and learned together. Some of our ranks are hesitant to battle against the ranks of them, and against the people of their homelands.” Edelgard forced her frown away, returning to a determined neutral expression. “However, knowing that you’re alive is sure to raise their spirits.”

“Then I suppose I’ll have to do everything I can to make sure they don’t lose themselves.” Byleth briefly thought to her slumber, the blood that stained her hands. She shook the thoughts away. The past could not be changed. “I’m ready to help lead you all once more. To a brighter future.”

Edelgard smiled to her friend. “Good. Well then, I believe it’s time for a little reunion. The Black Eagle Strike Force never lost faith. They knew you were alive and have been awaiting your return. Let’s not keep them waiting any longer.”

The emperor opened the doors to the archbishop’s office to reveal the Black Eagles all gathered and prepared for a meeting. Their faces filled with surprise before lighting up at seeing their former professor, replacing the momentary gloom that existed on their faces.

Hubert was the first to get past his momentary shock, a small smile gracing his lips. “Well now. That face is certainly familiar. I am glad to see you alive and well, Professor.”

“Professor!” An uncharacteristically excited and outgoing shout came from a rather tall purple-haired archer. “It’s me, Bernie! Do you remember me? I can’t believe you’re here!”

Caspar pumped up a fist in excitement. “I can’t believe it! Is this a dream? Can we really be this lucky?!”

“This is not dreaming. Our professor is with us again!” Excitement bubbled into Petra’s voice as she spoke. “Welcome to the back! I mean, welcome back!”

A large smile came across Ferdinand’s face, keeping a noble demeanor as always. “Our group isn’t the same without you. I am overjoyed to see you again!”

A sigh escaped Dorothea’s lips, a smile gracing her face, yet her eyes were dulled with pain. “It’s been so long! Seeing you again fills my heart with hope!”

“Great, now everything will be easy.” Sarcasm dripped from Linhardt’s voice before a nudge from Lysithea forced him to clear his throat and try again. “Um, that’s great you’re safe, Professor. I’m deeply, deeply moved.”

“It’s wonderful to see you again, Professor.” Lysithea practically beamed. “It seems as though nothing can stop you.”

Sylvain let out a laugh. “Glad to have you back, Professor. Though it was hard to tell it’s you for a second when you’re not in that armor you always wear.”

Ashe rolled his eyes from beside the man. “It’s good to know that you’re back. We’ve been working hard to make you proud when you returned.”

A small laugh escaped from Byleth’s lips as her eyes scanned over the Eagles. “You’ve all grown quite a bit while I was gone. But I’m glad to see you’re all still you.”

Edelgard stepped forward, looking back to her friend. “Quite the reunion, isn’t it? Everyone’s so happy to see you.”

“Come on, Edelgard.” Caspar gave a toothy grin as he spoke. “You must be happier than all of us combined!” A slight tint of pink entered the emperor’s cheeks, lilac eyes gazing at the floor as Caspar spoke. “She took it really hard when you disappeared, Professor.”

Ferinand gave a nod, his voice taking Byleth’s attention away from Edelgard. “Of course, we did our very best in your absence. And there was never a day that we doubted you would return to us.”

“Edelgard has been leading us as emperor.” Dorothea added, though her voice lowered, wavering with slight emotion. “But after you disappeared, it became apparent that you were her anchor.”

Petra shook her head, lowered in disappointment. “It gives me regret to be admitting this, but our power is not enough. The only one who can be meeting Edelgard’s expectations is you, Professor.”

“Can you blame her, though?” Sylvain added. “You have a talent for guiding us. We never could have made it this far without you.”

Lysithea nodded. “For once I agree with Sylvain. Had it not been for you, we likely wouldn’t have given any thought to our choices. But now here we are, standing for what we believe in.”

“You’re the one who helped us come this far, Professor.” Ashe smiled as he spoke. “Why, you seem to understand each of us and know how to help lift us up to carry on.”

A slight smile quirked at Lindhart’s lips. “Most uncanny of all is your uncanny ability to bring a smile to everyone’s face.”

Hubert gave a simple nod of his head. “In the years since you vanished, we have not lost anyone from our ranks.”

“We all longed for your presence and your leadership, Byleth.” Edelgard stated. “Myself included.”

“It seems fitting to view this as a new beginning for the Black Eagle Strike Force.” Hubert added, the corners of his lips pulled up into a slight smile. “We already have our target.”

Edelgard’s features pulled down into a determined frown. “Yes. We must eliminate the Alliance before moving on to fight the Kingdom and the church. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean we must occupy the entirety of the Alliance. House Riegan stands against the Empire. Therefore, our target is Derdriu, the Aquatic Capital.”

“We must cross the Arimid River, which separates the Empire and the Alliance.” Hubert stated. “To do that, we must take the largest bridge across it. The Great Bridge of Myrddin. Myrddin connects the monastery and the Imperial capital to the east. It is the shortest route there.”

The emperor nodded in agreement. “An Alliance stronghold has been built at the Great Bridge. We’ll take that and then head north. At the same time, we must defeat the one who defends it, Judith von Daphnel. If we can also take control of Daphnel territory, it would be greatly beneficial to us.” Edelgard turned, no longer to face Byleth, but now to face the Black Eagles before her. “Prepare yourselves. The next battle will be a momentous one. Join me, my friends, as we begin our journey to bring peace and solace to this war-ravaged world.”

The Eagles all gave their affirmations, shouting out with proud allegiance to Edelgard. A small smile pulled at Byleth’s lips as she watched the students she taught now stand before her as grown adults, prepared to bring about change to the world. There still existed that pain of knowing she taught them to fight and take lives, but such knowledge would be used to try and better the world. To free humans from the shackles Rhea had put upon them.

The smell of bergamot filled the room as steam rose from their teacups. Byleth and Edelgard sat together within the emperor’s room, talking over tea. As the former professor took another sip of her drink, a long sigh came from Edelgard’s lips. “I’m so sick of it all.”

A quirk of Byleth’s brow urged her friend to continue on. “There is so much to be done, yet all I encounter are new problems and pitfalls.” The white-haired woman let out another sigh. “Sometimes I wish I could spend just one day doing absolutely nothing and gorging myself on sweets!”

Byleth let out a small laugh, smiling at Edelgard. “Then let’s do just that.”

Edelgard returned the smile two-fold, beaming at her friend. “Do you mean it? Just the thought makes me happy. But...” The smile faded into a pout, lilac eyes falling to her tea. “Hubert would never allow it.”

“Well then, we’ll just have to plan to do so in the future.” Byleth continued to smile. “Perhaps when the war is over, we can find a moment you can indulge yourself with sweets.”

Determination laced into Edelgard’s features, a goal clear in her eyes. “Indeed. It may not be possible now, but one day we will know the joys of idling. Mark my words.”

A small smirk came to Byleth’s lips, attempting to hold back a laugh as she took another sip of her tea. It seemed odd. Edelgard always seemed so serious, devoting herself to doing her work. To see her dreaming of idling was somewhat off-putting, but not at all unwelcome.

Edelgard took notice of Byleth’s look, a slightly angered frown coming to her face. “Is that a smirk I spy? Is it so amusing to you, me daydreaming of free time?”

Byleth shook her head, though she was unable to make her smile go away. “No, no. You misunderstand me.”

The emperor let out a small laugh. “Your silly grin says otherwise.” She let out a sigh, shaking her head. “But let’s put that all aside for now. There is something I’ve been meaning to tell you.” Edelgard’s eyes fell once again to her tea as her cheeks filled with a tinge of pink. “I’m afraid this might sound a bit...sentimental.”

Lilac eyes rose, looking directly into green eyes. Edelgard smiled softly as she spoke. “However, I want to thank you. Because of you, I feel I can walk my fated path without losing myself. If I were alone, I might have lost perspective and become a harsh leader with a heart of ice. But I’m not alone. With you by my side, I’m somehow free to be not only a leader, but simply Edelgard.”

“I…” Byleth paused, swallowing. The former professor had seen what happened to the woman when she was alone. Becoming just what Edelgard had predicted. A cold, harsh ruler. She relied not on trusted allies, but made use of beasts to fight for her. The emperor even considered herself a tool, turning herself into some warped beast to make sure she would not be stopped. But now she was kind. Sitting here as Byleth’s friend. Even though the green-haired woman used to hate her. It didn’t seem right. Byleth tried to shove the thoughts down as she spoke. “I’m glad.”

“Byleth, are you okay?”

Concern was evident in lilac eyes as their gaze seemed to pierce through Byleth. But Edelgard’s look was not vicious and she was not scrutinizing the woman for details. So why did her kind gaze make Byleth feel this way? “I’m fine. I suppose I’m still just a bit tired. Please, ignore me.”

A red-gloved hand moved slightly towards Byleth before hesitating and pulling back. “Very well.” Concern did not leave Edelgard’s eyes as she kept her gaze on the green-haired woman, but she continued on. “Until now, no one has been able to surpass me--much less command me. I have always been seen as an untouchable princess or emperor. No one spoke to me as an equal or met my gaze without flinching. It was lonely. Terribly lonely. The only person I could rely on as I tried to claw my way out of the darkness was myself.” A smile pulled at Edelgard’s lips. “But you. You have been a brilliant light. Somehow, you have chased the darkness away. And for that, I will always be grateful.”

Something clawed at Byleth’s guts. Each word Edelgard spoke felt like a knife twisted into the former professor. As though she was never meant to be here. This was never meant to happen. Byleth didn’t deserve to be considered so highly by the woman. Not when she hated the emperor so. It wasn’t right.

Byleth took in a deep breath as she stood up, gaining a worried look from Edelgard. “I’m...glad that I can be there for you. But we each have our own matters to attend to now, do we not?”

Edelgard suddenly stood up, her gloved hand catching Byleth’s wrist. The emperor’s grip was tight, almost as though she was afraid of losing her former professor once again. “Wait. We have time to stay here just a while longer.”

“I…” The former professor looked away from the emperor as she went through her thoughts, trying to find a proper excuse. “I should start working now. So much has changed over the past five years. I need to accustom myself to everything.”

The grip on her wrist loosened, though the emotion on Edelgard’s face was unknown to Byleth, as she was unwilling to look at the woman. There was a silence as the former professor stood still before slowly approaching the door. As Byleth opened it, she spoke. “I’m glad to see you again and sorry to leave so soon.” There was a slight pause as the green-haired woman tried to find the right words. “It’s just that everything is...overwhelming right now.”

Byleth quickly left, shutting the door behind her as she reached a hand to the pendant upon her neck. It soothed her somewhat, but as she looked upon it, the painful feeling returned. It was a new feeling to Byleth. And it made looking at the emperor hurt so much, like the past. But this pain was different. It felt worse.

Chapter Text

The sun rose up in the sky, revealing the beginnings of dawn. Soldiers moved about the camp, preparing for the attack on the Great Bridge. Byleth frowned at the armor she wore, making use of that which Rhea provided her, having no other usable armor available to her. Luckily, the church robes the archbishop provided her were lined internally with a layer of chainmail. Perhaps it was ironic, though, for one dressed in robes of the church to fight the church itself.

Byleth was pulled out of her thoughts when Hubert approached, requesting the green-haired woman to follow him. The former professor quirked a brow, but obliged him, following the man just a bit out of the camp. When they came to a stop, he cleared his throat, turning to address the woman. “We are about to commence our attack on the Great Bridge of Myrddin. But first, allow me a moment of your time.”

The former professor let out a sigh. “Well, you’ve certainly gotten it. What did you need me for out here?”

Hubert shook his head, the corners of his lips curving upwards. “I suppose so, but still, it is something that I can only ask of you. Listen well.” Byleth gave a nod and her full attention to the man, prompting him to continue. “It concerns Lady Edelgard’s uncle. The regent of the Empire, Lord Arundel.”

The thought of him upset Byleth. Hearing his name just made her want to sneer, knowing what he had done to the emperor. “What about him?”

“Although he is currently cooperating with Her Majesty, he maintains his own sizable military troops. It seems to me that his plans differ from our own.” The man let out a small huff. “I assume you recall a certain group’s scheming from five years ago. Solon and Kronya. They both served Lord Arundel.”

A frown came to Byleth’s lips, no longer wishing to hide her distaste. “Must we really cooperate with him? He should instead be dealt with. Killed for what he’s done.”

“Professor.” Hubert’s voice softened to show concern, however slight. “I understand how you must be feeling, considering what they did to your father. I know it must be foul to even consider cooperating with their kind. However, their power is essential for us at present. Edelgard also strongly opposed the idea at first. Our enemy is the Church of Seiros itself. It cannot be toppled with the Empire’s might alone. Those working under Lord Arundel are extremely hostile toward the church. And the enemy of our enemy is…” Hubert paused, breathing out a sigh. “Well, I think you sufficiently understand by now.”

Byleth frowned at the man, but gave in. “I understand your reasoning, but are you sure that’s a good idea? What if they were to turn on us?”

“Until all of Fódlan is united, it is a necessary evil.” Hubert breathed out a sinister laugh. “As for how we deal with them afterward, time will tell. Regardless, Her Majesty and I wish to join our power with yours. You should know that in her heart, Her Majesty regards that group as enemies of herself and her family. They used her father, the former emperor, as a puppet and murdered her siblings with their vile experimentation.”

The former professor grit her teeth, remembering the conversations she had with Edelgard in the past. All of the pain and suffering she went through, all due to Lord Arundel. If he was in charge of those who slithered, then there was no doubt he was Thales. That monster masquerading as Edelgard’s uncle. Just knowing what he’d done sickened Byleth to her core. To kill so many, including Edelgard’s siblings, just so the princess might have the Crest of Flames was disgusting. And the way it left the emperor was saddening. Edelgard was a human who thought herself a tool, worth nothing but acting as a force of change for people, like her own desires meant nothing.

Hubert’s voice continued ever calm, betraying no emotions on the matter. “I believe Her Majesty may have told you this herself. That is why this was a...very painful decision for her to make. I will do all I can to ensure her suffering is not in vain, and I hope I can count on you to do the same.”

Byleth grimaced at those words. Edelgard shouldn’t have to suffer. No one should. But perhaps it was too late to prevent the emperor’s suffering. All that could be done now was to alleviate such pain and help Edelgard’s scars heal. Even if such healing was minimal, one could at least try to help her. If Hubert wouldn’t do so, then that left such a task to Byleth.

“As for all I have told you, please keep it in mind as we march forward.” Hubert bowed to Byleth as he spoke. “More importantly, I implore you to fight as best you can for Edelgard. From the bottom of my heart, I beg this of you.”

The humility upon the man’s face suggested his deep desire to keep his emperor safe. Letting out a sigh, Byleth smiled to Hubert. “I won’t let any harm reach Edelgard. So long as I breathe, I will keep her safe and work to bring about the future we desire.”

“That is all I can request of you, Professor.” A slight smile quirked at Hubert’s lips. “I thank you for your assistance.”

As the Black Eagles approached the Great Bridge of Myrddin, they separated into groups, preparing for their attack. Hubert and Ferdinand took a few of the Eagles to lead their own charge to act as a diversion and overtake the ballista. Byleth and Edelgard would take the main group and lead a frontal attack on the bridge, heading straight for the commander: Judith. A slight frown came to Byleth’s lips as she thought back onto a strategy meeting she had with Edelgard and Hubert earlier that morning.

Edelgard kept herself calm and composed, going over the plan once more. “We’ll be capturing the Great Bridge of Myrddin, a key strategic location of the Leicester Alliance. Claude will surely be sending reinforcements, so we must prevail before they arrive.”

“Our opponent is Judith, the so-called Hero of Daphnel.” Hubert let out a scoff, almost as though he was prepared to laugh about the commander. “We can handle her. So long as we don’t get careless.”

A sigh escaped the former professor’s lips. She knew how capable a fighter Judith was. She had seen the woman in battle. And Byleth couldn’t doubt how invaluable she was to the Alliance after the soldiers and help she had provided to Claude in the past. Without her, Claude and Byleth might never have been able to defeat Edelgard.

But here they stood now. On opposing sides of the battlefield. This time Byleth stood with the Empire. Or rather, she stood with Edelgard. The green-haired woman cared not for what nation she stood with, but rather the people. And now she cared about the ideals she stood with. Byleth’s grip tightened on her sheathed sword, steeling herself to fight the kind woman who helped her gain victory in the past. Judith was standing in the way of change for the better. Byleth could not allow that.

Edelgard stood beside her, seeming to notice the tension in her friend and commander. “Byleth, is something the matter? We need you to be prepared to join the fray.”

“I’m fine.” The green-haired woman paused, taking in a deep breath. “Just thinking.”

“What about?”

Byleth closed her eyes, releasing her breath. “About what could have been had I chosen a different path.”

Edelgard’s lilac eyes fell to the ground, filled with regret. “I see. Do you...regret your decision to fight alongside me?”

“No.” The former professor looked to the white-haired woman, determination clear in pale green eyes. “This is the only way to bring about change and the war was inevitable. Your ideals are just and you’ve proven yourself a friend, Edelgard. I’ve just seen so much that I…” Byleth’s eyes fell to the ground as she let out a sigh. “My mind just wanders, thinking about how things could change. But it doesn’t matter. The past is the past.”

If Edelgard had any further thoughts on the matter, Byleth didn’t know. The emperor had no chance to continue the conversation as they closed in on the bridge. Now was the time to fight, not speak.

Byleth let out a shout, commanding everyone to get into formation and move forward. The Black Eagles listened, following their orders as they got into position and continued their march forward. The gates to the bridge opened as soldiers poured out, prepared to defend the point with their lives.

Edelgard led the charge, raising Aymr high up in the air before running towards the enemy, swinging her axe with precision and grace. Every step the emperor took as calculated, her axe aimed just right to slice through the enemy lines and provide a way forward for the rest of the Strike Force, leaving little opening for the enemy to land a hit on the Eagles.

The former professor ran forward to stand beside the emperor, extending her sword so as to help create a clearing. Byleth noticed Edelgard relax somewhat in the corner of her eye, perhaps from the reduction of enemy focus and fighting being put upon her. The green-haired woman almost wanted to question her as to whether this was how she fought the past five years. But now was not the time for chatter.

Enemy reinforcements began to bolster the forces on the other end of the bridge, as well as coming out of hiding from within the walls of the fort. Edelgard let out an annoyed huff. “Enemy reinforcements. We didn’t finish in time.”

Byleth pulled her lips into a thin line, frustrated at the additional bodies to fight. “Then we’ll just have to hope Hubert and the others don’t let them secure the ballista.”

