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Fell Star Rising

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The fifth time Byleth Lilith Eisner was reborn, things were terribly out of sorts. For one thing, Sothis was already awake. Byleth, fetch that mirror, yawned the goddess, lounging not in the cramped quarters of the Remire cabin but somewhere in the back of her mind. You’ll want to see this.

Slim fingers carding through her sleep-mussed hair, Byleth tentatively obeyed, sliding off the bed to retrieve a hand mirror that had been lying on an old stool nearby. Sitting back down, the young woman steeled herself and slowly raised the looking glass.

Presently she wished she hadn’t. “Oh,” she breathed, hand trembling around the wooden handle.

Byleth’s appearance was, for once, inconsistent with the time period that she always landed in whenever thrown forcibly back in time. Today was that fateful night where she and the three lords had first met, but she already looked as she had after merging with Sothis: her neck bore no small scar, aventurine orbs beheld the world instead of blue, and the palest of green hair framed her delicate face in an otherworldly aureole.

But what truly bothered her about all this was the entirely new set of pointed, elfin ears peeking out from behind her hair.

A chill trickled down her spine as she gave her right ear an experimental flick. This newfound look of hers was a sign of something, but of what?

Of what indeed, wondered Sothis. You know, your ears look like mine now! How very curious—not to mention rather flattering, if you ask me—

The goddess’ musings went quiet as footsteps sounded. “Hey, kid,” Jeralt Eisner’s voice carried into the room. “You up yet?”

She unfroze seconds too late: her father was over the doorstep before she knew it.

“It’s about time to—wait, hold on, what’ve you done to yourself?”

Her throat dried up as her father began to stare, squinting at her as if beholding something too bright for the naked eye.

“Byleth, what’s with all this—these different colors, when’d you—“

Swallowing, she thought quickly. “What hair and eye color do I have normally?”

Jeralt Eisner blinked. “Your mother’s hair and eyes, of course—“

Throwing the mirror aside, she reached into the depths of her divine magic for the Pulse, hastily rewinding time until she was back at the start of her awakening. This time around, she didn’t mince about: decisively propping up the mirror against her pillow, she called forth a stream of magic and hastily netted a minor transformational spell around her head. By the time Jeralt Eisner came in to check on his daughter she was sitting up and grimly pulling a hairbrush through thick, tangled locks.

“So you are up. Oh, hey, if you’re actually doing your hair—mind if I do the honors?”

“I…oh, sure, Da,” she said with mild surprise, not bothering to correct him about her intentions.

Grinning, Jeralt thumped over and produced a hair tie from the supply he kept somewhere on him, before making short work of his daughter’s hair, braiding it into a sleek side tail the way he had used to do when she was a younger girl.

“Not bad, if I do say so myself,” her father remarked, regarding his handiwork with some pride. “Didn’t realise your hair had grown out again, but it looks good, By.”

Averting his gaze from his, she bit back a smile and blinked back a sudden pinch of tears at the feeling of his presence beside her, live and warm.

“So, about our mission,” Jeralt began, but was interrupted.

As if on cue, the world righted itself, and a mercenary by the name of Hughes came in through the door just as he had in the past few timelines.

“Jeralt, sir! Sorry to barge in, but your presence is needed—“

That could only mean one thing: despite the changes thus far, the fated encounter still awaited.

*****

Iron shivered and sang as the flame-eyed mercenary struck outwards, deflecting the bandit’s axe with such force that he went flying backwards. Without a word the young woman prowled forward to where he lay twitching and pounced, unsheathing a dagger and slitting his throat in one fluid motion. Satisfied that the last of the threats to the young lords was gone, she loosened up, and let out a very quiet sigh as she concealed her weapon.

Cruel in her disposal of the bandit, whose gang had been craftier and better manned than in previous timelines, she had perhaps acted too…out of character. But when she had seen the last bandit veer out of the dark undergrowth and snap towards the wrong person, something in her had come undone.

(Even with many memories asleep for sanity’s sake, with each reincarnation she remembered just enough to feel far, far too much—)

“Thank you,” murmured the young lord she had saved. “Were it not for you, I would’ve…”

She glanced over at the prince of Faerghus to find his attention resting squarely on her, cerulean eyes strange in their expression. The unexpected intensity of his gaze under the moonlight took her aback and stole her breath in a way the prior combat had not: she had not looked into those eyes for so very long, and when he looked at her like that, it felt almost as if he remembered that first life of theirs—

Come now, Byleth, said Sothis, suddenly gentle. I am sure that you will talk later.

Burying old longings a little deeper, she contented herself with a solemn nod in Dimitri’s direction, before turning to the pair approaching them.

Yet there was no respite to be found in Claude or Edelgard, for the minute she looked their way and tried to parse them into something familiar she found herself again at a loss: Claude stared her down with a stoniness that made her chest give another squeeze of dread; while a flushed Edelgard gazed at her with a raw, wide-eyed hunger which sent anxious trills down her spine and made her fingers twitch (whether for the girl or something else, she didn't know)—

Byleth, warned Sothis, cutting through the pain in her chest and diffusing it into some poor semblance of normality, I know they are behaving in an… uncanny manner, but do not lose yourself here. If they are also altered in some way this time, it would not do to let anything slip.

She was grateful when her father rode back up with Alois and truly dashed the reverie all to bits.

*****

Queerly enough, not one of the lords propositioned her as they had in the past; instead, Edelgard made admiring remarks about her technique but seemed exceptionally cagey; Dimitri expressed further gratitude for her actions and gravely informed her that Faerghus customs dictated that he now owed her a life debt; and Claude bantered in such an especially irreverent way about the whole affair that it made her half suspect he was laying some conversational snare for later on.

Yet travel towards Garreg Mach otherwise proceeded rather normally: Alois' troop lead the way, Jeralt and company just behind him, and Byleth fell back with the three students, each of whom seemed to remember themselves along the road. They lightly prodded her on the subject of mercenary life until she gave them silent social cues to change the subject, at which point they obligingly started talking about school, and also explained to her the reason for their ill-fated outing (interhouse bonding, apparently—something that struck Byleth as odd given that no emphasis was placed on such things at Garreg Mach, but which she put down to someone's personal initiative).

Parting of the ways came about faster than she would’ve liked: all oddities and stormy feelings aside, she found herself enjoying the trio's company in a wash of nostalgia. Edelgard and Dimitri left first, the former claiming to be pressed for time and the latter looking dark-eyed with thought. Claude stayed by her side some time after they left, though, walking with her until it was clear that their paths needed to branch.

“You know,” the young lord remarked, as they were about to part ways, “I wonder how much the Ashen Demon charges these days?”

This question surprised her, but this time she didn’t miss a beat. “If you wonder so much, perhaps you ought to find out.”

“Well, then, call me crazy, but I just might,” Claude replied, facetiously imitating Dimitri’s half bow with an easy smile and a catlike flicker of his green eyes.

She watched her former friend leave, idly wondering what he was up to as she allowed herself to be lead away to the conference room.

Chapter Text

Preoccupied as she had been with her former pupils during the trip, she hadn’t initially given thought to a possible meeting with Rhea, but setting foot in the conference room was enough to still her hands and shake her stride. In her last life’s campaign, she and Edelgard had dealt the finishing blows to a rampaging Seiros, but there stood the holy woman again, all blameless brilliance and bright regalia, and she almost couldn’t fathom it.

(she could not see Rhea again without tasting an acrid twist of guilt and being sharply soused with the ice of remembrance—of draconic fury and piercing condemnations, of crimson flames and relics’ fiendish glow—)

She snapped out of it as the woman peered at her more closely, but still her hackles were raised; trying to calm herself, she endeavoured to even her breaths.

Whatever unease ran through her had not, however, attracted Rhea’s attention. “As for you, I heard of your valiant efforts from Alois,” said the archbishop, “I see that you have indeed taken after your father in his prowess for combat, to say nothing of his courage. Please, do tell me your name, my dear.”

“My name is Byleth Eisner, Your Grace,” the mercenary replied, pressing a hand to her heart and giving a respectful inclination of the head.

Paying Rhea respects hadn’t been intentional, but perhaps living over and over again had rendered her more genteel; at any rate, she did notice that her deference elicited more of a response than her old threadbare politeness had, for Rhea’s lips quirked slightly, and something in the placid depths of her green gaze stirred.

“Oh Jeralt, my old friend, you truly have raised a fine daughter,” murmured Rhea, that all too alien gaze still on Byleth. “Truly, my dear, it is my pleasure to thank you for saving three of our beloved students… and I am certain that they will not soon forget their debts to you.”

Beside her Jeralt shifted and coughed, prompting Byleth to slide her glance sideways just in time to catch him entering somewhat truculent stance that she knew to mean he was masking some nerves; regretting her overfamiliarity now, she mentally kicked herself.

Rhea finally looked away to her father. “Jeralt, am I correct in assuming that you know what it is I wish to say?”

“You want me back with the Knights of Seiros,” the former Captain said gruffly.

The archbishop gave another of her pale, measured smiles. “Indeed.”

And that seemed to be that: they were dismissed until the next day—but no sooner had Byleth moved after her father than she halted on some impulse, glancing back at the archbishop.

Rhea’s face was now tilted towards a window, gazing up at the cloudless, endless sky, and in the bright light pouring over the woman's fine features, Byleth was sure that she saw the pupils in her eyes slit.

****

In the end, an offer for her teaching at the monastery did come through—an announcement from her father that swept unease through her heart. A little scattered, and unsure of what to do at this point, Byleth made a small show of wandering around the monastery, deftly playing the role of mysterious outsider. She did briefly speak to the House leaders after all three caught her lurking about, but otherwise did not engage with the Houses' students as she might’ve in earlier, brighter pasts; she had a conundrum on her hands that could only be resolved through action.