The pair continued to move forward as they took down more enemies, crimson staining Byleth’s sword and white clothing with blood. She wrinkled her nose. Blood would be difficult to wash away, rather just staining the clothing she wore. It would be a reminder of what she’d done. As her blade cut through another soldier, Byleth took note that the enemy had begun to slowly move back, almost as though…

“They’re moving to retreat!” The green-haired woman shouted at the top of her lungs. “We need to move now and take out the commander. This is our only chance!”

Edelgard added her own shout as she began to pick up her pace. “Don’t let her escape! If we can take her out now, the Daphnel territory will be ours! That will allow us to march safely through the Alliance.”

The Eagles charged forward, quickening their pace to keep up with the retreating troops. Though all that truly mattered was taking down Judith. The other enemies didn’t matter. They didn’t hold the same power, and some may even put down their arms at the loss of their commander.

Arrows rained down from the skies, falling upon the enemy and stopping them in their tracks, killing those that were pierced by them. The Eagles had secured the ballista. But it wasn’t enough. Judith was running farther and farther out of the ballista’s range, avoiding it so she might escape. Byleth paused her charge, looking back to Lysithea and Linhardt as she let out a shout. “We can’t catch up on foot. Warp me over to Judith!”

The two mages hesitated for a moment before Lysithea conjured light magic about the former professor. Byleth prepared her blade, slashing it out as she fell upon the ground. When the light dissipated, the Sword of the Creator was dripping with vibrant crimson as a woman gasped for air upon the ground. It was futile, though, as her chest was carved wide open.

Judith coughed up some blood, her blue eyes dulling as though she was losing sight of what was before her. A whisper fell from her lips, carrying to Byleth’s ears. “Claude...I’m sorry…”

A final breath escaped the woman’s lips before her body went still, her rapier having fallen from her weak grasp. She was dead. Tears rolled down Byleth’s cheeks as her sword shook in her hand. Judith had always been such a kind hand. To repay her like this felt...wrong.

Byleth quickly wiped her tears away when armored steps approached behind her, coming to stand beside the woman. The former professor didn’t look over to see who it was, but she could tell it was Edelgard as the emperor gave out a shout to the enemy. “Alliance soldiers! Judith has fallen! Further conflict is futile! If you surrender, your lives will be spared. Lay down your weapons immediately.”

The sound of weapons clanging against the ground filled the air. Though it was dulled as Byleth’s focus remained on the blood that pooled from the body before her. Edelgard seemed to take notice of the woman’s pain, putting a gloved hand on the former professor’s shoulder. “Byleth, are you well?”

“No.” The green-haired woman shook her head. “I just need a moment to myself.”

There was a moment’s hesitation before Edelgard obliged, leaving Byleth alone to take in what happened. The former professor’s thoughts wandered, wondering just who had died in this conflict. Her legs suddenly began to move, taking her about the bridge.

A familiar lump of green was splayed on the ground relatively nearby, forcing Byleth into a sprint to see who it was. When she reached the body, she turned it over to find Ignatz’s lifeless face, blood pouring from an arrow lodged deep within his chest. The woman’s grip tightened on his body. He had always been a kind boy, having no desire to fight as a soldier, but rather to take up painting.

Taking in a stuttered breath, Byleth left his body there, worried as to who else she might find amongst the dead. She was relieved to find no more of her students until she arrived to the area around the ballista. There was a thin path between where reinforcements had arrived and the ballista itself. Amongst the dead was a flash of orange.

Byleth approach the bright orange to find Leonie, her hand still held around the lance by her side. She likely fought to the end, believing this is what Jeralt would have wanted. But was this really what he would have believed in? Byleth couldn’t say. Her father wasn’t alive to have his own input on the matter. He was never alive long enough for that.

The former professor clenched her hands into fists. To see her students dead, all thanks to her own choices, caused a pain within her chest. She didn’t want them to die, but it was inevitable with the war. There would be no way to save them all. All Byleth could do now was give them a proper burial.

When the Strike Force finally returned to the monastery, they gathered for a meeting in the archbishop’s former office. Edelgard stood before the group with Byleth and Hubert standing on either side of the emperor. The white-haired woman spoke, her words filled with clear determination. “You have all fought well. With this victory, we now have a foothold in the Alliance. The Imperial army will cross the Airmid River and push the front lines forward. The fight will continue, but do not allow that to stop you from taking pride in our hard-won victory.”

A large smile came across Ferdinand’s face as he spoke. “Ah, this should put a stop to one of Edelgard’s choice phrases. Well done, Professor.” The man brought a hand to his head in thought. “I believe it was ‘if only Byleth were here, we could forge ahead and change the tides of this war.’”

“Ferdinand.” Edelgard practically shouted the noble’s name before speaking through gritted teeth. “It is not necessary to tell Byleth such things.”

“Why not?” Sylvain seemed to be holding back a grin of his own. “I doubt it would sully the professor’s view of you.”

Caspar let out a loud laugh. “We’re not the only ones benefiting! The whole Imperial army is stronger now!”

“Yes, it seems the Empire finally has both of its legs to stand on.” Linhardt added. “Don’t you agree?”

Edelgard let out a sigh, slight annoyance in her voice. “You make it sound as though I can’t run the Empire on my own. Perhaps it’s more apt to say that the pegasus has recovered its horn.”

“Judith of Daphnel…” Dorothea spoke quietly, almost impossible to hear as a dejected look came across her face. “What a magnificent warrior. I’m happy to have the professor back just like old times, but I don’t think I’ll ever get used to this cruel exchange of lives.”

Petra put a comforting hand on the songstress’s shoulder. “When there is something you must not be conceding, you must keep fighting. The fighting has been continuing for five years, but now I am again witnessing the professor’s power.”

“It’s been difficult to fight for so long.” Lysithea added with a slightly saddened look, but the spark of determination was clear within her eyes. “But this is the only way to move forward. Having the professor back is no doubt a great help, especially after our victory.”

Bernadetta wrinkled her brows in concern. “I hate fighting! But with the professor here, maybe it’s slightly less terrible?” The archer let out a sigh, trying to pump herself up. “But everyone is working so hard! Stop it, Bernie, you can’t be the only one complaining!”

Ashe let out a small laugh. “There’s no need to worry. You’re working just as hard as the rest of us. I certainly don’t enjoy fighting either, but with the professor here, I know we can pull through.”

“I’m glad to see everyone so inspired.” Hubert finally added to the conversation. “It seems the reappearance of the professor has done much to raise your morale.”

Raising a brow, Edelgard eyed the man standing beside her. “Do you not feel the same, Hubert? Come now, be honest with yourself.” The man only provided a huff in response, forcing Edelgard to return her attention to the Black Eagles before her. “Now, we must take advantage of this situation and blaze ahead. Our path is still a long one.”

Byleth watched as the Eagles talked amongst themselves at the end of the meeting, taking joy in the woman’s return. She was glad to see them happy--even if just a bit--as the flames of war raged on. Byleth brought a hand up to the pendant that hung upon her neck. She would protect them all. No matter what.

Chapter Text

The archbishop’s office was empty, save for Edelgard and Byleth, the emperor wishing to hold a private meeting. A small hum came from Edelgard’s lips as they pulled into a thin line. “Byleth, what is your opinion of Claude? I can’t help but wonder what sort of impression he made on you.”

Claude. He always thought of one scheme or another to try and get things his way. But he always made himself seem incompetent, brushing off the victories his schemes earned him, trying to make it seem like dumb luck. He always kept his truths hidden by making it seem he was a kind and charismatic man. Byleth did remember him being kind, but she couldn’t remember ever meeting the person beneath that mask he always wore. “He’s a schemer. And a good one at that. Hiding the truth behind jokes and fake smiles. Even I don’t know who he really is.”

Edelgard gave a simple nod. “That is inarguable. And his schemes are still going strong. With them, he’s managed to keep the Leicester Alliance from the Empire’s grasp. Since the beginning, territories within the Alliance have been split between those who support the Empire and those who oppose it. Claude has been acting as an intermediary between the two, essentially keeping the Alliance pacified. As both sides are of equal strength, he’s created a situation in which they’ve all agreed to avoid fighting each other and causing undo bloodshed. By carrying on as though the Alliance is united, he’s minimized the Empire’s influence there.”

The door to the office creaked open, Hubert entering as he let out a huff. “It’s quite impressive how well his bold scheme has worked out. However, he is walking on thin ice. One wrong move and the Alliance will shatter. Speaking of Claude...” Hubert gave a bow to Edelgard. “Your Majesty, we should not delay in our invasion of the Alliance. It would seem that Claude has some fresh scheme up his sleeve, to no one’s surprise.”

The emperor quirked a brow at her right hand. “Is that so?”

“Yes. The people of Derdriu have suddenly found it difficult to leave or enter the city. We can safely assume he is preparing for battle, but I am certain his plans extend beyond that as well.” Hubert’s voice changed, his words no longer a statement, but now questioning. “Do you not think we should take Derdriu at once?”

“Derdriu, the Aquatic Capital…” Edelgard brought a hand to her chin in thought. “A city floating on the ocean certainly poses a challenge. Since it’s deep within Riegan territory, we haven’t had the opportunity to attack it directly.” The woman removed her hand, now bringing her full attention to the two before her. “However, now that we have control of the Great Bridge of Myrddin, our situation has changed drastically. They can no longer expand their supply line into the Empire, and so we can finally attack Riegan territory.”

A smile pulled at the corners of Hubert’s lips, a thought obviously in his mind. “House Riegan is not only Claude’s house, but also the flagship of those who oppose the Empire within the Alliance.”

Byleth raised her brows in realization. “If House Riegan falls, then so does the Alliance’s fight against the Empire.”

A low laugh tumbled from Hubert’s lips. “Precisely. That is why we cannot fail to take Derdriu.”

The former professor gave a small nod. “Then it’s our next target. The longer we delay, the longer this war will go on for.”

Hubert let out a huff. “Confidence is one thing, Professor, but see to it that you do not underestimate Claude. The leader of the Alliance has had many things said about him. They say he is unbeatable in a battle of intellect. I hear they call him the Master Tactician.”

The emperor let out a hum in thought. “It is certainly a course of action to be considered, but we must do so with care. Is that all you had to report, Hubert?”

The man gave a bow. “Yes, Your Majesty.”

The two women watched Hubert turn and leave, a silence remaining between the two as the door shut. There was a moment’s pause before a sigh escaped Edelgard’s lips. “I wish we could settle all of this before the fighting begins. Don’t you?”

Byleth turned to face Edelgard, pale green brows pulled together in pain. All the death. All the spilled blood. All of it could have been avoided if there had been no war. And yet. This was fated to happen. The only change would be the outcome and who would take advantage of victory. A frown pulled at Byleth’s lips, her pale green eyes falling to the ground. “Yes. I wish this fighting didn’t have to happen.”

The emperor lifted her own gaze to stare out the office window. “I wish it dearly. But few others feel that way. They fight in a bloody battle, take countless lives, and then finally come to understand defeat. They refuse to admit when they’re beaten, and they keep it up until they’ve been utterly defeated.”

“Kill me. You must.”

That plea. That damn plea echoed through Byleth’s mind. Yet the wrong image accompanied it. All the green-haired woman could see was a broken emperor’s last attempt to kill a delusional king, a bloodied lance buried within her chest.

“That sounds like someone I know.”

The words slipped from Byleth’s mouth in a low whisper, voice wavering with pain. Green eyes widened, realizing what had just been said aloud as Edelgard’s gaze moved to her friend. “And who would that be?”

“No one. Please, ignore me.”

Byleth tried to step away, to back out of this situation, but two red-gloved hands grabbed her arms. The former professor grimaced, trying her best not to look at Edelgard. There was a long silence, forcing the woman to dare a glance, only to see concerned lilac eyes accompanied by a frown. “Byleth, please. Why are you avoiding me like this? What’s wrong?”

“I don’t deserve this.”


Byleth looked into lilac eyes, tears pricking at pale green. “I don’t deserve to be here. Not as a friend or an ally.” Green eyes wandered down to Edelgard’s chest, seeing the scars and stains of each killing blow. Byleth slowly raised her hands, turning them to stare at shaking bloodied palms. “I watched you die. So many times. Your blood stains my hands. I can never wash that away.”

Gloved hands moved to rest in Byleth’s hands, forcing green to look back to lilac. “I’m here, Byleth. I have yet to die.”

“You don’t understand.” Tears began to trail down Byleth’s cheeks. “I killed you. I’ve been through this war many times. And I always killed you. I hated you with my entire being. I...” The woman let out a sob, pulling her hands away, distancing herself from the emperor. “I shouldn’t be here. You deserve better.”

The room filled with the deafening silence of stillness, Byleth’s vision blurred as her gaze fell to the ground. She could understand if Edelgard despised her or no longer trusted her. The woman kept her secrets for far too long. Maybe the emperor even thought she was insane. Killing Edelgard? When she obviously stood here alive? Only someone who was delusional would say such things.

And yet, Edelgard stepped forward, placing her hands on Byleth’s arms before slowly wrapping the green-haired woman into a hug. The former professor’s felt her walls break, dropping her head onto the emperor’s shoulder and crying freely. Her arms grasped at the shorter woman, holding her as closely as she could. Thoughts pounded through Byleth’s head. It felt wrong to be treated as Edelgard’s friend. And yet, Byleth didn’t want to lose her. She wanted to stay by the emperor’s side. By her friend’s side. Why did she feel like this? Her emotions felt at war with each other, the feelings so foreign to her.

Only when Byleth’s sobs died down and were replaced with stuttered breaths did Edelgard finally speak, her voice coming out in a soft whisper. “Perhaps you’re right and I don’t understand. But please, talk to me. I cannot just watch you suffer alone.”

Byleth lifted her head slightly, so Edelgard’s shoulder wouldn’t muffle her words. “I wouldn’t even know where to begin.”

“Then why not start with the part about being through this war before? That shouldn’t be possible.”

The green-haired woman sighed, stepping back from the emperor and moving to lean against the desk. “Sit. It’s...a lot.”

The emperor quirked a brow, but complied, pulling out the desk’s chair and sitting in it. Byleth pulled her lips into a thin line as she stared at the ceiling. “I’ve been through this war twice before. First alongside Dimitri, and then alongside Claude.” The woman’s gaze lowered to Edelgard. “And now, I fight alongside you. Those who were once my allies are now my enemies, and my enemies now my allies.”

Edelgard furrowed her brows, eyes darting away. “If you truly could go back and relive the events of this war, why would you? Why not live in the world after?”

“Because I never had a choice.” Byleth frowned. “Ever since I was born, I’ve never had a choice.” The green-haired woman brought a hand up to her unbeating heart. “You know how I can use the full power of the Sword of the Creator even without its Crest Stone?” The emperor gave a small nod. “Well, I’m not. The Crest Stone is right here. In my heart.”

“That’s…” Edelgard seemed dumbfounded. “Normally when a Crest Stone is implanted in a person, they turn into a Demonic Beast. So why would it be different for you?”

“Honestly, I’m not sure myself. But it’s the truth. I have a scar to show as much.”

Byleth moved her hands to unbutton the top of her shirt, only to suddenly be stopped by red-gloved hands. Quirking a brow, she moved her gaze to see Edelgard standing up slightly from the seat, her face a tint of pink. The shorter woman’s voice trembled, words coming out quickly. “That isn’t necessary, Byleth. I trust you.” The former professor dropped her hands, causing a sigh to come from the emperor as she returned to sitting, quickly recomposing herself. “That still begs the question of you reliving this war.”

The green-haired woman tilted her head to the side, unsure of why Edelgard acted as she did, but continued on. “Because of my Crest Stone, I’ve been able to talk with Sothis.”

Edelard’s brows rose up in disbelief. “The very same that is worshiped as the goddess?”

Byleth gave a nod. “Yes. I was able to talk with her. Though that stopped when I was trapped in eternal darkness by Solon. When that happened, we fused and became one. I am Sothis and she is me. That’s why my appearance changed, why I was able to escape the darkness, and why I’m forced to live through this war over and over again.”

Closing her eyes, Byleth tilted her head up towards the ceiling. She could remember the times when Sothis turned back the clock. When she had visited Fhirdiad to meet with Dimitri and his young son, only for the world to become more distant. And when Claude came to visit, only for her senses to be drowned out.

“Sothis has the power to rewrite time, in a way. She can send herself, and by extension me, to the past. I return to reality as it used to be, the only difference being the memories I have.” Byleth could feel tears pricking at the corners of her eyes once more. “But when Sothis and I merged, I was put on a time limit. Eventually her power would take over and my body would only be her vessel. There would no longer be ‘me.’ Only Sothis.”

Byleth opened her eyes, tears now lightly falling once more as she looked to Edelgard. “She chose to turn back time to the day we met. I hated it. Being forced to relive this war. And I still do.” The former professor gave a weak smile as she wiped away her tears. “But I guess I should thank her. Otherwise I never would have come to understand and see you as a friend.”

“So that’s why you could always tell our enemies’ movements in advance. You had already experienced the very same battle beforehand.” Edelgard’s brows furrowed, a frown coming to lips. “And why you looked at me with such hatred when we first met. So why, then? Why choose to side with me?”

“Because. It was the first time I was really given a choice. A chance to decide who I really was and what I wanted.”

Lilac eyes widened in surprise. “What do you mean?”

“Back when I sided with Dimitri and Claude, I didn’t exactly have a choice. They were my students, so I protected them. And in the end, I killed and resented you due to the story I was exposed to.” Byleth let out a sigh, shaking her head. “I never knew the whole truth. And I likely never will. But with you, I’ve gotten the chance to learn. To see you’re human and to understand your views align with my own. You gave me the chance to choose what I believe in. And I believe in you.”

Edelgard looked away from Byleth, unwilling to meet the woman’s gaze. “Don’t you regret your decision to side with me against those you once considered friends?”

Byleth brought a hand to Edegard’s chin, forcing the woman to look at her. “I don’t regret siding with you. If I have to relive this, then I will choose you again and again.” Another slight blush came to the emperor’s cheeks as Byleth’s hand fell. “Dimitri and Claude were never truly my friends. Perhaps they called me as much, but the only feeling I can clearly remember from then is anger.”

The former professor swallowed as she remembered the anger she felt toward Edelgard. The times she had killed the woman. “I’ve learned to feel so much more with you and the Eagles. But I don’t deserve it. Not when I used to hate you so. Not when I willingly killed you so many times.”