And so it was that a bout of pacing about the monastery lead her back to face said conundrum, mind overtaken by one insistent, pressing idea.

I hope you know what you are doing, Byleth, said Sothis, a note of trepidation in her voice as Byleth strode back to the audience chamber.

Not in the slightest, Byleth thought truthfully, prompting the goddess to fall off some mental perch as she came to a halt in front of the assembled party.

“You have arrived quite swiftly,” noted the Archbishop, her eyes tracing that inevitable path to Byleth's own.

Remembering what she had seen of that same gaze yesterday, Byleth had to suppress a shiver as she replied, “Yes, Your Grace." Better to stay on Rhea's good side, no matter what her father might think. "I have given your offer serious consideration.”

Rhea’s head canted ever so gently, lips melting into a gentle smile. “Is that right, my dear? Very well, then… Professors Manuela and Hanneman have agreed to let you have your first pick of the Houses—”

“There is no need for that," Byleth interrupted.

In the ensuing silence the drop of a pin might’ve echoed throughout the whole room. Manuela and Hanneman exchanged a wordless glance as Rhea’s eyes narrowed slightly.

“Please, do go on,” said the Archbishop very, very mildly.

“I accept your offer of teaching with all my heart. However… I cannot bring myself to choose a House.”

Hanneman spluttered, re-adjusting his monocle, while Manuela sucked in a breath, painted lips pursing.

And Rhea—Rhea’s politeness suddenly had an edge. “Why is that, Byleth?”

“I am inexperienced in teaching, so such a… pivotal role as guiding a House should not fall to me. I would like to gain some experience as a regular professor first.” Sensing the rising tension, she quickly added, "And truthfully, I would like to come to know all of the students.” A deep breath. “That said, I propose that I instead…gain experience by teaching combat instruction. I could also help out as a teacher’s aide, at times.”

Rhea’s facade had not thawed, but there was a calculating feel to her now that Byleth thought she could appeal to. Sifting through her memories, she remembered Dorothea’s many flirtations and decided on a more cunning tack of her own, looking up through her lashes before saying, with sheer honesty, “I would like to do my very best for you.”

Rhea blinked.

“Very well, then, Byleth,” she said slowly. “I can see now that you have indeed given careful consideration to my offer... in that case, I shall accept your proposal and will hold you to your word. We shall simply ask a more experienced teacher to fill the position you cannot.”

Byleth let out a sigh she hadn’t known she was holding and gave the woman a tentative smile.

Just like that, something had changed.

*****

Shrugging off her overcoat when alone in her old quarters, Byleth considered her brand new position. In the end, Rhea had determined that while she would eventually host seminars, she was primarily to train students in martial arts that their main professors didn’t specialise in. It was a good fit insofar as Byleth was concerned, as it meant that she would be effectively working with the students of all three Houses.

Speaking of the students… she hadn’t yet decided how to approach them in this life. She only knew that she desired to ease tensions between the three Houses — to tear brick by brick the divides that were between them always. Perhaps such a hope was foolish, and only would feed future tragedy, but even in her war-worn soul she couldn’t help but wonder—

Bleak thoughts of the impending future were chased away by a rapping at her door.

Oh? I wonder who that might be, Sothis said interestedly. It sounds like quite a bit of company.

“Come in.”

Surprise subtly widened blue eyes as the door opened and she came face to face with a slightly breathless band of Blue Lions. The group was lead by Dimitri and Dedue, of course, but just beyond their broad shoulders was Mercedes, cradling a cloth-covered basket; Ashe and Annette, both shielding tiny bouquets of flowers from being crushed by sudden movement; and a softly bickering Ingrid and Sylvain with grumpy Felix in tow—in other words, the main pride of lions was out to play.

Soon enough the whole room was occupied past capacity, Byleth having silently indicated for the students to sit or stand anywhere they pleased in her currently unpersonalised living space. She herself was slight enough to fit in the heart of the den, and so spoke from there, feeling an odd feeling tingle her chest as she did so.

“What is the meaning of this?” she quizzed the students, her deadpan tone making her sound sterner than intended.

The reaction was instant: Ingrid and Sylvain turned knowing looks on Dimitri, Ingrid obviously suppressing a smile and Sylvain angling a smirk, while Mercedes giggled and Felix rolled his eyes as the prince’s white cheeks tinged scarlet.

“Professor, I am aware that this is somewhat unorthodox, but we all wished to welcome you to the academy,” Dimitri began to explain, awkwardness seeping into his manner and stiffening his perfect posture. “I know that you are not our main professor, but we were informed that we’ll be having quite a few lessons with you, and so…”

The prince’s normally replete well of eloquence ran dry at that moment, and all were quiet until a voice peeped to the rescue: Annette had literally tripped over herself in an effort to break the silence, Felix just managing to catch her by the wrist as she flushed, raised her head upwards, and said with an enthusiastic bob of the head, “We heard all about your saving Dimitri, Professor! If it weren’t for you, well, we’d be short a House Leader, and Faerghus wouldn’t have its Crown Prince, and—oh, here!”

Dedue nodded as Annette thrust a small bouquet of sky-blue flowers into Byleth’s arms, his ever-watchful gaze lightening somewhat at the sentiments expressed. “We are in your debt, Professor.”

“These are also for you,” Ashe piped up, handing Byleth a corresponding bouquet of white flowers as he flashed that sweet, disarming smile of his. “Perhaps you can use them to decorate in here?”

“…I could,” Byleth said weakly, head spinning with verdant scents and this…reunion of sorts.

“Don’t forget what I baked,” Mercedes said in her light trill of a voice, small hand patting her wares. “We brought cake for you, professor.”

“You—shouldn’t have—“ Byleth said, her voice becoming a tad strangled.

“Hey, it’s our pleasure to welcome such a capable and charming professor to the school,” Sylvain winked from her bed (which he was unashamedly dominating). “Speaking of which, are we allowed to register for one-on-one training sessions? Because I’d definitely love to take advantage—“ he let out a pained yelp as Ingrid’s boot found his and delivered a solid grind.

“Ye-es, Professor, it is our pleasure,” Ingrid affirmed sternly, just before remembering to give a smile for the occasion. “As citizens of Faerghus and your students, we thank you.”

Despite herself—despite the part of her that feared reattachment and repeated suffering—there was still in Byleth a deep, chasmic want to reach out again, and she could only curse herself as that softness made her yield.

“I… thank you all for the effort,” she said, pressing the flowers to her bosom in a feeble, instinctive effort to hide the feelings clattering brokenly inside her chest. “This is a wonderful welcome. Thank you.”

She meant it.

The juxtaposition of her soft-voiced thanks and her gelid features seemed to weaken the Blue Lions’ resolve somewhat; a collective sheepishness rose and gazes were averted.

Oh, my. It seems that you’ve made an impression without even trying this time, an amused Sothis said a little gleefully, kicking her feet in the back of Byleth’s mind. That could prove interesting...

“Hmph, well, we’d probably best get out of here now,” Felix muttered abruptly, crimson eyes flickering towards the exit.

Something tugged again inside Byleth at his reaction and she shook her head slightly. “Wait. Why don’t you introduce yourselves? I’d like to know who to thank for all of this,” she gestured expansively, flowers in hand.

Dimitri was the first to look back over at her, his vagueness evaporating as frank surprise shone out his azure eyes.

“You'd like to—“ he started, misspeaking for a rare moment before righting himself, some of the ease returning to his posture as familiar ground in teacher-student relations was found. “Oh, of course, Professor. Well then, everyone, why don’t we do just that, and all introduce ourselves in turn?”

This time she couldn't help but give a faint smile.

Chapter Text

Monastery routine was engrossing, but thoughts of the war plagued her whenever she was well and truly alone. The memories were hardest to surprise then, beating at her brain like condemned souls against the blade-thin boundary between heaven and hell; oftentimes, she felt an unpleasant saturation of her soul—like she was about to burst for surfeit of something nameless. Today was no different, for with the House professors administering class tests she’d retired early for the day, and dark thoughts had crashed into her mind before she could so much as steer away and sail a different course. One question cycled constantly through her head: how would war be waged this time?

As always Byleth’s thoughts turned first to Edelgard. Fate had shown that the imperial princess was a constant that could not be changed, and a lost cause insofar as dissuasion was concerned: for all the hidden softness the girl was capable of showing her allies, there was a flame-forged conviction in her that would cut a crimson path no matter the cost. One way or another, Edelgard would spur a power struggle yet again…

Edelgard aside, however, there was the question of the war’s underlying factor; namely, those who slithered in the dark, the remaining Agarthans. She reckoned that her best bet of changing something for the better would be to eliminate them as swiftly as possible.

Yet, for all her powers, borrowed and grown alike, to accomplish such a high-minded goal she would need allies.

Who, then? Her students were out of the question, in that sense; she had grieved too many times over their deaths and didn’t think that their loyalties would allow them to follow her into such a strange quest… but perhaps joining with Rhea directly and confessing select information might work—that way, she’d have the Church at her disposal.

Byleth frowned to herself. It was a cruel, calculating way to think, but if she could use Rhea the way Rhea had oft attempted to use her, then perhaps… perhaps… the war could end early. Perhaps all could yet be saved…

But there was the question of the resets, and they were what made Byleth’s blood run truly cold. Why were they happening, and would they stop were this war to end differently? She’d have to find out what was going on with them, with the ears, and all the rest. She was convinced they’d stop if she were to get things just right, but was that even a well-founded hope?

(And what had gone so wrong in the past timelines that she’d eventually come to this one?)