Edelgard moved her hand slightly towards Byleth, though it wavered before she pulled it back to herself, instead choosing to just show concern in lilac eyes. “Despite all you’ve experienced, you chose to side with me. That is enough.”

There was a long silence between the two, both unwilling to make eye contact with the other. Having decided she had enough, Byleth stood straight. “Thank you. I know this all must sound fake to you, but thanks for listening.”

As she turned to leave, Edelgard’s voice came out just barely above a whisper. “How long do you have?”

Byleth turned her head to look back to the emperor. “Pardon?”

“How long do you have until her power takes over?”

The green-haired woman stared blankly at Edelgard for a moment before speaking. “I’m not sure. A few years to a few decades.” Byleth sighed. “Rhea said she put the Crest Stone in me to save my life. And removing it might be the only way to prevent my fate. But if it’s what’s keeping me alive, then removing it would kill me. I’m not sure my fate can be prevented.”

A frown pulled at Byleth’s lips as she looked away, walking to leave. As she put her hand on the door and cracked it open, the green-haired woman let out a single quiet word. “Sorry.”

She quickly stepped out and closed the door behind her, finding that her chest felt tight. Byleth let out a deep sigh. She didn’t need Edelgard to suffer with this knowledge too. But now it was out there. Now the emperor knew a fraction of what Byleth had been through. About how the former professor would have to leave her again who knows when after the war.

Byleth’s chest seemed to squeeze tighter.

Why did she feel this way? Why did it hurt so much to think about leaving Edelgard like this? This pain was new to Byleth. Something she had never experienced before. What was it about Edelgard that made her experience so many new feelings?

The days since their conversation passed with little incident. The two had their usual tea times and talks. And the truth of the former professor’s situation was never brought up again. As Byleth made her final preparations for the march to Derdriu, the familiar clack of armored boots came from behind. “It’s almost time to depart. Are you ready?”

The former professor turned giving Edelgard a small confident smile. “Leave it to me. We’re certain to win.”

A smile grew across the emperor’s face. “A promising answer. Whatever happens, never allow your foe to see any weakness. We must pay attention not only to Claude’s schemes but to the man himself. He’s a master archer who wields the legendary bow Failnaught. He won’t fall easily.”

“Of course.” Byleth gave a nod. “I’ve seen him use it in action. I feel sorry for those who I’ve watched face him. Though I wonder how much of that power was him and how much was the Relic.”

Edelgard let out a thoughtful hum. “That bow once belonged to one of the Ten Elites. There’s no doubt that much of his power comes from that Relic.” There was a small pause, Edelgard seeming to consider something. “Byleth, do you know the true story behind the legend?”

The former professor tilted her head to the side. Rhea had told her what she had stated to be the true version, and memories of Sothis seemed to back it. Did Edelgard also know this truth? “I do, actually. But how much do you know?”

White brows rose in slight surprise, before lowering into a frown. “The Relics were created by the hands of mankind. Seiros collected them after killing the Ten Elites. Seiros manipulated the people of the world and defeated the all-powerful King Nemesis.”

“An all-powerful king, huh?” Byleth closed her eyes in thought. The man had a large army on his side. Far more than that of a simple bandit. Perhaps he began as one or that’s how Seiros saw him, but he could have been a king. The former professor let out a sigh, her memories from Sothis hardly giving an idea of who Nemesis was. “Seiros viewed him as a bandit. Some lowly human who wanted to become a god among men.”

Edelgard breathed a laugh. “Perhaps that’s what it seemed from a creature such as herself. Nemesis fought her over a simple dispute. Should the one leading the people of the world be someone with humanity or a creature that can merely masquerade as a human at will? In the end, Seiros was victorious. The Immaculate One and her family then took control of Fódlan.”

The emperor’s words seemed to ring true. Nothing she spoke majorly conflicted with what Byleth had known of the conflict. It worked both alongside her memories and that which Rhea had told her. Yet small details of how things were viewed were different. Perhaps due to how the two felt about such events. “That all seems to fit what I know.” Byleth furrowed her brow, looking at Edelgard questioningly. “But how did you hear the true story?”

A sigh escaped Edelgard’s lips. “I know this because that knowledge is passed down from emperor to emperor.” Guilt filled the white-haired woman’s features as her lilac eyes fell to the ground. “And that is because the first emperor is the human who cooperated with Seiros, allowing humanity to be controlled in secret.”

Byleth stepped forward, lifting Edelgard’s chin so the woman would look in her eyes. A slight tinge of pink came across the shorter woman’s face at the contact, though Byleth thought nothing of it. When lilac met pale green, a comforting smile pulled at the former professor’s lips. “You aren’t responsible for your ancestors’ actions. But you can lead the world to a better future like you’re doing now.”

“I’m well aware.” Despite her words, a small smile pulled at the corners of Edelgard’s lips before falling back into a frown. “It is thanks to you that we’ve come this far, though. You will use the Sword of the Creator to stand against those who would distort history. No other.”

The former professor shook her head. “Maybe so, but you’re the one who leads this cause. Had it not been for you, then I never would have come this far. I’d likely still be caught up in my anger if you hadn’t shown me there’s more to people than the surface.”

Edelgard quickly looked away, the emotion on her face unreadable. When it was clear that she wasn’t going to respond, Byleth let out a sigh. “Come on, we should be ready to march soon.”

Chapter Text

After the long days of marching, Derdriu was finally in sight. Today they would kill Claude. Or at least that was the plan as they approached the city. Edelgard and Byleth stood side by side as they led the Strike Force, holding themselves tall with the confidence required of leaders. In the distance, they could see a large number of soldiers gathered at the mouth of the city entrance and a large number of troops protecting a single wyvern near the port’s dock.

Edelgard took note of the situation at hand. “It seems Claude has blockaded the city and occupied the naval port.”

A peculiar idea came to Byleth’s mind, remembering something that felt like it happened decades ago, at least to her. He’s using the same tactics from when she and the Blue Lions assisted in the defense of Derdriu. Afterwards, Claude simply gave up the Alliance to them, wishing to go off and claim his title in Almyra. And then there was when she worked alongside Claude, only for him to give up his claim on the Alliance, leaving Fódlan in her hands. A small hum came from the woman’s lips, catching the emperor’s attention.

“Is something on your mind?”

“Claude. He doesn’t necessarily care about the Alliance.”

Byleth gained Edelgard’s full attention, white brows raised in interest. “How so? It seems to me that he’s working to protect it.”

The former professor gave a simple nod. “Maybe so, but I’m pretty sure he just sees this all as a test and learning about Fódlan. After all, he’s the prince of Almyra. He cares more about claiming his title in his homeland than any title here. If we can get him to surrender and run back to Almyra, then not only will you have the Alliance, but you’ll potentially also have the backing of Almyra.”

Edelgard furrowed her brows in slight confusion. “Claude works to fight against the Empire, though. What makes you certain his being in Almyra would change that?”

A confident smile grew across Byleth’s face. “Because he shares your ideals. Not to mention he wants to break the borders between Fódlan and Almyra. If he’s king there and you’re emperor here, there’s no doubt he’d be able to accomplish that goal.”

There was a small silence between the two, Edelgard obviously deep in thought. It was a lot to dump on someone who was prepared to kill the man. But it was necessary to put out there. Letting out a sigh, Byleth spoke. “Listen. You don’t need to decide his fate now, but consider my words. You can lead the attack on Claude and I’ll work to defend you. And I’ll make sure Jeritza stays away from Claude so you can make your choice.”

“Thank you, Byleth. We’ll simply have to see how this battle plays out.”

The march continued on in silence, the force slowly getting closer and closer to Derdriu. As they approached the city entrance, Byleth shouted out orders to prepare to attack and take over the port. Petra was to go around the city atop her wyvern in order to scout ahead and carve into thinned enemy flanks.

Byleth and Edelgard took the lead, acting as the front line for the Black Eagles as Alliance soldiers came pouring out the gates to attack. Between the sounds of metal clashing, shouts could be heard from the Eagles. Something about ships approaching. Byleth looked off to the water for a moment to notice large ships docking, adorned with a familiar flag.

Edelgard also seemed to take notice, letting out an annoyed huff. “That flag and that the Almyran army?”

Wyverns flew up from the ships as boarding planks were lowered onto the land behind them. The Almyrans were going to flank and trap them inside the port. They needed to be handled. Fast. “The Almyrans are working to flank us! Bernadetta, Ashe, Ferdinand! I need you three to board the ships and take them out! Wyverns may be fearsome, but they’re defenseless against arrows!”

The three gave their affirmations, leading their troops off to deal with the new threat. Byleth brought her focus back to the Alliance troops, noticing Hilda working to lead them further in the port. The former professor had no desire to kill her former student, the girl having had been a kind and caring soul beneath her lazy exterior. Still. This was war.

Edelgard and Byleth pushed the front line forward, ordering soldiers to split off and overtake the gates to the city, cutting off Alliance reinforcements. They would need any advantage they could get in this battle and Byleth would do anything she could to minimize bloodshed.

Wyverns began to fly over the walls of the port, some getting shot down by Petra before they could reach the main force while others made their way down to wreak havoc. Byleth used thunder magic to hold them off, though she couldn’t prevent all of those that got near from attacking. The Strike Force was effectively trapped in place until the wyverns stopped.

Alliance troops began to close in on their trapped foes. This had been Claude’s plan all along it seemed. All Byleth could do was hope Bernadetta and Ashe took care of the Almyran general in time to stop their reinforcements. As if on cue, Petra came swooping down, letting arrows loose on the wyverns that got through instead of working to stop incoming reinforcements. Which could only mean…

Byleth looked over to the walls, and surely enough, no more wyverns were coming through. Bernadetta and Ashe had done their job and the Almyrans would no longer pose a threat to the Eagles. Alliance soldiers seemed to take notice as well, falling back to defend Claude’s position, Hilda leading them back to him. The Alliance was on their last legs.

“Everyone! Move forward! This is our chance to win!”

The Eagles let out their shouts, charging forward and taking out any soldiers who stayed back to get in their way. Byleth kept her eyes on Hilda, the pink-haired woman coming to a stop to defend the bridge to Claude. She wouldn’t let them kill him without a fight it seemed.

“Edelgard, you handle Claude. I have something to take care of.”

Byleth charged forward, drawing Hilda’s attention and baiting her into attacking the green-haired swordswoman, freeing up the bridge so the Eagles could pass through. Byleth took up a defensive stance, dodging Hilda’s attacks and responding with weak blows, convincing enough to make it seem like she was fighting, but never enough to hit and harm her opponent.

Hilda spoke between blows. “Professor! It's been too long. But now we're on opposite sides, huh?” A frown pulled at her lips. “What a shame. I'm not going to hold back. I can't let down my dear old Claude.”

The former professor jabbed near the woman’s arm, hoping to try and disarm her. “We don’t have to be on opposite sides, Hilda! I don’t want Claude to die just as much as you.”

The pink-haired woman brought down her axe, forcing Byleth to hold up her sword to block the attack. Axe ground against sword, the two Relics writhing in their lock. Pink eyes were filled with confusion and anger. “Then why are you fighting for the Empire?!”

“Because I…”

Byleth paused. Thinking back to all the times she fought Edelgard. Thinking of every time she killed the woman. Just to think about the wrongs she commit against Edelgard. How those images pained her now. The thought that she would inevitably have to leave the emperor behind to experience all from the beginning again. It pained Byleth. She wanted to stay by the emperor’s side and protect her. No, not the emperor’s side, but her friend’s side. But why? Why did she feel this way? This desire was so much stronger than any she’d felt.



The pressure from Hilda’s axe suddenly lifted, pink eyes no longer on Byleth, but rather something on the docks. The former professor turned her head to see Claude’s wyvern on the ground, the fate of the rider unknown as Edelgard stood before it. The pressure from Hilda’s axe completely vanished as hurried footsteps echoed in the air.

Byleth looked to see Hilda running for Edelgard. Adrenaline kicked into the former professor’s system. The noble couldn’t kill Edelgard. Not now. Byleth wouldn’t allow it. Green flashed forward, but she wouldn’t be fast enough. The large axe moved to kill the emperor.

But it never reached as the world shattered, returning to Hilda’s shout. Byleth took advantage of the moment to tackle the woman down, grabbing her axe while ignoring the searing pain it sent through her arm. She threw the weapon aside, holding Hilda down to the ground. “It’s over. You need to give up.”

The victories cries of the Black Eagles rang out so as to accentuate Byleth’s words. This battle was over.

As the Strike Force recuperated from the battle and Imperial soldiers marched into the city, Byleth looked for that familiar red. Upon rounding a corner, she eventually found the woman away from the docks. “There you are.”

Edelgard took notice of the woman, giving a small smile. Relief washed across the former professor at seeing her friend unharmed, no apparent wounds or scratches. Still, Byleth couldn’t get past the idea of someone almost killing Edelgard. All because the former professor slipped up for a second, looking away from the enemy. A frown pulled at the corners of her lips.

“Is something the matter, Byleth?”

The woman was snapped out of her thoughts, looking back to her friend. “Oh, sorry. Nothing you should worry yourself with.”

Concern filled lilac eyes. “Last time you said that, it was certainly not the case. Please. Tell me what’s wrong.”

Byleth let out a sigh. There was no point in hiding the truth now. Not when it was already out there. “I wanted to make sure you’re okay. I watched as you were attacked.” Pale green brows furrowed. “I prevented it from happening, but I still wanted to be sure you were okay.”

The concern in lilac eyes only deepened, but Edelgard’s response never came. Instead another voice replaced hers.

“Hey, Teach.”

Anger immediately filled the emperor’s features as she turned to see the former leader of the Alliance walk out from the shadows. A red-gloved hand moved to grab the hilt of her sword. “Claude?!”

So, that had been the choice Edelgard made. A sly smile came across the Alliance noble’s face. “Settle down, will you? You’re the victor, after all.” Dark green eyes moved from Edelgard to Byleth. “I could have escaped, but I decided to say hi to Teach. Nothing to worry about. Derdriu has fallen and the Alliance has collapsed. There’s nothing I could do to turn things around at this point.”

Edelgard’s hand stood firm on the hilt of her sword, an edge to her voice. “You want me to drop my guard around someone who evaded detection by my soldiers? Impossible. Did you really risk coming here just to say hello?”

Claude gave a simple nod. “I did. But mostly I wanted to say goodbye. I’m leaving Fódlan. It’s best if I leave this place altogether. I’ll just have to find some other way to pay back my debt to you. All I ask is that you go easy on the Alliance. After all, no one there would dare defy you now. And please, treat my former classmates well. I asked them to cooperate with you if I lost.”

Byleth frowned, thinking back to her fight with Hilda. Some of them seemed to have had a harder time following that order than others. White brows shot up in surprise. “Wait, did your scheming include a plan for if the Alliance lost?”

A small laugh came from Claude’s lips. “You think too highly of me. It just seems that way now. Outside of Derdriu, most of the Alliance is unscathed and ready to join your superior strength.” The man looked up to the sky, lost in his own thoughts. “In all honesty, I was hoping to become a supreme ruler and lead Fódlan to peace myself. But that won’t be happening now.”

The statement almost seemed laughable to Byleth. Sure, Claude did unite Fódlan when she fought alongside him, but he gave up such responsibility and left it on her shoulders. Why would he do anything different now? Shirking responsibility in Fódlan and retreating to Almyra.

“Good luck to you, Edelgard.”

With that, Claude turned to leave, going back amongst the shadows and making his escape. “We crushed him in battle and yet…” Edelgard let out a sigh as a smile came across her face. “He really is difficult to understand.”

There was a silence between the two, thinking about Claude and simply enjoying being in each other’s company. Though they were brought out of their thoughts when Hubert approached, followed by the rest of the Black Eagles. “Lady Edelgard, Derdriu is now completely under our control. As planned, the Alliance’s affairs will now be overseen by Count Bergliez. Should the others return to the monastery and prepare to face the Kingdom?”

“Yes. Thank you, Hubert.” The emperor’s attention shifted from the man to the rest of the Eagles. “Thanks to all of your efforts, our battle with the Alliance has reached its conclusion. However, we still can’t afford to be careless. We must now join the battle against the Kingdom. With the strength of the church on their side, they will prove to be a formidable enemy. More than ever, your support is invaluable. We’ll need it in the days to come.” A smile came across the emperor’s face as she continued. “But for now, let’s enjoy our triumphant return!”

Caspar excitedly pumped his fist in the air. “Let’s get to it!”

“I’m so happy that the end of the fighting is near.” A sigh escaped Dorothea’s lips. “Too bad there’s still more violence to come…”

Determination was apparent in Petra’s voice and features as she spoke. “The Kingdom and the Church of Seiros are worthy for fighting. I will crush them into very small pieces!”

“Crushing wouldn’t yield a lot of pieces, but I guess it would get the job done.” A small smile came to Linhardt’s lips. “With the professor, we can’t lose…” He paused for a moment, his smile dropping. “Probably.”

Fear came across Bernadetta’s features. “Oh no, are we fighting Lady Rhea? But she’s scary! And she’ll be really angry! But no way she can stay in her spooky beast form all the time…” She paused looking towards the rest of the Eagles, unease apparent in her eyes. “Right?”

A thoughtful look came across Lysithea’s features. “If she could, then it’s doubtless she would have tried to attack the monastery as many times as she wanted.”

“It may be wishful thinking, but perhaps it is a power that she can only access when the situation is dire.” Ferdinand chimed in. “But whether she is the archbishop or the Immaculate One, we cannot be stopped! Half remains but half is finished. We are certainly moving forward.”

A low laugh escaped Hubert’s lips. “No one can stop us from pushing forward. No one.”

As the Eagles talked amongst themselves, Ashe and Sylvain remained oddly quiet. Byleth moved to them, concerned for the two. “Hey, is something wrong?”

Ashe was the first to look up to the woman, a small frown on his lips. “Yes, it’s just…” He paused for a moment, letting out a sigh. “We’re to fight the Kingdom next. I’m prepared to point my weapon at Faerghus, but…”

“It still hurts, doesn’t it? To fight your homeland.” Byleth grimaced. Some of her old students were in the Kingdom, no doubt ready to die for Dimitri. “It must hurt, to fight against people who may be old friends or family. But we’re here for you, whatever it is you need. And if you can’t fight your homeland, then I won’t fault you for stepping out of the fight.”

The frown on Ashe’s face deepened. “But a knight never backs down. I can’t stop now.”

“Ashe.” The former professor’s voice came out soft yet commanding. “Being the ideal knight isn’t the healthiest or best thing you could be. Sometimes you need to take yourself into consideration and be selfish for once.”

Ashe seemed ready to argue, but Sylvain interrupted, finally speaking. “The professor is right, you know.” The noble let out a long sigh. “I’m not going to be some ideal knight or noble, but I have every desire to end this system. Even if that means fighting Dimitri, Ingrid, and Felix.”

Byleth gave him a concerned look. “Are you ready for that?”

“If I’m gonna be honest, no.” A deep frown came across Sylvain’s features. “They’re my friends, and I’d hate to kill them, but they’re in the way of the greater good. Not to mention you’ll need everyone you can get to fight Dimitri. He’s...something else on the battlefield.”

Sylvain’s words rang true. If Dimitri was the same as she remembered, then he was a ruthless warrior. One who could take on an army by himself. Yet now he would have to die over his foolish and misguided heart. Still, Byleth wasn’t excited about the idea of killing him. Part of her wanted to apologize. Both to Sylvain and Ashe for making them walk this path, and to Dimitri for not being able to guide him down a better path.

Chapter Text

Another private meeting was held between Edelgard, Hubert, and Byleth. It was something about the current state of affairs within the Alliance, Count Bergliez having sent a report to the emperor. Apparently the Alliance lords were willing to fall under Imperial rule. All Byleth cared about was that it would mean the fight would be easier with the forces of two countries against the church.

Edelgard seemed to have a similar enough line of thought, her words pulling Byleth out of her thoughts. “It seems we can now attack the Kingdom without issue.”

“True.” Hubert furrowed his brow as he spoke. “However, you should know that Lord Arundel has entered Derdriu. It would seem he had already started collecting the Relics of the old Alliance.”

A frown came to Byleth lips. Just hearing Arundel’s name angered her. To think, the pain he caused to Edelgard and countless others. Just the idea was sickening. Edelgard herself managed to keep a neutral facade, though her eyes betrayed, showing anger burn within lilac. “Let him do as he pleases for now. It’s not yet the time to chide him.”

Hubert gave a small nod of his head. “Understood. As for the Kingdom…” A slight smile quirked at the man’s lips. “As we theorized, it is not entirely united. If we defeat the royal family of House Blaiddyd and a handful of other notable houses, it should fall under our control quite readily. Those we must target include the houses Fraldarius, Galatea, Gautier, and Charon. We have allies who are close to some of those lords. Perhaps that can be used to our advantage. Persuasion by tears or threats...perhaps one would consent to act as a hostage? We must make good use of the tools given to us.”

“Doing so may be difficult.” Byleth’s frown deepened as she spoke, crossing her arms. “House Fraldarius is close to House Gautier, but they remain deeply loyal to the Kingdom.” The former professor thought back to the things Lord Rodrigue had said about Glenn’s death and his duties within the Kingdom. “Perhaps too loyal. And house Gautier has no doubt disowned Sylvain for choosing to side with the Empire. In all, they’re blinded by their loyalty and faith. I doubt that we could get them on our side, even with Sylvain in our ranks.”

Edelgard let out a thoughtful hum in response. “What about House Rowe in Arianrhod, the Fortress City? Will they not side with us?”

“The head of House Fraldarius, Lord Rodrigue, has entered the city.” Hubert stated plainly. “It is possible that he has seized it.”

White brows furrowed, deep in thought. “I see. Then it might prove too difficult to strike Fhirdiad right away.”

“Either way, when preparations are complete, we can begin our deployment into the Kingdom.”

Hubert’s words echoed in Byleth’s mind. She knew what had to be done when she made her decision to follow Edelgard. And yet, now that it was time to fight and take the Kingdom, to fight her very first students that she cared for decades, it felt wrong. Edelgard seemed to notice Byleth’s plight, looking over to the woman with concerned lilac eyes. “Byleth? Is something wrong?”

“I’m not sure I’m ready to fight the Kingdom.” Byleth shook her head, keeping what she said to a minimum with Hubert around. She didn’t need him to know of all her problems. “You can still count on me in battle. I will not back down now.”

Edelgard seemed to take notice of Byleth’s desire to keep quiet around the man and nodded. “This month, we must again put all our effort into preparing for battle.” The emperor’s voice lowered to just above a whisper. “I’m counting on you, Byleth.”

“I know.”

It was later that night when Byleth heard a scream. She had been walking back to her room to at least try to get some sleep when a familiar voice carried out from one of the windows above.


The green-haired woman suddenly whipped around, sprinting up the steps to the upper floors of the dorms to see what was wrong. Finding time to be of the essence, she flung Edelgard’s door open without a knock to see the woman standing away from her desk, body trembling. The emperor turned, noticing the new arrival in her room, trying her best to seem presentable. “Byleth! You didn’t hear anything just now, did you?”

Byleth furrowed her brows, a concerned frown coming to her lips. “Are you okay?”

“Of course I am!” Edelgard practically blurted the words out, as though to try and force the woman out of her room. “It’s nothing. Nothing at all.”

The response only made Byleth more concerned for her friend. “Are you sure about that?”

Edelgard frowned in anger. “I told you it was nothing and I meant it. It’s just...” The emperor sighed as her frown turned from one of anger to sadness. “Well, there was a rat. I don’t enjoy the company of rats. I believe I’ve told you about this before…” The woman paused for a moment. “About when I was held captive beneath the palace. There were a lot of rats there. To this day I just…”

Byleth stepped forward, putting a comforting hand on Edelgard’s arm. “It’s okay. I understand.”

A slight smile came to the emperor’s lips, allowing herself to be pulled into a small hug. It was nice. To feel the warmth of the smaller woman against her frame. Though Byleth cut the hug short when she noticed something peculiar on the emperor’s desk. She removed her arms from the white-haired woman and stepped towards it, noticing a drawing of sorts. There were no details, but it seemed to be of a person. It lacked a face, but it had the beginnings of a head and hair in the process of being drawn on. “What’s that?”

“What?!” Edelgard practically shouted the word, before frantically running to the desk, hiding the papers on it behind her back. “Byleth! Leave here at once!” A deep blush came across the woman’s features, almost as red as the dress she wore. Lilac eyes wandered away, seeming to look for an excuse. “I recall now that Hubert needs to speak with me. I must change my clothes. Now. Whatever you do, don’t look this way!”

Edelgard’s words were an obvious lie, the woman trying to force Byleth out of the room for some reason. Though Byleth couldn’t understand why she wasn’t wanted in anymore after seeing the beginnings of a portrait. Green brows knit in concern as she gave the emperor a pout. “I already saw it.”

The emperor's blush only seemed to deepen as her face became even more distressed. “Then forget what you saw! That’s an order!”

Before Byleth could say another word, Edelgard rushed her out of the room, locking the door so the former professor couldn’t reenter and see what it was she was trying to hide. It was just a portrait. What was so embarrassing about it that Edelgard didn’t want Byleth to see?

The former professor thought about it for a few moments, trying to think of what the portrait could possibly be. The face shape seemed to be that of a woman. And what was drawn of the hair seemed to be a fluffy mess. That’s when it hit her.

Was that supposed to be me?

Byleth furrowed her brows. Why would Edelgard draw a portrait of her? The green-haired woman’s face suddenly felt very warm and a strange light feeling entered her gut. Why did it make her feel this way? What was she feeling?

The former professor was wandering the monastery grounds, checking on troops to help raise their morale when she came upon Dorothea. The songstress stood by the window of an empty room, a forlorn look on her face, likely saddened by the events of the war.

Byleth approached the woman, leaning against the wall on the other side of the window, staring out it to see the beauty of the mountains surrounding the monastery before turning her gaze to Dorothea. “Hey, are you okay?”

Dark green eyes moved from the window to look over to Byleth, a saddened frown on Dorothea’s lips. “The Leicester Alliance is no more. Three hundred years of history, gone and done.”

“I guess that’s just a part of war.” Byleth sighed. So much blood had fallen at the price of ideals. “But we’re winning. All of this will be over someday soon. And then we’ll live in peace. Free from the battlefield.”

“I look forward to such a day.” The songstress returned her gaze to the window, the slight glint of wonderment in her eyes. “They write operas about events like this, you know.”

Byleth knit her brows in thought. “I wonder what an opera about all of this would be like. How all of us would be portrayed.”

A small smile came across Dorothea’s lips. “I’m sure they’ll have a talented and beautiful songstress playing you. Probably for Edie as well.” A small laugh escaped her lips. “I wonder if there’ll be romantic tension between your two characters, even if it’s not historically accurate?”

The former professor tilted her head to the side. “Romantic tension?”

Dorothea’s gaze shot over to Byleth, the songstress’s brows rising in shock. “Five years and you still know nothing about romance?” Byleth gave a small nod in response, gaining an irritated sigh from Dorothea. “Really? Nothing? Haven’t you ever felt the beauty of love?”

“No…?” The former professor quirked a brow. “I can’t exactly answer that if I don’t know what ‘love’ is in the first place.”

The songstress let out another long sigh. “Well, It doesn’t seem like you’ll be learning anytime soon without someone telling you directly.” Dorothea mumbled something to herself that Byleth didn’t quite catch. Something about Edelgard not talking and making life harder for her, but that was quickly brushed aside as the songstress gave a smile and a wink. “It just looks like I’ll have to explain it to you, then.”

The look Dorothea gave her made Byleth think the songstress knew something. As though there was something she was aware of about the former professor, unknown to Byleth herself. She pushed the thought aside, wishing to know what this love was that people would talk about. “Okay, what is it?”

“Love is when you care for someone deeply. More than you may for other people you know.” Dorothea paused for a moment, trying to think of what to say. “It’s…hard to explain, but something you know when you feel it.”

“What makes that different from friends?” Byleth’s voice carried with legitimate curiosity. “Does that mean people love their friends? Since friends are people you care for, right?”

The songstress let out a thoughtful hum. “Well, yes, some people may say they love their friends, but that’s only one kind. There’s also more romantic love. That’s the love most people refer to. It’s when you feel like another person completes you. When you want to be close to them, to spend time near them.” Dorothea let out a sigh as her she returned her gaze out the window. “Sometimes love can be painful. It can hurt to be away from someone you care about so deeply.” Dorothea paused for a moment. “I’m not sure what else I can say, since the feeling is different for everyone.”

“Oh.” The sound came out of Byleth’s mouth simply. Someone who you care for as more than a friend. Someone who felt like an important part of you. The woman’s mind wandered to Edelgard. The pain she felt when away or at the emperor’s own pain. The desire to be close. To hold Edelgard and tell her all was okay. To keep her safe. And Byleth came to depend on her, like another part of herself. Pale green eyes widened in realization as her face seemed to heat up, a single sound breathed out her lips. “Oh .”

“So, Professor…” Dorothea turned to Byleth, giving a smile. “Now can you tell me if you’ve loved someone?”

Byleth gave a small nod in response as a slight frown came to her lips. She chose Edelgard, not just because of her ideals, but because she loved the emperor. If it was such a strong feeling that people cared about, then Byleth wanted to know more before doing something stupid. “Can you tell me more about romance?”

The smile on Dorothea’s lips grew, a knowing look in her eyes. “Of course, Professor.”

Chapter Text

Edelgard was holding another meeting with Byleth and Hubert when an Imperial soldier ran in, out of breath as they gave a shout. “Raid from the north! Their flag bears the symbol of the Knights of Seiros!” The soldier composed themself, giving a bow before continuing. “One of our troops has already intercepted them! Your Majesty, please give us your orders!”

The emperor’s brows rose in surprise. “From the north? Interesting. Could it be they journeyed through Ailell, the Valley of Torment?” Edelgard’s features pulled into a determined frown. “Is the archbishop among the enemy ranks? If so, focus our attacks on her first.”


The soldier turned, running out to give the emperor’s orders to the rest of the troops stationed in the monastery. Once they were gone, Edelgard brought a hand to her chin in thought. “Our enemy knows Garreg Mach inside and out. They can come and go as they please. It would have been best if we had detected them sooner, but that can’t be helped.” Edelgard pulled herself out of her thoughts, turning to the former professor. “Byleth. We must hurry and intercept them ourselves. I’ll leave the preparations to you.”

Byleth gave a small nod. “Of course.”

Hubert breathed out a laugh, an amused smile pulling at his lips. “The battle looks to be rather cumbersome. We are still guarding all of Garreg Mach, but there are undoubtedly numerous secret passages and magic traps. There is still much about this place that we do not know. It is quite possible they will attack from a location we cannot anticipate.”

“Then we need some soldiers to remain inside the monastery.” Byleth stated. “But we need the Strike Force out there defending the front gates. They’ll likely send their strongest forces there.”

Edelgard gave a nod. “I must head out first to give my orders. I’ll meet up with you soon.” The emperor began her move out of the room, gaining the attention of a nearby guard. “Call for General Randolph and General Ladislava! Hurry!”

Byleth was giving the Eagles orders to prepare to defend the gates when Edelgard joined in, taking in the situation. A sigh escaped the emperor’s lips as her eyes scanned over the area outside the gates. “Our enemies have followed us even here. How unfortunate.”

Hubert came to stand behind Edelgard, leaning down to speak to the emperor and their former professor. “Your Majesty, the enemy’s movement is suspicious. They may have some tactic in mind.”

“If so, then let’s face them without delay.” Edelgard’s voice rose to a shout, giving orders to her own soldiers and the Eagles. “Form defensive lines and hold them to the death! Strike down all who approach!”

“Their troop composition is also strange.” A thoughtful hum escaped Hubert’s lips. “I would bet that they are concealing additional soldiers.”

Byleth drew her attention to the sides of the battlefield. The cliffs to their right had been totally destroyed in Rhea’s rampage five years ago, it seemed, allowing more focus to defend the main gate. And yet, there still remained a hidden path amongst the trees to their left. If left unattended, then the knights would no doubt sneak around them. But if the Eagles made use of it, then maybe they could circle around the knights, closing the enemy in.

The idea seemed like a long shot, but Byleth believed it just might work. “Edelgard, I need you to lead the defensive line.” The former professor turned her attention to the Eagles. “Petra! Caspar! Lysithea! I need you three to accompany me.”

Byleth began to move towards the trees, but a red-gloved hand quickly grabbed her wrist. “Byleth. What are you doing?”

“Flanking the enemy.” The former professor fought against allowing a frown to come to her lips. She wanted to stay beside Edelgard and keep the woman safe, but it would be best if the emperor held the front line. And with so many cavalry among their numbers who would be obstructed by the trees, Byleth had to lead the smaller group. “I need you to keep up the defensive line while I work to thin the enemy numbers. The enemy won’t notice a few of us missing.”

Edelgard’s grip loosened, giving the green-haired woman a small nod before turning her attention back to the Black Eagles, preparing them to defend the monastery with their lives. Byleth’s gaze lingered on the emperor for a few moments longer before running into the woods, Caspar and Lysithea close behind with Petra flying above as their eyes.

The group moved forward, an oddly low number of enemy soldiers hiding in the woods. Either they chose to avoid the terrain or they were planning something. On edge, Byleth asked Petra to check for any nearby enemies, only for the woman to inform her that all of them seemed to be focused on Edelgard and the rest of the Eagles.

Worry seeped into Byleth, ordering the wyvern lord to fly over to the defensive lines and help ease the burden on them. If there were no enemies near Byleth’s group, then they had no need for someone as mobile as Petra at the moment. Petra obliged, flying off to assist Edelgard.

Just as the woman left their sight, church soldiers poured out from the nearby buildings. It was a trap. And Byleth fell right into it. It didn’t matter though. She would just have to take down anyone who got in her way. Though a flash of green hair filled the former professor with a feeling of dread.


The young Nabatean was leading the troops to ambush them, giving out a shout. “The time is now! As long as we stand here, you shall not pass!”

The church soldiers overtook Lysithea and Caspar, taking their attention away from the commander. Byleth cut through those who got in her way with ease, though, only slowing when she came to reach Flayn, sword wavering in her hand as she looked at the girl. “Flayn, please, don’t do this.”

A saddened look came across the girl’s face, her voice soft. “When I heard you were alive, Professor, I was so happy. But now…” She paused, frown deepening. “Now this? How can it be that you fight on that side? I cannot take your life, for I owe you mine, even now. And yet I cannot back away from this fight. When this is over, my brother and I will go into hiding. It is the only way.”

Flayn suddenly let out a flash of light magic, forcing Byleth to swallow her words as she let out a shout. It hurt so much, like her entire body was on fire. But she had to continue. Had to move forward. She couldn’t fall here. She couldn’t leave Edelgard alone.

Byleth grit her teeth, trudging through the magic and pain, jumping out of the light and shoving the girl against a tree. The former professor brought her sword forward, impaling the tree, but not Flayn, blade mere inches from the girl’s face. Words slipped from her mouth in a broken plea. “I don’t want to kill you either.”

She could remember past conversations they had together. In this timeline and others. The assistance Flayn had provided, healing so many of her wounds. What the girl had done to help people and Byleth was worth far more than one life. Opening her mouth, the woman spoke out in a low growl, hiding her previously broken voice. A warning. “Leave this place. Now. I can’t promise your safety if another sees you, but I will do you no harm. The same will go for Seteth. Our war isn’t with you, it’s with Rhea. But if you work with her to enslave humanity, then I’ll have to kill you, too. So don’t let me see you on the battlefield ever again.”

Flayn eyed the sword for a moment before sliding away, moving to hide amongst the brush. She looked back at the former professor for a moment, her face filled with regret. “Farewell, Professor. I do not imagine we shall ever meet again.”

Standing still, Byleth watched where Flayn disappeared, no trace of the girl to be found. “That’s for the best.”

It was a small whisper, for none other than Byleth. Hopefully Flayn would remain hidden, perhaps even act human and live among them, just so long as she doesn’t take control of the people like Rhea has. But Flayn was a kind heart. Byleth doubted the girl would do such a thing to the people. She could only hope that her instinct was right and that she wouldn’t have to regret letting the girl go free.

Lysithea and Caspar caught up to the former professor, pulling her out of her trance so that they might move forward. They still needed to move. The battle was still going. Lysithea healed the woman’s wounds before they moved forward. When they escaped the woods, they found Alois leading a handful of knights, prepared to take them down. Anger was clear on the man’s face as he saw Byleth, letting out a shout. “I can’t believe you would try to kill Lady Rhea. Jeralt must be turning in his grave. I can’t protect you like I promised. I have to kill you and bury you with my own hands.”