Heaving a sigh, she leaned down onto the desk and buried her head in her arms. For all that she was god-touched, the world hung on her shoulders in a way that made her acutely aware of how much mortality was yet within her.

Still, I am here for you, Byleth, Sothis promised somberly, pressing a reassuring palm to Byleth’s temple. We shall face this new world together.

That was another odd thing about this place, though: Sothis had been silent for a long time, only appearing towards the end of each timeline. This time, however, she was here, just as she had been at the very beginning—sleepy, and often silent, but present nonetheless.

Byleth couldn’t be more grateful for her dear friend’s presence. In all the paths she’d walked, she had missed the hum of Sothis’ musings more than she could say, for when no one but the goddess saw what she did, the path she walked was an excruciatingly lonely one.

*****

Half-formed memories whirled about her each time she stepped through the monastery, dancing through her mind like stray flower petals loosed from shaken tree boughs, and it was not long before she found herself swimming against the tides of her mind again, snippets of conversations and flashes of occurrences from timelines past waving blurs through her mind. It seemed as though things were starting to slip through the cracks of the voluntary memory suppression. It was a… cause for concern.

Sothis tried to calm her. We’ll just put a few more to sleep, she said, the beginnings of their shared power washing over those errant thoughts. You’ll only remember the most important things.

But did she want to keep forgetting, Byleth wondered, swirling to parry Lorenz in a clash of dulled swords.

(Did she? She didn’t know. All she could recall was the creeping despair of losing her resolve to try yet again—)

She saw Lorenz retreating to try a swing again, but didn’t let him get away, taking advantage of his opening instead and bringing the dulled blade solidly into his side. Giving a sharp exhale, the flushed noble blanched, dropped to his knees, and squawked, “I yield, Professor!”

(--and giving up, for Byleth's purposes, would not do.)

“Remember, if your lance breaks in battle, and you’re forced off your horse, you’ll need this knowledge,” Byleth told Lorenz, taking in the dismayed look on the pompous noble’s face with some fond amusement. “Relying on one weapon alone is foolish—never mind your natural inclinations. This knowledge could save your life one day…” she sighed, “besides that, as a noble heir you would do well to know swordplay.”

A slow clap sounded from behind her, and she lowered her weapon.

“Nice work, Teach. Not just anyone can suss out Lorenz and make him come all undone like this,” Claude remarked, provoking the panting noble into huffing out a ‘preposterous, Claude’ with the last of his breaths.

Byleth ignored Claude for a moment, instead holding out a hand to the young noble who grudgingly accepted it. Avoiding her gaze, Lorenz pulled himself upwards, then edged over to where his peers sat nursing their respective wounds and pride, taking the seat Leonie kindly made for him.

Byleth’s eyes strayed back towards the House leader’s. “You don’t want to fight, do you, Claude?” She pointed to the abandoned sword.

“Whoa, Teach, no need to round on me,” the brunet held up both hands in mock surrender, “I was just admiring your form. Besides, you’ve gone through all us Golden Deer already. I think we’re at an impasse here.”

She glanced over to where Leonie was busy administering salve to Lysithea’s bruises, a very sweaty Raphael was stretching in front of an unappreciative Ignatz, and Marianne lay in a dead swoon against Hilda, who was fanning the blue-haired girl with a free hand.

Pretty lips pursing a moment, she glanced back at Claude, blue eyes catching green. Byleth's combat instruction sessions consisted of endurance training, fighting in pairs, and student-on-teacher sessions, and it was no wonder to her that under Hanneman’s limited guidance the Golden Deer House was acclimatising to the challenge more slowly than, say, Jeritza’s Blue Lions, who came from a land where combative knowledge was expected; while the Golden Deer had a few hearty fighters such as Leonie, Hilda, and Raphael, the group was by and large unused to physical exertion. This was changing, but it still concerned her a little given the state of affairs in the monastery…

“Your class may have won the mock battle, but do you think you’re ready for your first mission, von Riegan?”

“Ready as I’ll ever be with you by our side,” Claude said composedly. “It’s good that you’re stepping in for Professor Hanneman—I can’t think of anyone better suited to commanding our first battle.”

When Claude regarded her with another strange look, her still heart ached again for a long, bitter moment, and she wondered why even his false smiles were tighter than in the past.

*****

On the day of the Red Canyon hunt, Jeritza appeared with his Blue Lions in tow.

“The reported number of bandits is greater than previously reported,” the masked man intoned dully as they moved along, eyes not so much as flickering to the female mercenary. “As such, we are to… join forces.”

The faint distaste in his words carried easily on the faint wind stirring the day. Byleth couldn’t say that she didn’t feel the same way about him, not having grown fond of the masquerading Death Knight in any lifetime of hers; burying her deep dislike for the man beneath a carefully schooled expression, she nodded, resigning herself to teamwork.

Meanwhile, Claude and Dimitri seemed to strike an accord, the Golden Deer leader reaching out to grasp for one of the latter's gauntleted hands, and the Blue Lions leader returning the handshake with a firm grip that prompted a, “Watch that Crest of yours, your Princeliness, I need all my fingers intact for marksmanship, you know?”, which in turn resulted in a hasty apology.

This meeting of the leaders translated to a great deal less tension from the Golden Deer students, who had hitherto been silent on the march — Marianne worrying the hilt of her sword and Ignatz fiddling with the strap of his quiver, Hilda adjusting her grip on her axe and Raphael bemusedly mashing his gauntlets together, Lorenz forming little fireballs in the palm of one hand as he marched along with lance in the other — and soon enough there was a quiet undercurrent of conversation between the members of the two Houses.

Passing through sloping hill and forested mountain, they eventually reached the part of the terrain that gave way to crags and a dusty aridness, arriving at a stretch of unoccupied land. Just before them was a tight squeeze of a stone bridge, beyond which barren lands dotted by a number of people could be seen.

Immediately the aura of the party changed when they beheld this, the uplifted mood that had prevailed over the mixed band giving way to a sober silence only broken up by the wind's moans throughout the canyon. That was just as well: this was no mock battle.

“We begin,” said Jeritza, as some of the distant figures began drawing nearer.

The two classes mingled awkwardly, Byleth’s Golden Deer taking command of the first bridge as the Blue Lions waited to pass. Once they had taken out the small vanguard that guarded the bridge and all had crossed over, Byleth inwardly cringed, thinking this all a bit clustered for her liking. Nevertheless, seeing three bandits fast approach the north bridge, she quickly barked, “Ignatz, Claude, Lysithea, scatter them!“

Claude gave a mock salute and quickly strung his bow, Ignatz following suit in a more shaky manner. A blank-faced Lysithea conjured a fireball that she unleashed after the bandits made to dodge the arrows, her spell finding its mark in the middle bandit’s chest; toppling over with an agonised cry, the stricken bandit rolled desperately to try and to put the spreading fire out, getting in the way of his fellows as he did.

“Raphael, Hilda, Leonie, now!”

Leonie got there first, spinning her lance around to pierce the felled bandit in the chest; bringing the lance back upwards after the first sick squelch, she stabbed again, as if to make sure that the bandit was well and truly dead. The look of determination in her eyes was grim, accepting.

Next, Raphael barrelled into the fray with a loud cry, sweeping up the leftmost bandit in a brutal clash of gauntlets against skull, just avoiding the heavy axe coming his way. Fortunately, Hilda was quick to back him up, the pink-haired girl bringing her axe head down into the offending bandit’s arm, severing it from the body. As the limbless bandit went down with a howl, the duo moved to vanquish the remaining one.

Byleth’s jaw dropped a little at the ferociousness of the students, but didn’t linger on it, instead patting a nauseated-looking Marianne on the shoulder before turning towards the Blue Lions, sans Jeritza, who was strangely enough nowhere to be seen.

She hesitated to command them only for a second, thinking it was a good thing that she’d asked to be kept up to date on the professors’ notes on the three classes.

“Choke off that point!” The blue-haired mercenary indicated the western bridge. “Dedue, Dimitri! Forward!”

The duo, by far the most vital on their team, did not hesitate even under foreign command, moving in time to block off the bandits coming over the bridge. The young men’s synchrony paid off: their assault was so fierce that one of the bandits went crashing over the bridge, down into the gorge far below, while the other fell to a combined sweep of Dimitri’s lance and Dedue’s axe.

Next she turned towards the newest northern advance, figuring it was time for some of the other Blue Lions to get some experience. “Annette, Mercedes—drive them back from the rear!” The girls obeyed instantly, launching a barricade of wrathful fire and slicing wind. “Sylvain, Felix—head in and clear up!”

They obliged, but as minutes ticked away only a few more rogues moved towards either side, and she frowned. The core of the bandits’ group was not following now, having elected to remain on the other side after the students’ excellent showing—how best to tackle them? Splitting up to pin them on both sides would be a good idea, but Jeritza wasn’t around to command the Blue Lions, so going in a slow stream down one end was the only option…

Fortunately for their tactics, Jeritza suddenly appeared as if by magic by her side. “There was a troop to the back,” he said, blood-spattered and stoic. “Let us proceed.”

Byleth just went with his excuse, which seemed reasonable enough given the state of his clothes. “A pincer attack,” she suggested, and the masked man nodded vaguely.

The two split their respective groups up again, leading them down the two bridges when something struck her as odd. Was that—?

“Miklan!” Sylvain cried out in the west.

Miklan?! Sothis exclaimed in her mind. So, disposing of that Kostas bandit has lead to this?

There indeed was Sylvain’s estranged brother, standing tall in the ruins and surrounded by burly rogues.

And he had The Lance of Ruin with him.

Chapter Text

Immediately her mind whipped backwards to Jeralt’s mention of a special case on their hands, to Catherine’s approach hushing him up—and a split second later, she realised that someone’s intel had been wrong.

“Sylvain,” roared the bandit leader, scarred face twisting with contempt for the redheaded scion. “And look, you brought the rest of your brat friends—that’s just perfect!”

A fleet of archers suddenly emerged from behind the ruins, bows twanging as they let arrows loose into both groups of students. Byleth just managed to knock Marianne out of the way before the girl could suffer an arrow to the eye, but the other students weren’t so lucky: Raphael was shot twice by virtue of being such a large target while Ignatz took a bad hit to the knee, and Ingrid was shot twice in the abdomen, prompting her to issue an anguished cry.

“Morons, I said to kill the heirs first!” Miklan yelled, and something ticked in Byleth’s quick mind. Miklan was acting as though he had been contracted to eliminate a target, specifically—?

Claude and Dimitri.

She whirled around to find them. Claude was fortunately doing just fine, aiming back at the archers with a frighteningly cold sense of resolve in his gaze; nocking three arrows in rapid succession, he loosed a barrage on the archers aiming for the Golden Deer. Yet at the forefront of the Blue Lions, Dimitri was completely exposed—

Ignoring the quick bite of panic at her chest, Byleth swiftly shouldered her own bow and targeted the archer carefully aiming for the prince’s heart, shooting off an arrow that caught the man in the hand and successfully thwarted his attack.

“Marianne, heal, stat!” Byleth then snapped at the retching blue-haired girl, who tumbled forward, wiped her mouth on her sleeve, and began chanting a healing incantation, shakily moving her hands across the body of a floundering, heaving Raphael. “Everyone else, stay back!”

“Do not advance,” Jeritza rumbled to his class in turn. “Mercedes, take care of your classmates.”

As the blonde healer hastened to comply, she and Jeritza simultaneously glanced out at Miklan then exchanged a look of understanding. She knew that her fellow teacher appreciated the Relic for what it was from the slightly wild, excited look in his light eyes. Wordlessly the two professors cooperated, moving forward together in a deadly advance. Moving with grace, Jeritza forged ahead to slay the archers targeting the Blue Lions; in a trice Byleth made to match his efforts, effortlessly cutting down the wounded archers nearest the Golden Deer with a few swift slashes of her own sword.

The most pressing issue on the battlefield was thus resolved; unfortunately, however, the axe-wielding rogues took that opportunity to skirt around the teachers, targeting the students. The reinvigorated youth were ready for the bandits this time, though: Dimitri and Sylvain struck out in fast slashes of angry movement, while Claude pulled out his sword and Lorenz his lance; in a flash, the students and bandits became a frenetic melee of grunts and stabs and gasps—until, suddenly, the only one left was Miklan.

The bloodied, victorious students pulled back as Byleth and Jeritza approached him together, drawing close enough to see the sweat beading Miklan’s throat.

“You will die now,” said Jeritza.

Miklan let out a sneering, slightly hysterical laugh. “Don’t think so, maggot!”

Whorls of red and black began to seep out of the Lance of Ruin like some sort of weeping poison, swirling up Miklan’s arm until it was enveloped whole. Yet Miklan did not heed this change, wholly focused on sweeping the lance in Jeritza’s direction as he was—

And then the redhead gave a bellow that shook the earth on which they stood, and suddenly he wasn’t man, but a black beast of warped scale and crooked claw, towering over the wastelands and seething with sick breath and fell intentions. Gasps came from the students as the monster tossed its head and roared, grabbing Jeritza and forcefully tossing him aside; the swordsmaster hit the ground near the Blue Lions with a sickening crack.

Byleth winced as Mercedes mindlessly rushed over to the unconscious man, but didn't have time to dwell on Jeritza's status as she was forced to dodge the other extending claw—if only just.

“Professor!” came a cry or three or ten, but she wasn’t paying attention, having had to weave away from the feral beast’s stomping claws as it came roughly down on all fours.

“Long distance attack,” yelled Byleth, pivoting to face the monster head on. “EVERYONE, NOW.”

Despite the professor's proximity to the beast both groups obliged, a storm of sharp arrows and glistening spells heading outwards; meanwhile, Byleth dropped to her feet and rolled to dodge the incoming projectiles, intending for them to hit the beast instead. These maneuvers were successful, yet the beast, angered by the two groups of attackers, began to convulse, corrosive sludge spewing from its maw—too far away from the students to hit them, but just close enough for Byleth to be affected. Feebly, she threw up her arm to protect her face only to hack on the dark matter anyways—acid began to agonise the skin of her hand and lips, sweltering through her neck and burning like the fires of Ailell—

A frantic chorus of, “Professor!” rang, and among them a loud, “Teach!”

Oh, bother, groaned Sothis, and the fabric of time began to twist.

She and Sothis rewound to just before the beast started to shake, at which point she struck out with her blade to try and stun it before it could gag out the bilious mess. Yet the tactic didn’t work, and again the poison began to leak—

“Professor!” “Teach!”

Suddenly, dark, thick vines surged from the ground, breaking through the earth and wrapping themselves around the beast’s head and mouth. Still a little dizzy from the rapid use of divine pulse, Byleth cried out in surprise, but didn’t waste time contemplating who or what had conjured the vines throttling the thing and stoppering its attack; wherever the glut of plant life had come from, she would have to take advantage of its weakening the beast. Coughing, she rose to her feet, dark blue eyes relighting with determination as she gestured sharply towards the beast.

“Frontal attackers, advance!”

The single-range fighters from either side came. Sylvain and Dimitri lead the Blue Lions in a charge towards the left flank, Sylvain with a look of fatalism about him, and Dimitri with a fiercely single-minded look; meanwhile, an outraged Hilda and a roaring Raphael lead the Golden Deer towards the beast’s right flank, both kicking up dust in their wake. Together, the students struck the beast with their deadliest blows, successfully stunning it.

Byleth herself swung into action then, braid whipping behind her as she brought her blade down on the beast’s head in a slash of dark gore and black blood.

“Sylvain! Now!"

If he was remorseful about hurting his transformed brother, the Gautier didn’t show it: face set into a steely, resolute look, and hands glowing a faint red as his crest activated, he spun his lance round and hurled it bodily through the beast’s breast.

The transformed Miklan gave a wretched cry, and all ground to a shuddering halt: in a moment the black beast’s form dissipated in a burst of unwinding tendrils of darkness, leaving only the former Gautier’s prone form and a pulsating Lance of Ruin behind.

Brown eyes dulling, Sylvain staggered backwards. She caught him by the shoulder and glanced over at the worn students on either side, catching sight of Marianne, Mercedes, and Lysithea moving in with healing magic, and a crimson-painted Claude and Dimitri supporting each other, then heaved out a sigh.

The students’ maiden battle was over.

*****

Rhea was one of her most joyous incarnations yet: the woman practically radiated grace and favour after hearing Byleth’s report on the battle and being handed the accursed Lance of Ruin; in fact, she even gave explicit thanks to Sothis for the favourable outcome and took it upon herself to shower Byleth in sacerdotal largesse.

“Professor, I must say that you have by far exceeded my expectations of you. Unexpectedly retrieving a Hero’s Relic whilst commanding students in their first battle—one so that went so heinously wrong, at that… the Goddess has truly blessed us with your presence at the monastery.” Rhea gave a slight dip of her head, hands clasping as if in prayer. “Again, I implore you to see to it that the students do not speak of what happened with the transformation…”

Byleth nodded from where she had knelt to receive the Archbishop’s overjoyed blessing, and rose to her feet. “I will.”

Rhea smiled brilliantly. “From now on, I think we ought to have you involved in monthly missions whenever your schedule permits. Your tactical knowledge would be an invaluable asset to the students’ training in the field.”

From his silent position near the Archbishop, her advisor’s brow visibly knit—yet Seteth did not raise any objections as he might’ve in the past, only eying Byleth with a queer, assessing look in his green eyes. Byleth glanced his way for a moment, wondering about his taciturnity; while Seteth hadn’t been so vehemently opposed to her appointment this time around, he was, like Claude, exhibiting particular caution whenever she entered his presence…

“Understood, Your Grace."

On the other side of the coin, Rhea seemed to have grown readily attached to her. It was somewhat unsettling that she had become this way in so short a span of time, but she figured that it could only be a good thing for her eventual intents and purposes.

“As for the Lance of Ruin, House Gautier has asked to return it to its rightful heir, so we shall do just that.” Rhea passed an almost covetous glance over the lance before smiling at Byleth anew.

*****

“Claude? No wonder you’re having trouble finding him, he’s a hard guy to catch,” Hilda said, pausing in her pinning of Marianne’s hair to scrunch up her nose in thought. “But we saw him with Dimitri earlier. By the looks of it, they were reaaaally deep in conversation.”

Having thusly mentally exerted herself, Hilda resumed her work, gently attaching an ornament to the right side of Marianne’s head. Byleth watched her show the girl her reflection in a hand mirror; she had essentially made up the girl's hair as usual, but with the lovely addition of what appeared to be one of her home-made ornaments, a white beribboned little thing with a sculpted flower in its center.

“Doesn’t she look gorgeous, Professor?”

Byleth’s lips gave a slight curve. “Yes, she does.”

“Hilda! P-Professor,” Marianne protested weakly, blushing. “That’s n-not true, I…"

“Marianne, you’re objectively a very beautiful girl,” said Byleth plainly. “Outwardly, and inwardly.”

Hilda blinked at this, looking surprised but not displeased, while Marianne, looking shocked, gulped in some air like a fish out of water.

“Um! Professor, I think Claude and Dimitri went towards the training grounds,” the blue-haired girl rushed out, blue eyes blinking back what looked like tears. “I-I hope that helps!”

“Oh, thank you,” said Byleth, and swept away, inwardly sighing at her weakness for those kids of hers.