What would Alois know about what Jeralt would have wanted? He was dead. He never had the chance to see this war unfold. He never would because Byleth could never save him. And now Alois is here? Telling her what her father would have wanted? He never even helped. He wasn’t there. He knew nothing and never did anything to prevent Jeralt’s death. Or to try and understand what Jeralt may have thought.

Rage seethed as Byleth ran forward, locking her blade with Alois’s axe. “What the hell would you know about what my father wants?! People change and you were apart for as long as I’ve lived! Can you even say the Jeralt you knew is the same one who returned to the monastery?!”

Anger flickered on Alois’s face as he swung his axe down, though Byleth was too quick, causing the man to lodge his weapon in the ground. She took the opening, thrusting her sword forward, impaling the man. His blue eyes widened in pain, coughing up some blood as his weak final words were breathed out. “Jeralt, I…”

He let out his final breath, slumping over on Byleth’s sword. The woman put him down gently, removing her weapon from the man’s corpse. She could bury him later. Perhaps near Jeralt. It’s what Alois would have wanted. But for now, she had to fight. She had to move forward.

Byleth rounded the buildings, seeing Seteth fly high above, giving out his orders to wyverns to advance on the monastery. This was her chance to take him out. As she charged forward, she took notice of the defensive line struggling against Shamir and her troops, now joined by Seteth’s wyvern riders.

The former professor let out a shout, ordering Lysithea and Caspar to attack the enemy from behind so the enemy would have more to deal with, their focus being split between the defensive line and the backup. When the two Eagles followed their orders, running off to join the fray, Byleth returned her attention to Seteth, charging at the man.

The Nabatean took notice of Byleth, coming down to attack with his lance. “Trespassing on holy ground is a grave sin indeed. You must atone for it with your life!”

“Stop! Don’t make me kill you!” Byleth let out a shout as she extended her blade, wounding the man’s wyvern and forcing him on the ground. “I let Flayn go! She’s alive! I’ll give you the same warning. You can have your life. Just don’t let me see you again. Don’t take charge of human affairs.”

Seteth looked up at the woman, anger apparent in his eyes. His gaze shifted, taking in the state of the battle before closing them, pointing his face away from Byleth. “I’m sorry, Rhea…” He took in an unsteady breath, urging his wyvern to leave. “For Flayn’s sake, I must take my leave to retreat…”

The man flew off. To where, Byleth wouldn’t know. But she could at least feel at ease with minimizing the blood that had to be spilled. She could only hope that the two would know better than to interfere with humans, to try and take control once again like Rhea did.

Byleth turned to see the Eagles finishing off the rest of the troops they fought, though she still ran forward to provide any help that she could. She watched as Shamir fell to Edelgard’s blade, the enemy soldiers beginning to lose their confidence, then falling at the hands of the rest of the Eagles.

When the fighting was finally over, Edelgard let out a sigh, giving a small smile. “We fought them off. Good work, everyone. We’ve repelled the principal force of the knights and defended Garreg Mach!”

If only that smile could last.

Byleth stood among the shadows, watching as Edelgard ran to the entrance hall, having been alerted that one of the generals and some soldiers returned from the fighting. Hubert was ever present at her side, and yet she chose not to bring Byleth along as well. Perhaps because she knew that the woman had seen more than enough pain and suffering if she really did live through this war so many times. But that was all Byleth could theorize. She would never know the reason why without Edelgard saying it with her own lips.

Instead, the green-haired woman simply watched from the shadows. She watched as General Randolph dragged himself into the entrance hall, before losing his footing and falling before the emperor. His voice was quiet, yet carried through the empty hall. “Edelgard…” The man took in a deep breath. “Your Majesty…” His words were pained, practically forced out between breaths. “I am so sorry…”

While her face was unseen by Byleth, the former professor could still hear the pained sadness in Edelgard’s voice. Something that most seemed to miss. “Silence. We must tend to your wounds.”

“It will do no good. I can’t be saved…” The general took in another deep breath, his voice becoming weaker with each word he spoke. “You must know that. Ladislava has also passed… The enemy has withdrawn… You are safe now...”

He practically breathed out his final words before slumping to the ground, void of life. Edelgard remained still, standing over the man’s corpse. Yet there was a slight shaking of her arms that Byleth noticed. “Understood. Good work.”

Randolph. He was a good man from what little Byleth knew of him. When she spoke to him, he was kind, always looking out for the monastery and his sister. And yet here he was, dead. Seeing him like this. It reminded Byleth of when she first reunited with Dimitri. When Randolph attack the monastery. He begged to be let free so he might protect his sister. But all Dimitri promised was torture. The only thing Byleth could do was provide the mercy of death.

Or that’s what she thought. He was a kind man. He never deserved to die. So why? Why did Byleth always have to kill him? And when she didn’t, why did he have to die here? Couldn’t she have let him go free in the past? Allowed him to run free and keep his sister safe? He begged for his life. He could have been willing to lay down his weapon for the safety of his family. And yet he died.

A shaky breath from Edelgard gained Byleth’s attention. “Another loss on my watch…” The emperor clenched her fists. “As more blood wets my feet, they grow heavier with each step. Remorse, resentment, despair. I have dispensed with all such things to come this far.”

Hubert finally spoke from the woman’s side, hardly providing any comfort. “And we must keep moving forward…”

Byleth wanted to leave the shadows she stood in. To walk up to Edelgard and hold her close. She wanted to tell the woman that it was alright. That she would be here, beside Edelgard and that such feelings were okay. That she could let it flow instead of crushing herself in solitude like this. Yet she didn’t. Byleth remained still, feeling as though she were miles away from the woman right now. She couldn’t provide Edelgard such comfort when there were others watching.

Instead, Byleth turned and left. She couldn’t stand here and watch anymore. The most she could do right now was comfort the rest of the Black Eagles. Perhaps help raise their morale. They would need it before marching on the Kingdom.

Chapter Text

“The time has finally come to invade the Kingdom capital.” Edelgard paused, making sure none were listening in on her meeting with Byleth and Hubert. “Or so I declared. In truth, we’ll be advancing to a different location. Only you and the rest of the Black Eagle Strike Force can know. Please bear that in mind.”

Byleth gave a small nod. “Of course. You can trust me to keep quiet.”

Hubert crossed his arms, a smile coming to his lips. He was no doubt pleased by the woman’s response. “Before Fhirdiad, we must take Arianrhod, which lies near the border between the Empire and the Kingdom. As a city on the boundary of the two territories, it must be taken at once.”

“There are many mages in Arianrhod. We will also face Cornelia, a general of the Kingdom. We must also contend with Rodrigue, the head of House Fraldarius, as well as his troops.” Edelgard’s features pulled into a determined frown. “Once we defeat them, Arianrhod will be ours.”

“I hear Cornelia has a suspicious magic weapon at her disposal.” Hubert brought a hand to his chin in thought. “We must attack before the enemy can respond with defensive measures. That is why we are preparing an assault before even our allies are aware. Even within our ranks, there is no way to know with certainty that there is not a rat among us who would leak such information.”

Edelgard gave a small nod. “When Arianrhod falls, we’ll focus on striking Fhirdiad from both the south and the east. The deeper we carve our way into Kingdom and church territory, the more favorable our position.” There was a small pause as Edelgard seemed to look for the right words. “As ever, I’m counting on you, Byleth.”

Byleth gave a small nod. “I won’t let you down.”

The green-haired woman watched as Hubert left for his own duties he was required to attend to before turning to leave herself. Though she was stopped by a hand in her own, causing her to look back to Edelgard, raising a green brow. “Is something wrong?”

“No, far from it.” Edelgard stated, causing Byleth to tilt her head to the side, but she allowed the woman to continue. “Rather, there’s something I wish to show you.”

Byleth allowed herself to be pulled along the halls of the monastery, following Edelgard, hand still held. It was nice. Though Byleth shoved the thought down. Edelgard was simply taking her somewhere. They eventually stopped before the door to a small room, Edelgard motioning for Byleth to enter.

As the taller woman opened the door, she noticed a stand decorated with an ornate jacket and armor. Byleth stepped forward, taking in the sight of the armor, noticing the details. Pieces of the armor were similar to the design of her old mercenary outfit. The armor pieces themselves were silver, made for covering the wearer’s arms and shoulders, with matching armored boots. The jacket itself was black, with silver buttons, and intricate designs stitched into parts of it with silver thread.

Byleth was amazed by the beauty of the jacket and armor, turning to look back to Edelgard. “What is this?”

A small smile graced Edelgard’s lips. “I thought it was time you had a change of armor. I ordered for something new to be made for you when I sent out a request for new armor for myself.”

The former professor dragged her fingers across the threads of the jacket. It was well-made. She smiled at the thought of Edelgard requesting this armor be made for her, and she rather liked it, too. “Thank you, Edelgard.”

“Please, Byleth.” The emperor’s smile only grew. “You looked uncomfortable in what the church provided you. And to wear such an outfit would no doubt lower the morale of our troops. It seemed right to get you something new to wear on the battlefield.”

Byleth circled the stand, noticing a red cape hanging from the left shoulder of the armor. As she inspected the design of the cape, she noticed the golden symbol of the Empire embroidered in it. Byleth raised a brow, curious as to why it was there. Neither Hubert or Ferdinand wore the symbol on their outfits, nor did any of the generals Byleth had seen. In fact, the only person she had ever seen wear the double-headed eagle of the Empire was Edelgard. Slowly, Byleth looked back over to the emperor, a question forming on her lips. “Why is the eagle on this cape?”

It seemed that Edelgard’s cheeks turned a slight tinge of pink, though it was hard for Byleth to tell from this distance. “Well, you are deserving of the honor. You are one of our greatest assets in this war, Byleth.” A small frown came to the emperor’s lips, as though she was struggling to find the right words. “And a great friend.”

Part of Byleth wanted to push further as there seemed to be something else, but she allowed it to slide, instead choosing to focus on the armor before her. Slowly, she removed the pieces from the stand, putting the jacket on over her white shirt and dark blue pants, buttoning it before moving on to the armor pieces. She strapped them onto her shoulders and arms before finally moving on to putting on the armored boots. The weight of the jacket suggested it was lined inside with a light chainmail, allowing some protection and flexibility. And the outfit itself was nice to wear, bringing a smile to Byleth’s lips as she approached the emperor. “Thank you, again, Edelgard.”

Edelgard simply gazed at Byleth for a moment, causing the taller woman to tilt her head to the side. “Edelgard?”

The blush on Edelgard’s face only deepened as she composed herself. “I’m glad the armor is to your liking, Byleth.”

The two stood in silence for a few moments, unwilling to speak of what was on their minds. Byleth herself felt like there were a million things she wished to say. Part of her wished to speak of her feelings for the emperor. But what if they weren’t reciprocated? And even if they were, Byleth would be gone who-knows-when due to Sothis. It would only hurt her to return to the past and one she cares for to know nothing of their time together. But she shoved the thoughts down. There was something more important to speak of. The reason they stood in this silence in the first place.

Ever since they worked to protect Garreg Mach, since the deaths of Randolph and Ladislava, Edelgard had been distant. Fewer idle conversations with Byleth. More time spent over a desk, working to help all the soldiers and find the best strategy. Not that Byleth couldn’t blame her, but such work would take a toll on anyone. Even the strongest-willed person.

“Well, I should be going. There’s still much work to do.”

Before Edelgard could make her leave, Byleth’s hand shot to her wrist. “Wait.”

Edelgard frowned. She likely knew this conversation was coming as well. Perhaps that’s why she avoided Byleth for the past week. Though she couldn’t do so forever. “Is something the matter?”

The green-haired woman’s lips twisted into a frown. “You’ve been acting strangely distant for the past few days, Edelgard. Are you willing to talk about it? I’m always here for you, you know.”

The emperor shook her head. “Please, there’s nothing to speak of that I’ve not already told you.”

There was a moment’s pause as Byleth thought back to Randolph’s death. Back to how shaken Edelgard was at the weight of the blood staining her path. “Are you sure?” A white eyebrow rose in questioning, but she didn’t speak, daring Byleth to continue. “I saw you speak to General Randolph. Before he died. You’ve been repressing your emotions, holding back what makes you human. Instead of giving yourself the space to grieve, you’re destroying yourself with work.”

Edelgard frowned, lilac eyes glaring at the taller woman. “My own emotions must be cast aside to bring about a better future. Such is the task of a leader.”

“Edelgard. I know firsthand what happens when you follow a leader who allows themself to be controlled by emotion.” Byleth’s voice carried no anger or disappointment, but was rather soft and understanding. She had seen what happened to Dimitri. And to herself. Their lust for revenge. And when their revenge was complete, there was a sense of unfulfillment. The world hardly changed and people wallowed in their suffering. “But it’s just as bad for you to bottle everything up.”

The shorter woman looked away, unwilling to face Byleth. But she wouldn’t stop. She wouldn’t let Edelgard bury herself away like this. “The blood of those who die--whether by your hand or another--can’t be washed away. But it will weigh you down if you try to hide from it. That weight will break you. If not right now, then someday soon.”

Byleth brought a hand to Edelgard’s chin, pausing for a moment at the sight of her own hand stained crimson with blood. She had a feeling she knew whose blood it was. That of the emperor herself. But Byleth continued, turning Edelgard’s head to face her. “Please. Don’t become like her.”

Lilac eyes widened in slight surprise before the emperor’s features pulled into a concerned frown. A red-gloved hand rose to Byleth’s cheek, wiping something away. Was she crying? It didn’t matter. Instead, she focused on the sound of Edelgard’s concerned voice. “Byleth, who are you talking about?”

“Emperor Edelgard.” The words fell from Byleth’s lips. “The one who threw aside all of her emotions, turning into a monster, all for the sake of her goals.” She took in a stuttered breath, voice beginning to break as she continued. “The one who broke under the weight of her pain, begging me to kill her. I don’t…” She paused for a moment, part of her unwilling to finish the thought. “I don’t want to kill you again.”


Edelgard suddenly pulled the taller woman into a tight hug. She was nice. Warm. Reassuring. Byleth buried her face into Edelgard’s white locks, her smooth hair smelling of bergamot. The two remained together in silence for a few moments, the quiet only broken by a whisper from Byleth’s lips. “Promise me that you’ll allow yourself moments to let your emotions free. Moments where you allow yourself to just be Edelgard.”

The emperor’s arms tightened around Byleth ever so slightly. “So long as you can promise the same to me.”

A small protest rose up Byleth’s throat. Though the blood she saw on her hands and on the woman in her arms made her pause. She knew it wasn’t there. That it was all in her head. But she killed Edelgard. That blood was on her conscious. And she wallowed in that pain alone. The words of protest died in Byleth’s throat as she instead buried her face further into white locks.

“I promise.”

Chapter Text

Arianrhod, the Silver Maiden. A fortress that had never fallen. Once built for the Empire, but used to defend against it instead. And now, the Black Eagles marched forward to take it down, to become a blemish on the fortress’s history. Today would be the day it finally fell.

“So this is the Silver Maiden…” Edelgard was lost in the sight of the fortress, though she quickly snapped back to reality. “Seeing it with my own eyes, I finally understand its strength. Especially the fact that its strength is distributed across its frontal defenses.”

And due to such a strength, a small group had split off from them long ago, moving to attack the fortress from one of the sides. Edelgard and Byleth were merely there to draw enemy troops to the front, to take on the brunt of the attack as a distraction.

The Eagles gathered at the front of the fortress began their charge on Edelgard’s command, clashing with the Kingdom soldiers. While it seemed many soldiers were gone, likely to defend the capital, there were still a great number defending the fortress, Kingdom soldiers far outnumbering Imperial soldiers.

A flash of blue hair was of note among the enemy. One that Sylvain took notice of, rushing ahead on his steed. He’d die in battle if he rushed on alone like that. It was as though he had a death wish. But Byleth wouldn’t allow anyone under her command to die.

She ran after him, cutting through any soldiers who stood in her way, making her way to the red-head. When she closed in on him, she watched as he brought down his lance, impaling Felix on it. The look on Sylvain’s face upon doing so was not of the man she knew, but of the boy.

Tears fell down his cheeks. The world seemed to freeze around them as Byleth focused on the boy, his hand tightening around the Relic he carried. When he spoke, his voice came out low, almost in a whisper. “We made a promise to die together.” Sylvain took in a shaky breath. “He told me now that I’d die first, but I…”

“You’re alive and fighting for a cause you chose.” Byleth spoke in a soft voice. “He died for what he believed in, but we can’t have you dying for him. When this battle is over, you can honor his death.” There was a small pause. “I just ask that you don’t die until this war is over. We need your strength. Now more than ever.”

Sylvain never responded. At least, not verbally. Rather just watching as the Imperial forces advanced, urging his horse to follow and rejoin the fray. There was nothing Byleth could do to ease his pain. She cleaved her  way once more through the enemy, making her way back to Edelgard. She would stay by the emperor’s side to the end of this bloody war.

When reunited, they exchanged quick glances, but nothing to distract from the battle they fought. As they pushed forward, some of the Black Eagles split off to meet with the infiltrating force, working to ease any burden on them. Edelgard and Byleth would lead the offense on the other side of the fortress though. 

As they pushed farther in, stronger enemy forces were met with. Commanders, mages, and large mechanical puppets. Perhaps the Eagles were too eager, and pushed forward too fast. They found themselves contending with both a large puppet and Ingrid, coming down fast to take out the emperor. Edelgard could handle most any physical fight, but even she had her limits and those were being pushed.

The world seemed to slow as fire raged from the heavens, raining down on Edelgard, too distracted by the enemies she was contending with to notice the nearby mage. She keeled over in pain as Ingrid was shot down by and arrow and the large puppet was destroyed with magic.

But Edelgard was still crumpled on the ground. Byleth dropped her sword, running over to the woman, falling to her knees, and picking up Edelgard’s body. She was still. Her golden armor was melting in spots and her cape singed.

“Edelgard, talk to me. You can’t fall now.”

Byleth knew a good amount of healing magic, the faint green glow coming from her hands as she held the emperor close, hoping dearly it would help. And yet, there was no response. Edelgard remained still.

“Please, don’t leave me.”

Her hands moved to the clasps of the golden armor, removing the chestpiece from Edelgard. Her chest was unmoving. She wasn’t breathing.

“Please, I…”

Tears fell from Byleth’s face as her hand moved to Edelgard’s neck. No pulse. She was gone.

“I don’t want to lose you.”

She placed a gentle kiss on the emperor’s lips, her tears falling on Edelgard’s face. Byleth’s hold on the corpse tightened, her words a small whisper on pale skin.