(Past attachments didn’t let go so easily, even if exact memories did.)

*****

Neither Claude nor Dimitri were at the training area; instead, what she found outside was an encampment of Blue Lions, all of whom were (encouragingly enough) practicing the skills that she trained them in during the weekdays.

“Dimitri and Claude? Came in for a bit, but left ages ago,” yawned Sylvain, who was all too happy to drop his weapon and stop sparring Ingrid as soon as Byleth approached to question them. Putting his arms up behind his shoulders in his usual carefree gesture, he added cheekily, “What gives, Professor? You look pretty concerned—have those two been naughty boys that need some disciplining?”

Byleth blushed slightly at the Gautier’s wicked intimations, but hid her expression by looking in the direction of Ashe and Felix, who were still deep in swordplay.

A groan from Ingrid. “Pay him no mind, Professor. Sylvain’s mind goes to the gutt—er, to unreasonable lengths fairly quickly,” the aspiring pegasus knight said, then feigned clipping Sylvain in the side with her lance in order to force him out of his relaxed posture. Smirking victoriously at the unpleasantly surprised redhead, she then smiled over at Byleth. “He is correct about one thing though—His Highness and Claude weren’t here for long… I think they went out to the Second Floor?”

“To the Library,” intoned Dedue, making the three of them jump. The largely built Duscurian had stopped his hand axe throws a while ago—likely at the mention of his liege lord—and was now looking at them with all his usual stolidity. “That’s where I believe you will find them now, Professor.”

*****

She saw why they might’ve gone to the library once she arrived there: today it had the absolute illusion of privacy. Silence reigned over the place on any day, but this afternoon not even Solon-Tomas was present there; indeed, the only things the place was rife with were tightly filed volumes and the wafting scent of centuries-old parchment.

As luck would have it, Dimitri and Claude were sharing a table not far from the giant globe suspended in the very back of the collection, heads bent over what appeared to be two open journals. Moving silently forward with her usual slinking gait, Byleth came close enough to the absorbed couple that her sharp eyes made out the header word ‘dreams’ and a page featuring what appeared to be a mind map of sorts.

Intrigued, she drew closer. “Claude? Dimitri?”

Immediately she regretted approaching them so cavalierly, for a frisson of fear ran through the air at her words, and both young men jumped near out of their skins (Claude less gracelessly than Dimitri, who outright banged his knees into the table and snapped the quill he had been scribbling with). The blonde and brunette both swivelled around in their seats, staring at her in a mutual kind of… horror?

“Oh! Good afternoon, Professor,” Dimitri said quickly.

“Oh, Teach. Hey…” Claude’s gaze strayed.

There was an undeniably guilty air about the whole scenario, but as it wasn't her place to inquire, Byleth ignored the beginnings of a burning curiosity to greet them both with a nod.

Dimitri cleared his throat and spoke then, something forced in his voice. “It’s a lovely Saturday, is it not?”

“Yes, which is why I find it odd that you two are indoors,” Byleth snarked irrepressibly.

“Touché,” admitted Claude, chuckling in a reflexive sort of way.

“I’ve come to speak to you two on behalf of Lady Rhea.”

For all Claude’s inscrutability, the narrowing of his gaze spoke volumes of what he thought of this. “What did she say, Teach?”

“Please, Professor,” said Dimitri abruptly, standing roughly to pull out a chair. “Please, do sit.”

She noticed the two notebooks and parchment had disappeared somewhere in the confusion, but said nothing of it. Briefly she wondered what on earth they felt they needed to hide, but forced herself to quash the intrusive thoughts, trying to refocus on the matter at hand.

“It’s alright, Dimitri. I was merely told to let you both know that you must not let anyone in your Houses speak of what happened in the battle--with the Lance of Ruin. The implications, you understand…” Having a high opinion of both their intellects, she didn’t feel the need to elaborate, and so trailed off.

“I’ll inform everyone of this matter,” Dimitri swore. “You needn’t worry about anyone talking in an untoward fashion about the… incident. Thank you for telling us, Professor.”

Claude nodded in agreement. “I’ll see to it that Hilda and Lorenz don’t run their mouths,” he joked. “No letters home to Holst or daddy dearest for sure.”

Byleth couldn’t help it: a snicker got away from her at that, and she barely stifled it with a fist. “Alright, you two. I trust you.”

She said this lightly, but she couldn’t help but notice the odd look that passed between them at that… odd, odd, odd. Between their behavior and the strange appearance of Miklan early on, she had a lot to think about...

Chapter Text

The Miklan question troubled her for a bit, but she eventually figured that that the former employer was unlikely to pull the same stunt again given how drastically it had failed, Relic-wielder notwithstanding. Bearing in mind the way in which the whole bandit scheme had been arranged, it also seemed that point blank assassination within the walls of the monastery was out of the question for said employer. Thus, for now Claude and Dimitri would remain...relatively safe.

At any rate, the shock battle with the Black Beast seemed to unify the two Houses somewhat; moreover, the Golden Deer and Blue Lions both warmed to Byleth considerably. Training sessions suddenly became something to look forward to as the Golden Deer went from hesitant to more open around her, and the Blue Lions adopted a habit of arriving early and leaving late.

Individual students changed, too; for instance, in the Golden Deer, Leonie became more pliant and eager for instruction, claiming that ‘Captain Jeralt’s teachings really showed in Professor Byleth’s tactics’; Ignatz began subtly assisting her whenever she so much as hinted that she needed something; Lysithea shocked her with the sweetness of her concern one day when she was feeling particularly sad one Monday morning; and Hilda started to fuss over her appearance at the oddest of times, swearing up and down that ‘her professor would look even prettier with flowers dressing up that old braid of hers’ or that battle-panties were the latest combat innovation.

Meanwhile, in the Blue Lions, Dedue began gardening with Byleth during her volunteer hours in the greenhouse; Ingrid one day expressed an earnest extolment for the ways in which Byleth defied stereotypes about female warriors being crude and graceless; and Mercedes and Annette sweet-talked her into an impromptu makeover session, after which they gleefully extorted a promise out of her to have her winter ball look done by them as well.

(The only one she was concerned for was Sylvain, whom she resolved to talk to after seeing his false cheer in the training grounds that one time; however, as he seemed to slip out of her reach whenever she tried to privately approach him, she left him alone for the time being, resolving to talk to him only when he was ready.)

Perhaps it was due to the overall increase in good will that when Byleth began hosting Sunday classes on mercenary tactics and authoritative command, her seminars saw quite a bit of traffic. She was pleased by this, of course, somewhat relishing the thought that her accumulated skills were being put to good use—yet what she really wanted was just to mingle with all the Houses in a casual setting, so she set about creating just such an opportunity.

Teatime was something she’d grown inordinately fond of in her past lifetimes, so she decided to take it a step further in this one, spontaneously going to Rhea and asking her for permission to host an interhouse event that consisted of tea and light refreshments. Set up in the gardens, by the gazebo housing that strange glowing orb, the event had one long table upon which magically-heated kettles of different tea were seated, and a slightly cramped array of smaller tables that would fit the students.

She was worried at first that few people would arrive, but she needn’t have, for soon enough curiosity drew students in from all corners of the monastery.

At present she was preoccupied with one imperial princess.

Edelgard’s violet eyes blinked at her across the table. “I must admit, Professor, I hadn’t thought you the type to enjoy events such as this, let alone host them.” The princess’s gloved fingers laced through the porcelain cup’s ear, and her eyes flickered downwards as she brought the vessel carefully towards her lips. “Bergamot… how did you know that this was my favourite?”

“Well, the citrus radically changes the tea’s taste,” said Byleth thoughtfully. “Much as you change things whenever taking charge. You are just that sort of person… in other words, the flavour suits you.”

Edelgard’s mouth just barely grazed the cup’s rim.

“Please try some—I promise I haven’t poisoned it,” Byleth deadpanned, looking from Edelgard to Hubert, who was seated by the princess and eying the teacup as though it had grown fangs and was poised to bite his mistress’ nose off.

“Is that a joke from Teach?” Claude sallied forward, his own cup of tea balanced precariously on a saucer jam-packed with tiny cookies. “What a day. Tea really loosens your tongue, eh?” He turned towards the two Adrestians. “Edelgard, you’re looking as lovely as ever. Hubert, what’s got your pants in a twist today?”

“Hello to you too, Claude,” said Edelgard. “Please don’t hold back on my account, Hubert.” The princess drank the bergamot down in a decisive movement.

In reply Hubert grimaced, then reluctantly bit into a jam-filled wafer.

“Hello, Claude. Is that Almyran pine you’re drinking?” Byleth asked, sniffing a bit.

The lord unceremoniously took the other free seat by Edelgard. “You can tell just by the smell? I’m surprised; this isn’t one of the more popular ones out here… Teach, I didn’t know you were a tea aficionado.”

Byleth chanced a tiny smile. “Just a little bit.”

“A girl could get used to this side of you, Professor,” Dorothea chimed in, materialising opposite Edelgard with a nervous Bernadetta and equable Petra in tow. “Not that sweating all over the training grounds doesn’t have its charm, but a grand old tea party is just so quaint! I like it,” Dorothea beamed, green eyes glowing with genuine happiness.

“True, it’s nice breaking down the barriers for a bit and cutting loose,” replied Claude pleasantly, to which Dorothea nodded before gesturing for Petra and Bernadetta to sit down.

“Here, Bernie, please be taking of the seat,” Petra cajoled, pulling out a chair for the girl. “What tea are you wanting to have?”

“Um… whatever Edelgard is drinking?” The purple-haired girl squeaked, pushing her fingers together in a nervous steeple as she dropped down into the seat like a quivering leaf. “I-I’ll be fine with that, h-honestly…”

“Edie has good tastes, it’s true! I’ll have the same, Professor,” Dorothea smiled.