“I love you.”

The world shattered. Rewinding. Byleth watched every second, looking for the perfect moment to stop. To warn. She returned to their advance, before they neared Ingrid, with the puppet still in sight. Edelgard was moving forward. Byleth caught the emperor’s arm. “We need to slow our advance.”

Lilac eyes looked to her, a white brow raising for a moment. Though Edelgard’s eyes widened at the sight of Byleth’s face, giving a nod and calling for their advance to slow. The former professor was unsure what she looked like. Perhaps there was a frown on her face. But she could feel her eyes sting, as though she was still crying, but she felt no tears on her face.

With her new knowledge, the Eagles baited the puppet, taking it down and an approaching mage, no doubt the one responsible for the emperor’s demise. Dorothea and Byleth handled the group’s wounds before continuing forward. It was then that they finally dealt with Ingrid.

The pegasus knight put up quite the fight, but she fell easily to a well aimed shot from Bernadetta. Part of Byleth felt sorry for the death of her student. But she’d seen Edelgard fall. She wouldn’t let it happen. She didn’t want to experience that pain. So long as she breathed, no one would harm Edelgard.

All that remained in this fight was Cornelia. The emperor and the former professor charged towards the mage’s position, the other half of the Eagles coming into view, making their own charge on the woman. The Strike Force moved forward, taking out Cornelia’s soldiers and leaving an opening for Byleth. In one swift movement, the former professor lunged forward, piercing her blade through the mage’s stomach.

“So that…” Cornelia paused, inhaling a sharp breath between her words. “Is the outline you have written…” Her voice sounded as though her head was tilted to look at Edelgard who stood behind Byleth, words directed at the emperor. “What a masterpiece...the ones that were being forced to dance around were in fact…” She let out a pained grunt as Byleth twisted her blade in Cornelia’s flesh, before breathing out her final word. “Us…”

The green-haired woman pulled her blade from Cornelia’s body, watching as her corpse slumped to the ground. The battle was over. Edelgard walked up beside Byleth, lilac eyes looking down upon the dead woman with disgust. A small smile came to the emperor’s lips when she finally looked up to address the Eagles who gathered. “Victory is ours! Arianrhod has fallen!”

Edelgard took in the situation, looking over the chaos that had run through the fortress. She once again looked over the Black Eagles, giving out a shout. “Another army will take control of Arianrhod. As for us, we will take all of the military force we can muster and advance to the Kingdom capital of Fhirdiad. It won’t be long before all of Fódlan is unified. Everyone, this is our last push. Our goal is within reach!”

It was a calm evening, Byleth walking alongside Edelgard through the monastery grounds upon their return. Though a strange face was there to greet them along their walk. Lord Arundel himself. Byleth was able to recognize him from what little she had seen of him during her time with the Blue Lions.

Icy dread seemed to radiate from Edelgard, something Byleth didn’t miss. Though the emperor still kept a calm and composed exterior, only slightly raising a brow at the man before them. “What turn of events has brought you so suddenly to Garreg Mach, Uncle?”

Lord Arundel looked to Edelgard, completely ignoring Byleth who stood beside her as he spoke. “Well, my business in the old Alliance territory had roughly finished. I wanted to see the face of my niece, who so bravely took Arianrhod.” A sly smile came across the man’s lips. “I have heard that it was done with truly magnificent tact. And that you even deceived some of your allies…”

His words seemed to almost hang in the air, filling the atmosphere with dread and discomfort. Edelgard responded, her tone cautious, words almost practiced. “I’m happy to have earned your praise. However, to say that I deceived my allies is a bit misleading. I despise leaks of information, and there may have been a church rat hiding amongst our ranks.”

“Ah, I see.” Arundel paused, looking away from  the emperor. “However, there are some unfortunate consequences. Cornelia surely planned to betray them, but she has been struck down. Truly wasteful meddling. Unless…” He dragged out the word, finally looking over to Byleth. “Was it your intention to kill her?”

He was poking. Prodding her for information. Looking for a crack in Edelgard’s carefully constructed mask. Byleth would have to choose her words carefully. “I didn’t know much about her, nor did I care either way.”

Edelgard seized the moment, making use of Byleth’s own response. “Indeed. We came only to kill our enemies. She used a terrible magic weapon. Dolls that she could move and fight with. Did you know about them?”

Arundel shook his head at the women. “Well now. If that were the case, would it not have been better to keep her as an ally?” Slight anger entered his voice, though his face showed no signs of change. “If you are only capable of such imprudence, this dark cloud might hang over the Empire’s future as well.”

“Thank you for your concern.” Confidence filled Edelgard’s voice as a slight smile pulled at the corners of her lips. “However, I will sweep aside any darkness that comes our way.”

“I will be praying.” Adrundel gave his own slight smile in return. Hardly a good sign from the way it twisted. “Praying that the Empire will not become another Arianrhod.”

A frown pulled at the emperor’s features, her voice rising slightly, trying to command an answer from the man. “Another Arianrhod? Just what do you mean?”

He simply let out a huff in response. “I must take my leave now. Farewell.”

The two women watched as Arundel left, leaving them to wonder just what he meant by another Arianrhod. Their response came as a distressed Hubert running up to them, out of breath. A strange sight to see from the man, and a sign of bad news. “Lady Edelgard, there you are. We just received some truly shocking news. It is said that pillars of light have rained from the heavens and disintegrated Arianrhod.”

Pillars of…

Byleth felt as though she was once again in Fort Merceus. Watching as pillars of light descended. They destroyed everything. And had it not been for the Death Knight’s warning, Byleth and her soldiers would have been among the destruction. Nothing remained but a crater. The heat of the explosions was unbearable, even from a distance, scorching those in sight. It was horrifying.

“Byleth, what’s wrong?”

Edelgard’s hands were on her shoulders. Pale green eyes met concerned lilac. The former professor’s voice came out as a low whisper. “I’ve seen them before. The pillars of light. They destroy everything.”

A frown came to Hubert’s lips. “Professor, what is it you know of this?”

“I…” Byleth knit her brows in thought. “I don’t know anything about this specific attack, but I know this is a weapon used by those who slither in the dark. The pillars of light can be used to destroy anything. Anything except the monastery.”

One of Edelgard’s white brows quirked up questioningly. “They cannot destroy the monastery?”

The former professor shook her head. “No. I’m not sure why, but they can’t. And they’re well aware of this. The last time they tried, it created what we now know of as the Valley of Torment. Ailell.”

“So...this is my uncle’s trump card.” Edelgard looked away from Byleth, an angered frown upon her features. “In exchange for striking down Cornelia, he has destroyed Arianrhod!”

Concern deepened on Hubert’s face. “Perhaps we acted too soon in our disposal of Cornelia…”

“No.” The emperor shook her head. “If we’ll be fighting them soon, there’s no disadvantage to weakening their forces. It’s also extremely valuable that we forced them to show their hand.”

Hubert let out a small hum. “Perhaps. Though we should keep this information concealed. The repercussions of this information getting out would be...unfortunate.” The man turned his gaze to Byleth, raising a brow. “Professor, I trust you can keep quiet?”

A part of Byleth hated the idea of lying, and yet. If information were to get out that Edelgard worked alongside people who could willingly bring about such destruction? And people who would do so to their own allies during a war, no less? Well, suffice to say, it would cause quite a stir. One that would be difficult to deal with and devastating at this point in the war.

“You can trust me.”

Chapter Text

“What do you think, Lady Edelgard? Will they shut themselves inside of Fhirdiad?”

Byleth raised a brow at Hubert’s question. Dimitri was far from the type of person to shut himself away, rather choosing to fight head-on. And she doubted the man would give up a chance to run out on the battlefield and claim Edelgard’s head. It seemed Edelgard thought similarly as she spoke, though for different reasons. “They will try to intercept us. Of course, Fhirdiad will not fall so easily. Even so, if we were to cut off their supply lines with a large army, it would eventually fall. It makes much more sense for them to wager everything on a victory at the Tailtean Plains.”

The words sparked memories within Byleth. She could remember rides through the plains on her way to Fhirdiad, the land devoid of life, only wasteland and ruins. Not to mention it was the same land she had seen Seiros fighting Nemesis on in her memories. “The Tailtean Plains. I’ve been there before. It’s the perfect place to hold a large scale battle. Especially for a last ditch effort to protect the capital.”

Edelgard let out a thoughtful hum. “Yes, and about four hundred years ago, the hero Loog created the Kingdom by defeating the emperor of the time on those very plains. Their goal must be to recreate that scene.”

There were a few moments of silence before Hubert spoke up, voice grim. “Yes, I suppose so.” The man brought a hand to his chin, deep in thought. “Although the Imperial army is powerful, if we were to compare the strength of our best to the best of the Knights of Seiros, we would likely come up short. The Kingdom’s army and House Blaiddyd are also renowned for their unmatched persistence.” Hubert looked over to Edelgard, slight concern in his eyes. “On the battlefield, it can be assumed their one and only goal will be to strike you down.”

A slight frown came to the emperor’s lips, clear offense in her voice. “Are you telling me to stay off the battlefield?”

Hubert crossed his arms, he was being clear about his own thoughts, rather than keeping them to himself as usual. “Naturally. You are their aim, Your Majesty. You must know it only makes sense to keep you out of their reach.”

Edelgard shook her head. “And you must know that, at a time like this, I absolutely cannot withdraw.”

Cannot withdraw.

Byleth’s lips curled into a frown. She could remember Edelgard withdrawing to Enbarr. Cornering the emperor with Dimitri’s help. But Edelgard wouldn’t give up her dream. Wouldn’t lose. Wouldn’t back down. Became That thing that could use the full power of her two crests. Perhaps Byleth took down the monster, but what she could remember even more clearly was the emperor impaled on Dimitri’s lance. Their revenge complete.

She didn’t want that to happen again. Didn’t want Dimitri to kill Edelgard. And she didn’t want to experience the pain of losing Edelgard again. Even if temporary. Part of her wanted to convince Edelgard to stay off the front lines. Away from Dimitri. But she already made up her mind. There would be no way to convince the emperor to change it now. And to tell her why would only cause her to worry over Byleth. The former professor didn’t need anymore on the emperor’s mind. Not if it would distract her. Not if it would jeopardize her safety.

“Within our group, I am included among those with the kind of strength we need to win.” A determined frown was clear upon Edelgard’s face as she spoke. “I absolutely will not remove myself from the front lines.” The emperor turned her attention from Hubert, now looking to the former professor. “Byleth, you have the same strength as well.”

Byleth gave a small nod. “Of course. I’ll be there, fighting right beside you.” And protecting you from harm.

The look in Edelgard’s eyes almost suggested she heard Byleth’s thoughts, her eyes locked with pale green. “As emperor, I must not die in this war, and it would be unacceptable to lose you as well. Until the very end, we’ll survive this trial together. Understood?”

The former professor’s lips pulled into a thin line. Her dying being unacceptable? Why? She wasn’t an important figure. Just a mercenary turned professor. She was simply a soldier. And yet, the look in Edelgard’s eyes. It was almost pleading. Byleth didn’t want to upset the woman. Didn’t want to leave her again. Not after seeing how much pain her friend had been in when they finally reunited. She wouldn’t wish that pain upon Edelgard again.


The world seemed to be a haze in Byleth’s eyes. No details to make out. No indicator of where she was. But she could feel a distinct weight on her arms, forcing her to look down and see Edelgard. Or rather a corpse in her arms.


She put down the body, finding her own arms covered in the woman’s blood.

No, no, no.

Taking a step back, Byleth suddenly felt a hand on her shoulder, turning slightly to see the strange green-haired man. His face was emotionless, though his stare seemed to pierce through Byleth’s very being. As he opened his mouth, words came out, devoid of emotion. Only questioning. Always questioning. “Why do you fear her death when you can easily turn back the hands of time?”

Byleth yanked herself away from the man, practically hissing at him. “As if you would understand. All you do is watch and question me. You have no idea what it’s like to lose someone close to you.”

“I see.” His face remained neutral, unfazed. “You don’t want her to meet the same fate as Jeralt. An irreversible death.”

“You say that like you know me.”

“But I do. We are, after all, one and the same.” The man tilted his head to the side, eyes slightly widening. “Unless there’s something else bothering you?”

Byleth furrowed her brows. “If you’re me, then why are you always asking so many questions? I know nothing of you and here you are, speaking against everything I do.”

“But you already know so much about me. And perhaps you should stop doubting yourself. Otherwise, this questioning will only continue.” A frown finally came to the man’s lips after pausing for a moment, his eyes examining Byleth, looking for something. “You worry about having to rewind time too much, don’t you? You’re worried that the more you rely on my power, the sooner I will need to turn back the hands of time.”

There was a long pause. It was true. She knew it was true. She relied on the power of turning back time too much when she was with Dimitri and was sent back sooner than when she was with Claude. Perhaps if she never used that power, then she would have more time. More time alongside Edelgard. More time to fix the continent after this war. Yet one thing in particular stuck out from the man’s words, drawing Byleth from her thoughts.

You rely on my power.

Byleth’s eyes widened as she looked to the man. “Sothis?”

“Ah.” A smile came to Sothis’s lips. “You finally realized. It took you quite some time now, didn’t it? Though perhaps now you will heed my words. If you continue to allow yourself to be dragged down by the past and doubt your actions, then you will be unable to move forward. And that inability to move forward will lead to you never removing that Crest Stone from your heart. Do you truly wish to relive this war for an eternity?”

“I’m not exactly the one who chose to rewind time.” Byleth frowned, looking back to Edelgard’s corpse behind her and the blood staining her hands. Edelgard’s blood. “And you say that I should leave the past behind, like that’s something I can simply do. I can’t just forget all the blood I’ve spilled. All of the times I killed her, my actions powered only by blind rage.”

“It is true you cannot erase your past, but is it not something that makes you stronger?” Sothis stepped forward, taking hold of Byleth’s hands and looking at the woman’s palms. “Blood stains your path, no matter what you choose. You were part of a group of mercenaries. This is the life you were made to live. But you must remember why you’ve taken lives. It was to protect people. And while you may grieve killing people in the past, you must remember you did not know the full story then. You have come so far and not yet fallen.”

“People still died. I’ve killed so many.”

“It’s true, yes.” Sothis paused, furrowing their brows. “But is it not more important to kill some to save the many? Or do you wish to allow those few to live, only for the many to suffer?”

“I…” Byleth closed her mouth. To work alongside Edelgard and make a better world. That’s what she wanted. People would suffer now, but in the long run, they would suffer less from this horrid system. And yet. “It hurts, you know. Taking the life of another. Watching people die.”

“And such emotions are what make you human. I’ve watched you grow. You’ve gone from an emotionless vessel for a deity to becoming like all the fickle emotional humans. Is that not what you desired? To become human?” Sothis clasped Byleth’s hands together, moving their gaze to meet Byleth’s. “Do not hide away from your emotions or ignore them. And do not allow them to consume you. You must accept them and move forward. It is then that you will have embraced your humanity.”

Byleth’s eyes cracked open. The lack of light coming through the window suggested it was still night. She was used to this by now. Waking up to one dream or another, having difficulty sleeping. Though this was different. Talking with Sothis was less of a nightmare. And yet Byleth still felt she couldn’t fall back asleep.

Letting out a deep sigh, she sat up, combing her fingers through her messy hair, hand getting caught in some of the knots. Not that she cared much for keeping her hair nice, just out of the way. Slowly, she stood up from her bed, changing into the armor Edelgard had provided her. She no longer walked the monastery in simple clothes. It was wartime, after all. One would never know when the enemy attacks. And the outfit was nowhere near as uncomfortable as what Rhea had provided her.

Once dressed, Byleth left her room, wandering the grounds of the monastery, sifting through her thoughts and what Sothis had left her with to mull over. She eventually came to a stop by one of the low walls, overlooking the mountains that the monastery stood upon.

Byleth closed her eyes for a moment, wishing to just be with her thoughts, though the image on the back of her eyelids was that of Edelgard’s corpse. Letting out a stuttered breath, pale green eyes opened. She needed to accept the past and move forward. Edelgard was here. Alive. They would change things for the better.

Boots clacked against the ground, coming to a stop beside her, pulling Byleth out of her thoughts. She looked over to her side to see Edelgard there, making her raise a green brow. “It’s rather late. What are you doing out here now?”

“I required a break from my work when I saw you out here.” Edelgard took note of the accusing look Byleth gave her at the words. “You do realize it would be easier to not drown myself in work if every moment I spent idling Hubert wouldn’t appear informing me of more work to do?” Edelgard’s features pulled into a serious frown as she copied the man’s bow, speaking in a mock deep voice. “Your Majesty, you must know your supreme talents are needed at present. Why not gaze at these documents instead of the sky?”

A small laugh escaped Byleth’s lips. “That certainly sounds like him. But would he really make you work so late into the night?”

Edelgard let out a huff. “Well, he certainly has the gall to tell me to do more work, but once it becomes late, he tells me I must rest instead of finishing that same work he provided me.” Letting out a sigh, Edelgard shook her head. “And the worst part is that he’s always right, so I can’t even argue with him. But that’s enough about Hubert for the moment.” The emperor paused, as though trying to find the right words. “While I have your attention, I’d like to thank you for your help in that last battle. Your talent for strategy far exceeds my own. I’m quite jealous in all honesty.”

A small frown came to Byleth’s lips. “I’d consider you far better at tactics than myself, actually. We only make it through each battle on my tactics because I already know what’s coming. Because there are so many battles I’ve already experienced.” Byleth clenched her hands to fists. “I could only make the right decision because I had already experienced the wrong one. If I didn’t have the ability to turn back the hands of time, then you would be dead.”

“Byleth…” There was a small pause as Edelgard rested a hand on the former professor’s shoulder. “Is that why you suddenly looked so distraught in the last battle?”

The taller woman gave a small nod. “It was painful watching you die this time. Every previous time you were my enemy. But now? It hurt. Just like when my father died. You’re a dear friend, the thought of losing you is...difficult. But you’re here. Alive. That’s what matters.”

A small frown came to Edelgard’s lips. “Friend...that word somehow doesn’t seem adequate.”

Byleth quirked a brow, thinking back to everything Dorothea had told her. “Then what would you call us?”