“I will also drink what Edelgard has,” Petra echoed, seating herself closely by the songstress. "It has the look--er, the sound of being delicious!"

Byleth busied herself with pouring out bergamot for the Black Eagle students.

Another interruption was quick to come, however.

“Claude! I thought you were—“ Dimitri’s voice sounded behind them. “Oh, hello everyone.”

“Oops, I forgot about his Royalness,” Claude shrugged off Dimitri’s accusatory look. “Alas, such are the perils of being popular—always in demand here, there, everywhere… sorry, Dimitri. I must’ve forgotten all about our romantic tryst.” The brunet waggled his eyebrows suggestively.

“Romantic tryst! Ha, you should be so lucky,” Dimitri laughed, but blushed nonetheless. ”It’s quite alright, Claude, just say something next time,” he added a touch embarrassedly, looking around in a lost manner.

Byleth aimed to spare the prince some trouble by indicating a free place at the table in wordless invitation, which Dimitri gratefully accepted with a bow of the head and a flicker of aquamarine eyes.

“Since when did you two become such co-conspirators?” Edelgard meanwhile asked Claude.

“Jealous, are we? Maybe if you didn’t try to do everything on your own you could join in on our plans,” Claude laughed, but there was a pointed note to his voice that imbued the sentence with some sort of double meaning.

Byleth attempted to defuse the mild tension resulting from Claude’s words by picking up a different pot of tea and serving Dimitri, who presently looked up at her with startled eyes.

“Oh, chamomile. This is what I always used to drink with my stepmother,” he revealed, gingerly taking the cup by its whole body. “On the darker days in Fhirdiad, it had a certain way of soothing the soul that other brews did not…” Dimitri looked around at the intermingling Houses—at Ferdinand enthusiastically chatting to Lorenz, at Hilda chatting up Mercedes and Annette, and a whole string of other cross-house interactions besides. “Professor, you have a knack for this sort of thing, I must admit. It’s unexpected, but…charming.”

She had forgotten how eloquently honest Dimitri could be at times, and this reminder pulled at her strings and sent mixed feelings tugging through her chest; had she a normal heart, she was sure it would’ve pitter-pattered the way her pulse did. The prince’s sincerity always had managed to strike her directly in her blind spot, rendering her somewhat incapable of proper replies.

“Professor! Are you actually blushing?” Dorothea asked Byleth teasingly. “Well, it’s nice to know that even you aren’t immune to the effects of a storybook-perfect prince.”

Dimitri choked on his tea.

The students’ eyes all turned to her now, and it was all Byleth could do not to send tea shooting out of the spout as she replaced the kettle. Dorothea looked like a cat that had just gotten the cream; Petra cocked her head in a confused but obligingly amused manner; Hubert looked as though he had been force-fed cockroaches instead of tea biscuits; and a blushing Bernadetta was, of all things, scribbling in a tiny notebook labeled ‘ideas’. Claude, meanwhile, had a smirk that rivalled Dorothea’s, and Edelgard looked very faintly annoyed.

A beat.

(Was she really so much more emotive nowadays? All of the students had really done a number on her over the past timelines, she thought—taking her from a stilted Ashen Demon to this soppy something-or-other—)

Perhaps, said Sothis, but maybe that is not such a bad thing… you are not entirely readable, after all, just a bit more...human.

Another beat and—

“Hey now, it might just be that all the heat has gone to Teach’s head, don’t you think?” Claude unexpectedly defended her. “She’s been serving us non-stop.” He turned to Byleth. “Maybe you should sit down and take a breather with us.”

She was surprised that he'd pulled her out of that small jam but thankful nonetheless. “I’ll do that,” Byleth decided quickly, seating herself a careful seat away from Dimitri.

In this way, tea-time turned into a happy occasion with the Black Eagles and Claude and Dimitri around, an unexpectedly merry conversation making its way around the table with the combination of the three lords’s spirited banter, Dorothea’s lively presence, and Petra’s inquisitive nature.

Unexpectedly, however, the conversation took a turn for the more serious after Ferdinand tempted Hubert away with black coffee, and Dorothea spotted Ingrid and branched off with Petra and Bernadetta, as the question of future aspirations was brought up by none other than Claude. Byleth stuck around, pretending to nurse her tea but really listening in to the odd conversation--she couldn't recall the three lords having ever had anything like it before.

“...so, Dimitri, you want to open up new trade routes? That’s… unexpected.”

Dimitri nodded. “As you may know, Faerghus is not the most prosperous in terms of agriculture. I was hoping to amend that in part by seeking out new trade partners…” He drifted off there for a moment before saying, “Call it naive if you like, but I believe that different lands working more closely together would provide a solution to most of our mutual problems.”

“When you put it like that, I can’t help but agree,” said Claude airily, sipping his tea. “Just look at the tea party today—nice, wasn't it?”

“Would that it were so simple,” said Edelgard a bit coolly, sipping at her third cup of bergamot. “We are separate countries for a reason, after all.”

The two young men shared another one of those looks that Byleth was starting to find a tad infuriating in their mysteriousness.

“What kind of a world do you want to see, Edelgard?” Byleth spoke up softly.

“That is quite a loaded question, my teacher,” murmured Edelgard, but nonetheless had an answer prepared: “I desire to see a world where people rise or fall by their own merits… one in which the people have more say. Such a thing may take sacrifice, but so be it. Nothing worth accomplishing is ever easy.”

“One in which the people have more say,” repeated Dimitri, blue eyes set on Edelgard in an assessing way. “Yes, I agree with you."

Edelgard blinked.

“Well, I suppose that can happen every now and then,” chortled Claude. “Now all you two need to do is get married, unite your countries, and have a few marital squabbles to decide the rest of your official policy.”

“That is never going to happen, Claude,” said Edelgard snippily over Dimitri’s splutter of ‘honestly, your imagination’.

“Too true. Dimitri here’s not exactly a romantic go-getter, so I’d probably make the moves on you first, my dear princess,” Claude flirted. “What say you, Edelgard? I’d make a particularly dashing consort if I do say so myself. Trophy husband, if you would. You, me, marriage—we could be great together.”

Edelgard looked as though she were about to throw hands (in the air out of exasperation, or at Claude out of frustration). “Your harebrained levity knows no ends, Claude von Riegan! That is a ridiculous notion.”

It was, and the thought of Claude tiptoeing around a regal emperor Edelgard like a demure harem lady was so very ridiculous that Byleth couldn’t suppress a giggle, which came out from between her fingers before her hand could sufficiently muffle her mouth. The three lords swivelled their heads round to look at her, finding the teacher pink-faced and lightly shaking.

“My teacher? Are you alright?” Edelgard asked, sounding a trifle concerned.

“Professor, are you feeling well,“ Dimitri began.

“Relax, you two,” Claude yawned, though looked a bit surprised himself. “Teach is just—"

Byleth's amusement poured out in soft peals of breathless laughter.

“You three will be the death of me,” she informed them through the bout of girlish giggles.

Truer words had never been spoken.

(How lovely it would be, for this moment to last forever, sighed Sothis, echoing Rhea’s words from once upon a time…)

******

There came a day, eventually, when Sylvain told her unprompted that he wouldn't mind talking sometime, so Byleth took advantage of that and went to his door at an hour she was fairly sure he was around.

Having clearly expected her, he opened his bedroom door just a crack, telling her to come in. She carefully pushed past the door to find his curtains drawn and the air scented with a cocktail of expensive colognes and something like peach liquor. Gaze straying over his rumpled, unmade sheets, she wondered whether he’d been lying down prior to her arrival; on shifting her gaze upwards, she was startled by the Lance of Ruin standing behind the bed, lighting the area with a red glow as its tines wiggled ever so slightly.

(Knowing the truth behind Relics now, she couldn’t help but feel very, very odd around them…)

“So, Professor, what brings you to my humble abode?” Sylvain asked, a cheeky smile playing about his lips as he stood in the center of the room. “Don’t you know people will talk if they see you here?” He saw how her eyes were resting on the Lance of Ruin and quipped easily, “Good nightlight, isn’t it? Bit spooky but then all the best ones are—“

Byleth jerked her gaze away. “Drop the act, Sylvain,” she said brusquely, closing the door behind her with a bit more force than she intended. Wincing at her own actions, she added more quietly: “Sorry. I… just know you’ve been upset. About that first battle.”

The bittersweet mirth guttered out from his eyes faster than a smothered flame’s light. A quiet shock seemed to take him for a moment before being replaced with something stiller and slightly colder. “I know you didn’t realize it at the time, Professor…” Sylvain said slowly. “But Miklan was my brother.”

“I… I actually figured, from the way you recognised each other,” she fibbed, expression neutral. “Yet—“

“He tried to kill us all, yeah. Got a job from someone to do it, even got a Relic. Wanted to kill Claude and Dimitri,” Sylvain laughed slightly, showing that hidden perceptiveness of his in the quick flat way he correctly framed the situation. “Wanted to kill you too, Professor. But you didn’t let him…” he sighed out, thoughts clearly going elsewhere as he ran a hand through his headful of blood-red hair.

Byleth was quiet a long moment, stomach twisting and knotting with guilt as she stared at her student. After what seemed like an eternity, she asked, “May I sit?”

He indicated the bed with a careless wave of the hand, brown orbs fixed ahead on something she couldn’t see. She carefully picked her way through carelessly slung books on the floor and then took a seat on his bed, angling herself away from the Lance of Ruin.

“I’m sorry for giving you the order to kill him, Sylvain,” she said softly. “You were the nearest, and I knew… I knew that you could finish things without prolonging it. I know your skills in combat arts…”

The redhead actually gave a frown, though at what she wasn’t sure; his eyes were still on the opposing wall, not her. “Don’t you dare apologize, Professor. You did what you had to do. Besides, Miklan was a horrible brother. He’s tried to kill me before, actually—drown me in a well, finish me off with rat poison at my eighth birthday party, strangle me for embarrassing him in front of mixed company… this kind of thing was bound to happen someday. Didn’t think it’d happen the way it did, but… I’ve always had to clean up after his messes, you know?”

“Still, he was your brother,” she said, mouth twisting bitterly.

“Yeah. That he was. And you know, the way he ended up… I can’t help but think none of this would’ve happened if I weren’t around,” Sylvain said slowly. “As you might know by now, Miklan was the heir to the Gautier family until I manifested the Crest he didn’t have. He was disinherited, and well…” he gave a shrug. “He hated me.”

“But you didn’t hate him,” Byleth asserted.

He looked back at her wearily, warily. “No… I didn't. I don’t. Is that so wrong?”

The professor shook her head in denial, ponytail moving with her. "Listen, Sylvain, there are people I know who have done horrible things in the past,” she confessed earnestly, thinking mostly of Edelgard. “But I came to understand their past actions too… and care for them. It may be different from your situation, I know, but… I cannot blame you for not fully hating Miklan.”

(And how could she blame him when she felt something for each of her students, even after fate had thrust them at each others’ throats so many times over?)

He whistled, looking at his hands. “You’re a forgiving one…”

She laughed a bittersweet laugh of her own. “Perhaps. But, Sylvain…for what it’s worth… I’m glad you are around,” Byleth told him with a quiet candour.

Sylvain’s eyes suddenly went hazy, and he sat down by her with a thump on the bed. “Hey, Professor. Mind if I borrow your shoulder for a moment?”

Suddenly, it fell to her to see Sylvain cry for the first time. She slung an arm around his shoulders and let him silently weep, just holding him gently for as long as he needed the relief.

When at last the spell of tears loosed its hold on him, Sylvain said lowly, “I’ll forgive you, Professor, just... promise me one thing. We can’t let anyone hurt Dimitri. He’s… he’s like a brother to me.”

Out of surprise and feeling her grip on his shoulder tightened. “I... yes. We will protect him.”

******

She dreamt of the Holy Tomb that night.

Byleth sat incandescently upon Sothis’ throne, she herself the only source of light in the holy tomb. Darkness teemed inside the jade catacombs, swathing all the graves and obelisks in such deep shadows that it was as though they had been phased out of existence. Curiously, however, she could sense something soughing and stirring inside that gloom, rippling it as though it were solid velvet…

Afraid but intrigued, she rose from the throne, one hand grasping outwards, trying to catch ahold of the fluttering train of darkness only to have it evade her slightest touch and pull. It was only after a few more abortive attempts that she managed to catch hold of it, lithe fingers closing around this queer fabric of space and black light. Hearing the murmuring grow louder as she did so, she tore away the layer of lightlessness as one might pull aside a window drape, or a funeral pall.

Within the darkness she was startled to find a train of visions. Running together without rhyme or reason, they overwhelmed her gaze and sucked her into them, pulling her off the dais and throwing her headfirst into the depths of their despair: she was Edelgard in full battle dress, elaborate hair unwound and matted with blood, running towards a river despite the fact that she could not swim—she was a tall, battle-seared man floundering on a ruined stone floor before falling deathly still—she was the white gloved hands winding blue, glowing restraints around what looked like a beast’s prone leg—she was a mingling of draining blood and active malice and lingering regret; she was each of these things and none of them all at once—

She woke up from the nightmare crying out, guttural noises ripping from her throat as she fought off her bed sheets, which in her panic were strangling her utterly. Flailing like a drowning man, she succeeded in kicking and clawing off her sheets only to roll out of bed and crash down onto the wooden floor with a whimper and a graceless heave. There she lay for a long indefinite moment, dizzy with a spiralling, precipitous fear.

Sothis? she asked helplessly, but Sothis dozed on past even the nightmare, slumbering deep in the back of her mind.

The sound of the doorknob snapping loose roused her then. Pulling herself together, she withdrew the dagger strapped to her thigh beneath the flimsy linen nightgown, and prepared herself for the intruder with a glare as the door wrenched open.

“Professor?!”

In the duskiness of the room she stared down the intruder. He looked back at her, glancing from her bare shoulder, down which one of the dress' thin sleeves had slipped, to her hand, in which the dagger was glinting forebodingly. Her defensive stance just seemed to register in his mind then, as he took on a softer tone and showed placating, open hands free of any weaponry or other instruments.

“It’s just me, Professor…” Dimitri said quietly. “I’m sorry to have disturbed you, but I heard you cry out as I was walking back from the training grounds, and I wanted to check whether you were alright.”

The raw concern in Dimitri’s voice—no, his voice in itself—jolted her sharply back into reality. Lowering the dagger and unceremoniously replacing it in its sheath, she pulled her skirt down before moving to light the lantern on her desk with a red flicker of magic, a controlled flame issuing from her fingertip.

“You can use magic, Professor?” the prince said in a quick breath of shock.

Oops. “Yes…” she replied. “Don’t tell anyone just yet, though. I...like to retain an element of surprise.”

“Ah, I see--“ he cut himself off suddenly, face draining of color. “Professor, your… appearance—!“

Immediately she realised what must've just happened: unlike whatever the Agarthans used to morph their bodies, this glamor spell wore off without occasional maintenance; as she always let it go overnight, he must’ve at last seen her true form, pointed ears and shimmering hair and all. With the firelight playing tricks of the light across her features, the sudden change must’ve been eerie to the uninitiated observer.

All the same, Dimitri drew closer, features and hands slack as if spellbound rather than repulsed. In a way, he looked as though he were seeing her truly for the first time, his transfixed eyes vivid pools of blue wonder in the golden firelight.

“Blast, Professor,” he said breathlessly, eyes darkening with some perturbed, innominate emotion that sent a hot feeling lancing through her gut. “It’s not my business to know, but I still have to ask—why do you look like this now?” His question was strangely pointed, as though he had been pondering it for some time and not just in this moment of revelation.

Shocked into stillness, she sucked in a breath. “Dimitri… honestly, I…I can’t answer that. I’m sorry.”

Ready for the sting of rejection, she cursed herself for not having predicted this sort of situation, and wondered whether she ought to risk a divine pulse to fix this latest mess—

Aquamarine eyes softened as Dimitri looked back down on her, understanding passing through his gaze. “I… I’m sorry. Never mind. Please don’t worry about it, Professor. I won’t tell anyone,” he promised lowly. “Everyone has a right to their secrets, and I—I understand that your more… unusual features would draw unwanted attention.” A meaningful glance towards the ears. “Tell me, though… I infer that you use glamours to conceal everything normally, correct?”

Byleth shivered, though not for lack of warmth. “Yes, that’s right.”

A halting breath from him, a shaky breath from her, and then:

“Thank you for entrusting your secret to me, Professor. I swear on my family’s name that I will not betray your trust.”

I know, she wanted to say, but instead bit her lip and held those words tight on her tongue, not wanting to seem presumptuous.

“As for the reason I came… are you truly alright, Professor?” Gemlike eyes flicked towards the sheets strewn haphazardly across the floor.

Color bloomed in the apples of her cheeks at his words, and she clutched at her arm in sudden shyness. Whatever their relationship was in this timeline, she could trust Dimitri of all people to understand, couldn’t she?

“I was having nightmares…” She wrung the flesh of her arm as if some pain would erase the memory of them. “They happen almost every night, though this evening’s were particularly awful…”

Whatever the memory suppression wasn’t managing well often came out in her dreams, and her sleep was consequently wracked by nightmares these days, the ghosts of discontinued futures singing accusatory dirges to the one who had done away with them. There was nothing to be done about these dreaded dreams, though — in fact, in a twisted sort of way, she almost welcomed them, for they reminded her of what was to be done without fully overwhelming her in the way that her full memory of contradictory timelines sometimes had.

(In a sense, she accepted the nightmares as penance for her slew of sins and failures.)

The nightmare of this night had been different somehow, but she could not dwell on it when Dimitri’s gaze was piercing through her so.

“I understand. I too have troubles sleeping at night… insomnia, I suppose you would call it. Whenever sleep does find me, it is also fitful. That is why I often go to the training grounds or library before bed…” Dimitri replied, then gave a humourless laugh. “It seems as though you and I have something in common, Professor… in which case, I’d like to make you an offer.”

If her heart had been capable of beating it might’ve leapt at his words, foolish things that her feelings were. “Yes, Dimitri?”

“Should you have any problems going to sleep in the future… please feel free to call on me. We could spar, perhaps?”

There was in Dimitri’s words a transparent kindness that the guilt sown deeply within her made unbearable to hear; pained by the feeling that she didn’t deserve his compassion, she shuddered, twisted her arm again, then let the limb go, leaving nail marks on her own skin.

If Dimitri noticed her discomfort, he graciously ignored it. “If not sparring, I’m sure we could also take tea together, or something of the like; I’ve found chamomile also helps before bed."

She hesitated, but could not but relent. “Alright. Let’s try it…”

A beat.

Aquamarine eyes averted from her figure.

Another beat and—

“Oh, you’ve been refreshing our flowers,” he said suddenly, as if in grasping for a subject he had found one he rather liked. Out of nowhere Dimitri smiled a smile like the first radiant dawn of a new moon.

Byleth followed his gaze to her desk. She couldn’t recall having ever done so, but she couldn’t recall a number of things these days, and when Dimitri’s smile was so true, she simply had to nod.