A sigh escaped the shorter woman’s lips. “I’m not certain. We’ve been friends for a long time, you and I. By now, we’re so much more than that, at least in my mind. You know...” There was a small pause, as Edelgard seemed lost in her thoughts, eyes looking up to the stars above. “Instead of Edelgard, you can call me just El. If you so please.” A small blush came to Edelgard’s cheeks. “That’s what my parents and closest sisters used to call me when I was little. Now there’s no one left who calls me El.” Lilac eyes met pale green. “But with you, well, I think I could allow it. In fact, it would mean a great deal to me.”

Byleth tilted her head to the side in slight confusion. “Why is that?”

“Why?” Edelgard let out a thoughtful hum before suddenly turning her gaze away. “Well, you have stood beside me and shared my burdens. As I said, you are much more than a friend. In truth, you are like family to me. I suppose that’s why.”

Like family. Perhaps like a sibling. That’s all. Edelgard didn’t feel the same. Byleth didn’t dare believe her feelings would be shared. Even if they were, she would be gone due to Sothis’s power one day. But it didn’t matter. Byleth would stand alongside Edelgard, to the very end. Whether or not her feelings were shared.

Chapter Text

The vast wastelands of the Tailtean Plains. The perfect ground for a large-scale battle. One that both sides were prepared for. A river flowed down the center of the large field, on the other side stood a large army, blue flags proudly flying in the rain. The Imperial army stood in wait, their own red flags flapping in the wind and rain. Edelgard stood at the forefront of the army, looking over the battlefield with Byleth and Hubert on either side of her, and a scout on standby.

The emperor took note of the flags in the distance, letting out a thoughtful hum. “A flag of blue is flapping in the rain. It must be the Kingdom army.”

“Yes. It seems that King Dimitri is leading the troops himself.” Hubert scanned the horizon as he continued. “However, the Knights of Seiros have yet to be seen. Perhaps they have split up.”

Edelgard’s lips twisted into a frown. “I can’t imagine that Dimitri would leave the capital to the church and face us with the Kingdom army alone. He must be planning to use the church to gain the upper hand in battle.” Lilac eyes tilted their gaze up to the clouds. “With the rain, that must be difficult to coordinate. Still, the Knights of Seiros must be around here somewhere.”

Hubert looked over to the scout. “Then we should be alert for attacks from the side and rear as well. Inform the entire army.”

“Yes, sir!”

The scout gave a quick bow before turning to provide the information to the rest of the Imperial army stationed there. Hubert returned his attention to the women, a sly smile on his lips. “Now that I think about it, the Kingdom’s army is quite different than it once was. They have taken a position of interception. In the past, the king would have introduced himself before beginning a fair fight.”

“A fair fight…” Edelgard’s voice was drowned in memories of the past. “The words alone remind me of how he once was. Don’t you agree, Byleth?”

Byleth could remember when Dimitri had asked for a meeting with Edelgard before battling her army. But she could also remember his single desire to kill Edelgard. Ignoring his needs and the needs of his own army, rather choosing to run directly into Imperial territory with no regard for his life or any other’s. All he did was run forward to kill. Hardly caring for a fair fight. And not caring one bit for introducing himself. All he desired was to inflict pain.

“Perhaps, but maybe we were wrong to think of him like that.” Byleth kept her eyes on the Kingdom army in the distance. “Dimitri was hiding quite a bit underneath a composed mask. Perhaps he’s always been like this. He just needed a chance for that mask to break.”

A hum escaped Edelgard’s lips. “Still, he often spoke of such things back at the monastery.”

“Well, at the present, the words ‘fair fight’ do not seem to suit Dimitri anymore. He dislikes making victims of his friends, but other than that, he will do most anything these days.” A grim look entered Hubert’s eyes as he crossed his arms. “If he stops at nothing to continue the onslaught, I cannot imagine what will become of the battlefield.”

“True. As soon as we can take our battle formation, we must advance.” A frown came to Edelgard’s lips, her voice lowering, as though speaking to herself. “Dimitri, that past you cling to. I will soon free you from it.”

The rain showed no signs of stopping, rather falling harder with time. Damp green hair stuck to the sides of Byleth’s face, water dripping from her bangs and into her eyes. She stood beside Edelgard, the shorter woman taking in the battlefield one last time as they prepared to fight.

The emperor cleared her throat, letting out a shout as she gave her orders to the Imperial army. “With this battle, the main force of the Kingdom will be annihilated! Leave no enemy general alive. Least of all King Dimitri!”

Imperial soldiers charged forward, ready to fight. Ready to bring an end to this bloody war. Edelgard started her own march forward, with Byleth alongside her. Their goal was to take out the general nearest before taking down Dimitri himself. Hopefully the Imperial soldiers would be able to handle the other generals with the assistance of some of the Black Eagles.

Though Byleth stopped in her tracks momentarily when she saw one of the Kingdom soldiers raise something up in their hand. The soldier let out a scream as the flesh on their bones morphed into an ungodly shape. A monstrous roar came from the soldier as their flesh settling into the shape of a Demonic Beast.

Just how far was Dimitri willing to go to kill Edelgard? Making use of Demonic Beasts to defend the capital and kill the emperor? He had gone too far. Byleth had to stop him. She had to move forward and win.

Together, Byleth and Edelgard ran at the beast, moving to strike it down. Caspar and Hubert were quick to join, dealing their own blows to the beast, felling it with practiced ease. Though there were still more enemies to handle, soldiers and their general rushing at the emperor and her Eagles. Lysithea and Linhardt used their magic to control the flow of attacking soldiers. Byleth and Edelgard charged forward, taking down any soldiers in their way before finally taking down the general.

They had a moment to rest and recover, tending to their wounds before moving on to fight Dimitri. Or so they thought. As Byleth used healing magic to tend to some hits the soldiers managed on Edelgard, she noted a rustling in the nearby woods. It was close. Too close for comfort. A sound mostly covered by the falling rain.

There was little time to react when Rhea--no, Seiros--jumped out from the brush, lunging forward with her sword. Only enough time for Byleth to push Edelgard aside. Pain seared through Byleth’s arm as Seiros’s sword pierced her shoulder.

The world shattered and reversed, yet the pain still remained. She let out a pained shout, clutching her shoulder. It was unharmed, but the pain would remain for a few moments. Edelgard rushed to check on Byleth, her hand hovering over the woman’s shoulder. “Byleth! What happened?!”

“We need to get away from those woods. Now. Church reinforcements. And they’re being led by Seiros.”

The emperor gave a nod, the two women falling back to the rest of the group. When they reunited, they watched as Seiros and some of her knights crawled out from the woods, prepared to kill. Those green eyes were fixated on Byleth. No doubt Seiros desired her mother’s heart back.

The Eagles braced themselves, creating a defensive line to prepare for Seiros’s attack. As expected, the woman ran directly for Byleth, though when she brought her sword down, Edelgard had her shield up, protecting the former professor from the woman’s attack. The saint was left open, something Byleth gladly took advantage of, bringing down her sword on the woman. The wound she left was bad, yet not deep enough to kill.

Seiros’s face twisted between a look of pain and rage. She seemed ready to continue fighting, no doubt able to handle more than any human due to her being a Nabatean. And yet her soldiers called for a retreat, forcing her to warp away. Perhaps that monster wouldn’t die today, but Byleth new her days were numbered. This war would not end until the vile archbishop fell.

Still, there was more to be done in this battle. Dimitri still stood. The final hurdle between the Empire and Fhirdiad. When Lysithea and Linhardt finished healing their wounds, Edegard and Byleth continued leading their advance. Of course, when they began to cross the river, they found Dedue as the final obstacle between them and Dimitri. When the man noticed their advance, he dropped his axe, holding up a stone in his hand.


He let out a loud shout turned roar, body convulsing into a large Demonic Beast. Byleth clenched her free hand in anger, seething with rage. Anger at the loss of a kind man from such a war. And at the stupidity to sacrifice his life in such a way. It filled her with a new resolve. One to free Dedue of the fate he put upon himself.

Byleth charged forward, leading the Black Eagles to take Dedue down. To free him. The Eagles surrounded him, using their magic and weapons to the best of their ability to take the beast down. Each attack seemed to do little to the large beast, like they were mere ants to the thing. Though it did eventually fall with a precise blast of magic from Lysithea, the beast letting out a dying roar as its body collapsed, disintegrating and leaving behind Dedue’s corpse.

The former professor leaned over the man, a sad look on her face. “That was foolish of you to do.” She paused for a moment, staring at the peaceful look on the man’s face. “I’m sorry to have done this to you, but please, find peace in whatever comes after death.”

Byleth turned her attention back to Dimitri, Edelgard having already started her advance on the man. He was the last of the generals standing. With his death, they would finally be able to march on the capital. Byleth ran forward to catch up with the emperor, though she watched as Edelgard swiftly brought the king to his knees with a precise swing of her axe.

Coming to a stop, Byleth watched as the emperor towered over the defeated king. Dimitri spit at the woman’s feet as he knelt before her, rage burning clearly within his blue eyes. “Edelgard! You…” He took in a deep breath, letting out a low growl. “I will kill you! You will know the regret of my father, who was killed for you! Of my stepmother, who was slain by her own daughter! You will bow your head before all of the lives you trampled for your ideals before you die in misery!”

“Your obsession with me is appalling. If you were a normal human, you would most certainly have died already.” Edelgard’s face was grim, and her voice quiet as she raised Aymr above her head. “Farewell, King of Delusion. If only we were born in a time of peace, you might have lived a joyful life as a benevolent ruler.”

Dimitri coughed up blood, his breathing heavy, though his rages-filled eyes still locked on the emperor. “To the fires of eternity with you...El…”

Edelgard brought down her axe, silencing the king as his head fell to the ground. His blood mixed with the rain water, pooling in the cracks on the stone ground of the ruins. The rain began to slow, softening its fall before it eventually stopped.

Byleth knelt by the man’s corpse, her voice barely above a whisper. “I’m sorry, Dimitri. I wish I could have helped you, but you were consumed by your desire for revenge. Perhaps if you were open to speaking with Edelgard, then this wouldn’t have happened.” Byleth closed her eyes, remembering what Dimitri had said back when he held a meeting with the emperor before their final battle. “Then again, with how your ideals differed, perhaps you were fated to be enemies.”

Byleth stood, looking over the horizon to see the Kingdom soldiers retreating. Edelgard and Hubert watched the retreat, a sigh coming from the emperor’s lips. “Rhea. She is our enemy, but I must admit that she plays her cards magnificently.”

Hubert let out a thoughtful hum. “You mean using the goddess’s name in order to boost morale?”

“That’s true, but she also shows great skill in devising her tactics. Using the bewildered Kingdom army as a shield while she and the knights retreated…” Edelgard paused, letting out a sigh. “If they ran all the way back to Fhirdiad, it will be very difficult to pursue them.”

“It doesn’t matter.” Byleth stood beside Edelgard, giving a confident smile. “Next time, we will end this.”

A small smile graced Edelgard’s lips. “Yes. Together we’ll end this once and for all.” The emperor looked off to the distance, her face hidden. “For all of the lives lost in battle, by our allies and foes alike…” The woman’s head lowered, looking to the ground as her voice became somber. “And for Dimitri, as well…”

To hear those words from Edelgard was almost strange. She always fought against him. Always put up an air of stoicism. Byleth could only wonder. “For Dimitri?”

“Yes. The thirst for revenge that imprisoned him was the result of my uncle’s strategy. He believed that I was the cause of everything, and he lost sight of his path as king. There was nothing I could do to save him.” Edelgard took in a deep breath, her voice cracking with sorrow. “And so, the very least I could do was--”

Drops of water fell from Edelgard’s chin, though the rain had long since stopped. Byleth stepped closer to the emperor, putting a hand on the woman’s shoulder. “Edelgard, are you crying?”

The shorter woman wiped away her tears, shaking her head. “No. The Edelgard who shed tears died many years ago.” Byleth knew that was a lie. She had seen the woman cry when they reunited, yet she remained there, silently by Edelgard’s side. “Everything that’s’s all just part of the ebb and flow of history. The Tragedy of Duscur, our days at the academy, Father’s death, and the five years you were gone...” Edelgard finally turned to face Byleth. “After all of that, at long last, we’re here at this point in time. I hope you’ll stay by my side until the very end. It’s time for humanity to take this world back.”

Byleth gave a small nod. “I’ll be with you. Through all of it. I’m not leaving your side now or ever again.”

Chapter Text

“Byleth, may I speak with you?”

Byleth turned to notice Edelgard. They were close to the capital and would attack soon. To speak with Edelgard before the battle was a welcome activity. “Of course. What’s on your mind?”

“I know the timing is less than ideal, but there’s something I need to tell you.” Lilac eyes fell to the ground, concern clear upon Edelgard’s face. “You’ve already told me of your connection to the goddess, and I have no doubt some part of it is likely sharing a bloodline with her.” Edelgard’s lips pulled into a thin line, hesitant to continue with her thoughts. “Five years ago when your power awakened, I was afraid you would choose to join with Rhea.”

The taller woman tilted her head to the side, confusion clear on her features. “You thought I would join her?”

“I did. As you know, my goal is to free our world from the control of Rhea and the other children of the goddess. I seek to obliterate her, as well as those around her who use the church’s power to control Fódlan. I swore to free the people from Rhea by striking striking her down, whether or not it meant making an enemy of you.”

Edelgard closed her eyes, concern clear on her face. “And yet, you came to my aid and chose to walk with me on the path against Rhea. I was overjoyed of course, but I was also confused.” She opened her eyes, looking up to Byleth. “I thought that perhaps it wasn’t the path you were meant to take. But I chose to trust in you, to rely on you and your strength. And now, here we are.”

Byleth let out a sigh, smiling to the emperor. “I understand. But perhaps this is the path I was meant to take. After everything I’ve been through, I made my way here. It’s this path that I think will lead to a better future for Fódlan.”

A smile came to Edelgard’s lips, relief evident on her features. “Thank you for listening, Byleth. I’m glad I finally had the chance to talk to you about it.” The smile disappeared as another thought came to Edelgard’s mind. “After Rhea is gone from this world, I don’t know what will become of you. But whatever happens, I hope you know that you’re very special to me.” The smile returned to Edelgard’s lips, a sigh escaping. “You are the one person in this world who can share the heavy burden I must carry. Someone without equal who I can always speak my mind to.”

Byleth was certain her fate wouldn’t change. That she would remain the vessel to the goddess and continue to be forced to relive this war. After all, Rhea’s death after she succumbed to her wounds in the last war hadn’t done anything to change Byleth’s fate. She was ready to provide her own response to Edelgard’s words, but the rushed movements of soldiers told them of the coming battle. Soon, they would defeat Rhea and the church. Soon this war would be over. “It’s time. Let’s go, Byleth.”

Byleth and Hubert stood beside Edelgard, the Eagles and Imperial soldiers behind and ready for battle. The emperor looked up to the city walls, shouting for the enemy to hear. “Rhea! Members of the Church of Seiros! Surely there’s no need to continue this fight. What could be gained by shutting yourselves inside the capital of a kingdom without a king? I will give you one chance, and no other. Throw down your weapons and surrender! Unlike you, I have no desire to unleash wicked atrocities upon this world!”

They waited a long few moments before Hubert looked to Edelgard. “Their silence speaks volumes. Shall we commence our attack?”

Edelgard’s voice lowered, turning her gaze to the man. “I’ll wait just a moment longer. There are still many residents within the city. Unlike my attack on Garreg Mach five years ago, the church will not allow the inhabitants to evacuate.” A frown came to the emperor’s lips as she brought a hand to her chin in thought. “What the hell are they planning…”

As though in response to Edelgard’s question, a loud roar echoed out from deep within the capital. That same roar Byleth heard before she fell into her deep sleep. The roar of the Immaculate One. Lilac eyes widened in slight terror, Edelgard’s voice low. “That ghastly voice…”

A soldier ran over to the three, fear apparent in their eyes as they shouted. “Your Majesty! There’s smoke coming from every corner of the capital! It seems they’ve set fire to the city!”

“What?!” Edelgard’s features pulled into a deep frown as she looked back to the capital. Surely enough, smoke rose from the buildings. “Damn it, Rhea. There really is no depth you wouldn’t sink to.” The emperor turned to address the Black Eagles. “Everyone, we must commence our attack at once. Are you ready?”

Hubert gave a nod from beside the emperor. “Preparations are complete. Just say the word.”

“Then we attack.” The emperor’s voice was filled with determination, ready to end this war and Rhea’s life. Once and for all. “We’ll head straight for the castle and strike down their leader--Rhea, that vile creature called the Immaculate One! This is the end of our long war. After this victory, Fódlan will finally be united and truly free! The capital we’re about to invade is engulfed in flames. Do not rush to your deaths. Survive. Prevail. Do that and we’ll witness the birth of a new world. I want to see it with all of you at my side. Understood?”

The Black Eagles all gave their own cheers and confirmations, ready to battle and end this war. Everyone was determined, prepared to give up their lives to bring about a better future. Though Byleth would be sure they all survived. A smile came to her face seeing all of her students ready to fight, giving her own shout in response. “Let’s win this, together!”

Edelgard gave a small smile to Byleth before looking back to the capital, a determined frown on her face. She let out one final order for her troops. “Imperial army! Black Eagle Strike Force! Move Out!”

Byleth and Edelgard led the charge into the capital, running through the streets and taking down any soldiers who stood in their way. They would get to Rhea and kill her, no matter what. The further in they made their advance, though, the greater the flames raged.

Screams came from the fires, both those of church soldiers and those of innocent civilians. The battlefield reminded Byleth of Gronder, only this was far worse. Innocent people were dying, all for Rhea’s sick desires. Instead of surrendering the capital, she would rather burn it and all its citizens to the ground.

But so long as the church fought back, the flames would rage on. Only when the battle was over, would Imperial soldiers get a chance to douse the fire and evacuate citizens. Byleth’s grip tightened on her sword as she rushed forward, slicing through church soldiers. They would win this to save the people.

Golems marched the streets closer to the castle. A roar echoing through the sky told the Eagles that they were getting close to the Immaculate One. Soon this would all end. Though the only way forward would be to rush through the flames. Byleth turned her head back to address the Strike force. “We need to move quickly, or else we’ll be burned.”

Byleth rushed forward into the flames, Edelgard close behind. They dodged attacks from the nearby golem. To stand still and fight in the burning debris would only get them killed. If they took down Rhea, then the golems would no doubt cease working. It was only a bit farther that they had to go to reach the castle. The wings of the Immaculate One were visible, towering over the walls, likely just before the castle gates.

As they pushed farther forward, more and more soldiers came to stop them. An increasing number of knights created a defensive line in the openings between the large walls. Another roar was let loose, though it felt different. The air filled with magic. Something that seemed to boost the morale of enemy troops, prepared to defend to their very last breath.

Any Black Eagles who knew magic rained it down upon the knights, providing an opening for Edelgard and Byleth to rush forward. Only those two were truly necessary for defeating the Immaculate One. The rest would provide the best defense they could for them. Falcon knights began to fly over the walls of the city, though Bernadetta and Ashe did their best to keep the fliers at bay.

The Black Eagles fell behind the emperor and their former professor, the two women determined to bring an end to this war. As they passed the final wall and a burning building, they found that the buildings around the castle gates had all been destroyed, no more than burning rubble.

Amidst the center of the debris stood the Immaculate One, head raised high, looking down upon the two women. She let out another loud roar, screaming at the women before her. “Give her back! Give back my mother!”

The dragon lowered her head, spewing fire upon the women. The two quickly dodged, Byleth lunging forward, Sword of the Creator in hand as she moved to create an opening. She stabbed into the dragon’s scales, leveraging them apart to expose soft flesh, creating a small opening to attack.

Edelgard quickly took the chance to move in, bringing her axe down upon exposed flesh. Byleth continued to move around the beast, distracting her and creating new openings within her scales for Edelgard to take advantage of. And it worked as green blood fell from open wounds, the Immaculate One tiring and slowing, breathing fire everywhere in desperation. But the two worked together, too fast for the beast to keep up.

Byleth eventually stopped, stepping away from the dragon to see their handiwork, Edelgard soon joining her. The two breathed heavily from the exertion of their battle, their wounds beginning to get to them. But they couldn’t stop now. Not so close to the end.

The dragon let out a pained roar, standing on her hind legs, blood trickling from scales. She began beating her wings, creating a current of wind to try and push the two women away. Yet they stood strong, holding against the heavy wind so that they might land the final blow.

The Immaculate One tired quickly, front legs hitting the ground as she bowed her head low, breathing heavily. After a moment, she looked back to Byleth, shouting once more. “Give it back!”

Taking in a deep breath, Edelgard composed herself, looking up to the monster, determination clear in the emperor’s features. “When humanity stands strong and people reach out for each other, there’s no need for gods.” Edelgard lowered her head, gaze still upon the dragon as her white eyebrows lowered. “Rhea. Your reign of tyranny is over.”

Raising her head, the Immaculate One took in a deep breath, though made no other move. Byleth took the moment to share a glance with Edelgard, the emperor looking to her, lilac eyes questioning whether she was ready to land the final blow. The green-haired woman gave a simple nod in response. Edelgard looked back to the beast, brandishing Aymr. Determination burned in lilac eyes as she stared down the Immaculate One. “The time has come.”

Light gathered in the dragon’s jaws before she brought her head down, blasting fire at Edelgard and Byleth. The two quickly dodged to either side of the attack, Byleth taking the moment to run forward while the beast’s head was lowered. The green-haired woman yelled at the dragon. “I’m done being your puppet!”

Edelgard let out her own shout as she ran forward. “I’m ending this, once and for all!”

The two jumped towards the dragon’s head, bringing their weapons down on her forehead, digging deep into white scales. They quickly removed their weapons, pushing themselves away from the beast and watching, unsure whether the blow was enough to kill.

Green blood trailed from the wound, down the dragon’s head as she raised it looking desperately to the heavens. The Immaculate One’s breathing became labored, speaking her final words before her large body fell. “If I must die...then you will join me.”

Breathing suddenly felt impossibly difficult, Byleth’s legs feeling weak as the world seemed to spin around her. As her legs gave out, the world vanished. She never felt herself hit the ground. She was gone. Trapped in nothingness. Unable to move or feel.

So, this was the end. For standing against Rhea, she would pay the price with her life. Perhaps it was best this way. If she were dead, then she would never be sent back. Never forced to relive this war ever again. And yet, it meant leaving Edelgard behind once more. She didn’t want that. She couldn’t. She--

Ba dum. Ba dum.

A strange feeling came from within her chest. A rhythmic feeling. Soft. Constant. Right where her heart should be. The sound of its rhythm ringing in her ears.

Ba dum. Ba dum.

There was a burning feeling against her fingers, emanating from the familiar touch of her sword. Though more peculiar was that she felt something soft leave her lips, droplets of water falling on her face. It couldn’t have been rain. The heat and sound of fires still raged on, and the water was only felt upon Byleth’s face. Soft sobs answered, telling it was someone crying as arms lifted up her torso, holding her closely.

“I love you, Byleth.”

Edelgard. That was her voice.

Byleth’s lungs burned, begging for air, forcing the woman to gasp for breath and cough. She slowly opened her eyes to see Edelgard’s face, a relieved smile on the woman’s features, though tears still fell from her lilac eyes. Byleth gave a small smile in return, though her body felt weak and her eyes heavy. She was so tired. But she stayed awake for Edelgard.

To the best of her ability, Byleth used what strength she had to raise her hand to Edelgard’s cheek, wiping away some of the tears. Though they continued to stream down the woman’s face. Between breaths, the green-haired woman spoke in a quiet voice. “I love you, too, El.”

The name seemed to naturally roll off of her tongue. Tears continued to fall from lilac eyes, though Edelgard’s sobs were relieved, happy even. She held Byleth closer, lowering her head, pressing a kiss to the woman’s lips. A kiss that Byleth gladly returned.

It ended when Byleth’s arm fell to the ground, unable to hold it up any longer. Edelgard quickly pulled away, moving to shift the woman’s weight, standing and lifting Byleth with her. “You need to see Manuela.”

The movement of walking was so slow, perhaps even rhythmic. The motion practically lulled Byleth to sleep, eyes drooping. Edelgard took notice, a frown coming to her lips as her eyes focused ever forward. “Please, don’t fall asleep now. I need you to stay with me.”

Chapter Text

When Byleth awoke, she opened her eyes to find herself in the monastery infirmary. She was lying on one of the beds, her jacket hanging next to her. The last thing she could remember was Edelgard carrying her to Manuela, but then everything went blank. She couldn’t remember getting to the healer or anything after that.

Though, now that she was awake, she could see the bangs that covered her face were no longer pale green, but their old blue hue. She was back to normal, no longer fused with Sothis. And the jacket was enough to tell her she hadn’t gone back in time, as well as the eagle pendant hanging from her neck.

Byleth’s head felt fuzzy, though. Her body no longer felt the buzz of Sothis’s power. Instead, it felt weak. Weaker than she was used to. Weaker than it had ever been before. Almost as though her Crest was gone.

Ba dum. Ba dum.

She could still hear that heartbeat in her ears. Her own heartbeat. One she had never experienced before. If her heart was finally beating, did that mean the stone was gone? That she was…?

Byleth closed her eyes, trying to see the throne. Though there was nothing but darkness. No Holy Tomb. No throne. No Sothis. Nothing.

As she opened her eyes, Byleth let out a sigh. She was human. Edelgard freed her. Unless she did so herself, merely with the help of Edelgard. Though it didn’t matter. All that mattered was Byleth was free, never to be forced to relive the war again. She could out the rest of her life.

Heat entered Byleth’s cheeks as she thought back to the kiss she shared with Edelgard. Perhaps she could live her life beside the woman? To be there and help her change the world. And to be there to spend time with Edelgard when she finally has the chance to idle. Byleth had to admit to herself that she quite liked the idea, thinking back to her father’s ring that sat in one of her jacket pockets.

She was pulled out of her thoughts when Manuela entered the room. The songstress seemed surprised to see Byleth awake, though that surprise quickly melted away into a smile. “Well, it seems you finally chose to wake up.”

Byleth quirked a brow at the woman’s words. “Finally?”

“Why, yes.” Manuela walked over beside Byleth’s bed. “You’ve been sleeping for the past few days. Quite fitfully, I must say. One second your conscious, and the next you’re out cold. But I’m glad you’re awake.” The woman gave a small wink. “And I’m certain the emperor will be, too. She was rather distressed when she brought you to me.”

Ah. She must have fallen unconscious while Edelgard was carrying her back. “Is Edelgard here? Or is she already heading back to Enbarr?”

The songstress let out a laugh. “She’s still here. Same for all of the Black Eagles. She said something about it not being right to march back to Enbarr without everyone.”

Byleth struggled to turn over in bed, trying to get out of it and see Edelgard, though Manuela held her in place. The blue-haired woman tried to worm out of her grasp, but was too weak to do so. The most she had been able to do in the first place was sit up slightly. “Hey, now. You’re not leaving this bed. If you want to talk to Edelgard, you can wait for her to come here herself.”

A frown came to Byleth’s lips, but she nodded. The response was enough for Manuela, letting go before she moved to examine Byleth’s current health. There was something about her heartbeat being weaker than normal. Almost like she still had a child’s heart.

Eventually the examination ended, and Byleth was left to lie in bed, staring out the window. There was nothing she could really do. She was used to spending her time training. Fighting. And yet she could barely even sit upright. She could read if she actually had any books, but none had been left for her. So all she could do was sit and think, or sleep.

The silence was eventually broken when the door opened once more. Byleth looked over to see Edelgard, a smile on the emperor’s face. She couldn’t help but smile back. The white-haired woman suddenly rushed forward, quickly coming to the side of the bed and pulling Byleth into a hug. She weakly put wrapped her arms around the emperor in response, enjoying the warmth of the other woman.

“I’m glad you’re awake, Byleth.” Edelgard let out a sigh, pulling away from the woman, concern clear in lilac eyes. “Do you have any idea how worried I was?”

“It’s okay, Edelgard. I’m here.” Byleth leaned forward, planting a kiss on Edelgard’s cheek. “Thank you. For helping me become human.”

A blush ran up Edelgard’s cheeks. “I’m not certain I did any such thing to help you.”

Byleth shook her head. “But my Crest Stone is gone. This never happened before. Perhaps it’s because I chose to fight alongside you. Against Rhea. So I have to thank you for that. For helping free me from reliving this war again.”

“Well…” Joy seemed to shine in lilac eyes at Byleth’s words. “Would you mind sharing your thanks again?”

The smile on Byleth’s lips grew as she gave Edelgard another kiss, though this time pressed against her lips.

The days passed, slowly becoming weeks. Edelgard would visit Byleth every day when the emperor finished her work. Though she couldn’t hold off returning to Enbarr forever. She would have to return to her throne and rule from there soon. Even if it meant leaving Byleth behind in better care at the monastery, which seemed more and more likely.

While the woman had been slowly recovering and becoming stronger, it was only just barely. She could easily sit up and move about her bed, and she was able to walk. But she could only stand and walk for so long before her legs gave out. She was still weak. Her heart was weak. She hated being unable to fend for herself. Unable to stand and fight. Stuck lying in bed. It only got worse when Edelgard’s visits became less frequent. She was going to leave soon. She had to leave soon. Byleth knew this. And yet she still wanted to see the emperor.

Today, she had spent much of her time reading, before being visited by Ferdinand. The entire conversation, Byleth’s limbs were screaming at her in pain from the lack of movement. She needed to go somewhere . To get up and move. Otherwise this pain would go on indefinitely. It was then that an idea came to mind. When Ferdinand got up to leave, Byleth quickly called after him. “Wait. Ferdinand. I need your help.”

The noble turned, quirking a brow. “And what would that be, Professor?”

“You know as well as I that I can’t exactly walk too far. So, I was wondering if you could help take me to see Edelgard.”

A frown came to the noble’s face. “Absolutely not! You are not allowed to leave this room. And if Edelgard finds out I helped you, I will be the one to be punished.”

Byleth grabbed Ferdinand’s sleeve, tugging at it. “Please. She hasn’t visited the past few days.” A frown came the woman’s lips as she looked away for a moment, when an idea came to her. “I’ll make sure you don’t get into trouble. Plus, wherever Edelgard is, Hubert probably is, too. You can go have coffee or tea with him.”

A conflicted look came across Ferdinand’s face, unsure of how to respond. He stayed that way for a few moments before sighing in defeat. “Very well. But you must keep your word.”

The blue-haired woman reached into her jacket pocket, hiding the ring in her hand before giving Ferdinand a smile. “I promise it’ll be fine.”

Ferdinand moved to put Byleth’s arm over his shoulders, one of his arms holding Byleth’s while the other moved around the woman’s back, under her other arm to hold her up. When he lifted her, Byleth’s feet still touched the ground, allowing her to step forward with the man and exercise her legs, though most of her body weight was lifted by Ferdinand, preventing her from becoming exhausted.

As they began to move through the halls and head down the steps to a lower floor, Byleth raised a brow. “You do know where Edelgard is, right?”

Ferdinand nodded. “Of course I do. Edelgard has been spending much of her time going to the same place every evening.”

This only made Byleth raise her brow higher, but she said nothing more, allowing Ferdinand to guide her. He carried her across the bridge to the cathedral before walking around the building. In the distance, Byleth could see Hubert standing outside the Goddess Tower.

The two walked closer and closer, before finally reaching Hubert just outside the door to the tower. The man narrowed his eyes at those before him. “Professor? What are you doing here?” His voice was both somewhat surprised and venomous, before turning to look to Ferdinand. “And why have you brought her here?”

Byleth shook her head, a small smile on her lips. “It’s okay, Hubert. I asked Ferdinand to bring me here. I just wanted to talk with Edelgard.”

Hubert continued to frown. “And you chose to risk collapsing to come all the way over here?”

The former professor gave a small nod. “I’m already here. Please, just let me talk to her. You can take this chance to have coffee with Ferdinand.”

Hubert’s lips pulled into a thin line, the man standing there for a few moments before letting out a small sigh. “Very well. If I were to turn you away, you’d simply try again.”

Byleth pulled her arm away from Ferdinand. “I can take it from here, then.”

Ferdinand gave the woman a concerned look, unwilling to believe her. “Are you certain, Professor?”


He begrudgingly let her down, allowing Byleth to walk forward and open the door. Slowly, she ascended the steps, leaning against the wall as support. She eventually made her way to the top, seeing Edelgard standing by the window, watching the sunset. Byleth stood tall, stepping forward, at which point the emperor heard her. “Hubert, I thought I told you to--”

As the emperor turned, her eyes lilac eyes widened. “Byleth?!”

Byleth took a few steps forward, before losing her footing and stumbling forward. Luckily, Edelgard was fast enough to run and catch the woman. “You’re supposed to be resting in the infirmary. What are you doing here?”

The blue-haired woman gave a small pout. “I wanted to see you.”

Edelgard let out a small sigh, shaking her head. “Well, I suppose you’ve done that, but was this really the best idea?”

Byleth smiled to Edelgard. “It worked. So yes.”

Letting out a defeated sigh, Edelgard helped carry Byleth over to the window so that the woman could lean against the wall and support herself, sitting slightly on the windowsill. The two looked out to the sunset together, enjoying the other’s presence. Both had thoughts on their mind. Words they wanted to speak to the other. Though it was difficult. Difficult to speak their minds.

The silence was eventually broken as Edelgard spoke her own thoughts. “The children of the goddess have been defeated at last. The shape of the world will be forever changed. Humanity is free now. The world is ours once more.” Edelgard looked back to Byleth as she spoke. “Can you believe it?”

Byleth shook her head. “It isn’t over yet. This is only the beginning.”

Edelgard looked away, eyes falling to the ground. “True. There is still much to be done. We can’t ignore the possibility that our enemies will resurface one day. In the end, the fate of this world depends on the choices we make.” Her lilac eyes slowly rose, gaze returning to Byleth’s. “I don’t know what the future holds, but come what may, will you stay by my side? You chose to protect me at the Holy Tomb. Will you choose me again?” Lilac eyes darted away, a tinge of pink entering Edelgard’s cheeks as she fumbled with something in her hands. “What I’m trying to say is...I need you.”

Letting out a sigh, a large smile came across Byleth’s face. “Very well, El. So long as you accept this.”

Byleth held out her hand, opening it to show her father’s silver ring in her palm. The blush on Edelgard’s cheeks deepened as she tripped over her words. “This’s lovely. Thank you, Byleth. I will happily accept it, but only if you accept this.” Edelgard opened her own hand to show a golden ring, decorated with a red gem. Lilac eyes darted away, unable to look at Byleth. “I know it’s foolish of me, but I must admit that even now, I feared my feelings would be unrequited.”

A small laugh laugh escaped Byleth’s lips. “It’s fine. I thought the same for quite some time, but there’s nothing to hold me back from admitting how I feel now. I’ll gladly accept your ring.”

Edelgard’s gaze returned to Byleth, a wide smile on the emperor’s lips. They exchanged their rings, before Edelgard pulled the taller woman into an embrace, the two sharing a kiss. The emperor moved to rest her head against Byleth’s chest, listening to the soothing sound of her heartbeat. “So long as I had you by my side, it never mattered how many enemies I amassed. You were all I needed. All this time, I longed to share my feelings with you, and it seems you wished the same. Now, our wishes have come true. This feeling...” Edelgard took in a deep breath, almost unable to take in the moment. “It’s overwhelming.”

Byleth kissed the top of Edelgard’s head, smiling against white hair as she enjoyed the scent of bergamot. “I was scared to admit my feelings. Scared that I would have to leave you again due to Sothis’s power. And yet, here I am. No longer bound to her like I once was. I’m free to live out my life. And I choose to spend it by your side.” Byleth pulled away from the hug so she might look into Edelgard’s lilac eyes once more. “I promise to always be there for you.”

“I promise the same. Together, we can achieve anything.” A more serious look came to Edelgard’s face, already thinking of what must be done in the future. “We will crush those who slither in the dark and restore peace and order to Fódlan. I will then find a suitable successor and hand over the reins of the Empire.” A small, hopeful smile crept up Edelgard’s lips. “When all that is done, it will be just the two of us. I look forward to starting our life together in the light of a glorious new dawn.”

“Such a thing seems to be a lifetime away.” The thought was somewhat sad, but Byleth continued to smile. “But I know we can do it, so let’s work to make it happen.”

“Yes, that is all we can do for now. We must remain focused on our goals.” Edelgard looked out to the sunset, lilac eyes glistening. “To think that I may truly call you my partner and equal now. The solitary reign of Edelgard has come to an end. From now on, we walk this path together. With time and care, the darkness shrouding this world will be lifted. You and I will become the light that shines over Fódlan...” Edelgard’s smile grew as she looked back to Byleth. “Just as you have shined upon my life.”

Together, they would work to fix the world and bring an end to the people’s suffering. But such was a long and difficult road they walked. This was only the beginning. For now, though, Byleth would bask in the joy of this moment.