(Sylvain's words or not, she resolved something then: this time, she definitely would give Dimitri Alexandre Blaiddyd his happy ending.)

Chapter Text

During the latter half of Garland Moon, she unexpectedly received gifts from several of her students.

One day when she came back to her room she found a carrier owl and pigeon hovering near her door, the tiny owl bearing tidings from Bernadetta and the rather fussy pigeon holding a scroll bearing Ignatz’s name. After delighting the pair with treats that she kept in her room for messenger birds, Byleth found that Bernadetta had sent a short thank you note with a white rose enclosed, and that Ignatz had mailed a beautiful watercolor of Byleth holding a white bouquet. That she had been thought of was surprising, but Byleth gratefully tacked the note and art to her bulletin board and put the rose in a place of honour, cherishing the kind gestures from two of her most diffident students.

The offerings didn't end with Ignatz and Bernadetta, though, as two rather more confident students came to court her in person that same afternoon.

“Ferdinand, I can’t accept these,” she said slowly, having been presented with quite an affair of flowers.

“Come now, Professor! You promised to bear witness to my accomplishments, and for that I must thank you somehow. Besides, it would be highly remiss not to give such a charming lady flowers during the Garland Moon,” beamed Ferdinand, again proffering the flashy, beribboned arrangement of roses. “Oh, and I do hope that you like the vase, as well. I think pink is your color, no?”

He’d noticed her hair ribbons and outfit's trim and realized her favourite color? Oh, Ferdinand, she thought, almost dismayed by the ginger’s observant kindness.

“Ferdie, aren’t you being just a bit too forward?” said Dorothea, who had accompanied him to Byleth’s door, but her eyes were laughing. “But look, Professor! I made you a real garland. Properly, you see, with effort. I didn’t just buy a flower arrangement and call it a day.” Leaning forward, the brunette withdrew her hands from behind her back and temptingly dangled a delicate wreath before Byleth.

“Buy them? I handpick all of my own flowers,” Ferdinand protested, looking scandalized. “You know this, Dorothea! I said as much of your own gift!”

“Uh huh, buzz buzz, Ferdie-bee,” the songstress giggled, then looked at Byleth. “Well, Professor? Can I see you wear this? I did go through the trouble of making it just for you—and you’d look just striking with it on!”

“Er, alright,” Byleth said lamely, and it was in this way that a thoroughly self-satisfied Ferdinand and Dorothea left her with a flower crown slung crookedly atop her head and an overfull flute of flowers in her hands.

Thoroughly flummoxed by the continued attention, she put the vase in her room and went throughout the day with the crown on her head, attracting a great deal of curious stares as she did so—and eliciting rumors, apparently, she was engaged or some such nonsense. Rumors that would likely prove difficult to dispel.

Rumors didn’t, however, stop other students from attempting to participate in the Garland Moon tradition with her. After her personal practice that same day, Mercedes and Annette cornered her on the training grounds, and it only took a bit of puppy-eyed pleading from the two girls for Byleth to be bedecked like a rather festive tree and have two flower necklaces looped around her neck.

“My goodness, Professor, you look like a fairy straight out of a story,” tittered Mercedes with that innocent yet cunning giggle of hers.

Byleth shot her a mildly flustered look.

“Yeah! This is such a good look for you, Professor!” Annette cheered, cheeks flushed with girlish enthusiasm. “Imagine if you dressed up too! You'd be super stunning then—like a forest goddess, or something!”

Or something, snickered Sothis, amused. This girl is one of my favorites, I think. Always so lively.

“Er, a goddess?“

“Forest goddess, yeah! Forest goddess, oh she’s the oddest, she always wear flowers, ‘cause they’re the source of her powers—bang! Bang! Ban—”

Annette cheeped in surprise as two girls bobbed onto the training grounds, promptly slapping her hand over her mouth in embarrassment.

Her song wasn't made into a topic of discussion, though. “Aww, rats, you two already got the professor a crown?” Hilda whined as she moseyed over to Byleth, arm in arm with Marianne. “What will we do with ours, then?”

Marianne unlinked herself from Hilda. “We made it together,” the blue-haired girl whispered to Byleth, shyly pointing to the cornflower and rose-colored ribbons trailing through and from the beautiful crown Hilda was twirling theatrically around.

“Actually, this was from—“ Byleth began, then stopped. "I’ll wear yours…on top?”

“Oh, good! I’d hate for our gruelling efforts to go to waste. Do you know how many hours this took us?” Hilda sighed dramatically. “Anyway, now that we’ve given you a wreath, we can skip training next week, right? I’m just sooo worn out from everything in the last month, Professor.”

Imitating Hilda herself, Byleth put a fist beneath her chin in mock thought, pretending to seriously consider this. “Perhaps some extra rest time.”

Hilda pumped the air with her fist before saying, “Thank you, Professor, I knew I liked you for a reason!” In a moment the girl gently took Marianne by the hand and skittered over to Annette and Mercedes to engage them in conversation.

A chuckle from the rear. “Teach, you won’t get anywhere indulging Hilda like that,” Claude scolded, coming up to Byleth with his hands behind his head and a smirk across his face.

“No flowers for me, von Riegan?” she asked, deadpan.

“I wouldn’t dream of bribing you, Teach. I respect you way too much to do that. Although, considering Hilda just got away with it…” he said, trailing off as he reached down into his pocket and produced a single, slightly crumpled white rose. “I’ll give it a try.”

Byleth accepted the flower graciously, and as she twirled it between her fingers she couldn’t stem fondness from seeping through to her gaze; even though this wasn't the man that she had grown so close to in what she called the Wind timeline, she couldn't help but feel drawn to Claude all the same. She dearly hoped that she could call him friend again, someday…

“Thank you, Claude.”

The young lord gave a crooked smile that wasn’t as distant as it usually was, but still not the smile she liked best. “I aim to please… sometimes. Other times to kill.” He chuckled again at his own twinkle of morbid humour. “Oh, hey, by the way, Edelgard was looking for you.”

“Not anymore,” interrupted a smooth feminine voice, and Byleth turned to find said princess standing proudly behind her, a small wooden box clutched tightly within her hand. The white-haired girl was sizing up Byleth's appearance almost calculatingly, her pale lavender eyes gleaming over the excess of flowers so strikingly at odds with Byleth’s severe black armor. 

“My teacher, on the occasion of the Garland Moon I offer you this,” said the girl, simply ignoring Claude, who was indiscreetly watching as though this were a display put on for his benefit. “Will you accept it?”

“Of course, Edelgard,” Byleth said kindly, surprised that the girl was observing the month's tradition in any manner whatsoever. This was a strange timeline, indeed. “Thank you.”

She accepted the gift from the imperial princess with a half-smile and gentle touch.

“Please open it when alone,” Edelgard instructed, then darted her eyes away suddenly. “Now, if you’ll excuse me—I-I must find…Caspar. We have urgent business to take care of together.”

“Wow, you’re not even going to watch Teach open it? What’s happening with von Bergliez that’s so urgent, a war council?” Claude asked, eyes glimmering.

“He missed class and I intend to find out why,” said Edelgard shortly, ignoring the rest of what Claude said entirely, and left in an uncharacteristic hurry.

"That Edelgard is a mystery, eh, Teach?" yawned Claude after they had seen the last of the princess. "Always up to something... makes you want to solve her, doesn't it?"

Nodding in desultory response, Byleth shifted her glance away to the knot of girls interacting nearby; somehow, Claude's sharp verdant gaze was just a bit too knowing for comfort.

*******

Later that evening, in the privacy of her room, Byleth arranged her new floral acquisitions, pressed Claude’s rose into a bookmark (which she promptly slipped into the black tome of records she kept on the three houses’ progress), and afterwards did as exactly Edelgard requested, unraveling the red ribbon around the wooden box in order to find out just what exactly the princess had prepared for her.

What she found inside was a crimson velvet cushion, atop which rested a small yet finely made brooch carved into the shape of a blossoming white rose. When she lifted the ornament out for closer inspection, she found it quite light yet very durable, and that it opalesced constantly, shimmering with subtle rainbow hues. It was, in short, a small work of art. Edelgard must’ve gone out of her way to obtain it.

Are you going to wear it, Sothis asked curiously. She obviously intends for you to do so…

I don’t know. I suppose I ought to at least once or twice, Byleth replied thoughtfully. It is very beautiful—

A knock at the newly repaired door and she tucked the brooch back into its wooden box, setting it down near Ferdinand’s flowers on her desk. From the way the day had gone, she had a feeling another student was at her door—though which one she could not guess.

Her hunch was proven correct as she ended up accepting a slightly breathless Dimitri into her quarters.

“Hello, Professor. My apologies for troubling you at this hour.”

“Dimitri… it’s no trouble at all,” she replied, somewhat surprised to see the prince. “It’s been a long day—I’ve just made it back here myself.”

“Small wonder when you have the whole of our student body to teach,” he said sympathetically, before the flowers around her room caught his blue eyes and drew the quirk of one blonde brow. “Ah, I see you’ve quite the bevy of admirers, Professor.”

“Dimitri, those are from your fellow students,” she said blandly.

“I think my point still stands, does it not?” Aquamarine eyes gleamed slyly.

Was he… teasing her? A pout flickered briefly over pink lips.

Dimitri’s mouth bowed in response.

“I… no! It does not—“ Rapidly blinking dark-lashed eyes as his smile widened and Sothis mentally giggled, Byleth hastily cleared her throat in a bid to steady herself. “Well then, why are you here?”

Without words the prince promptly uncovered what lay within his arms. She stared at the glass dome uncomprehendingly, then looked from the present to Dimitri with a muted awe. Edelgard’s gift aside, it was by far the most unusual incarnation of the Garland Moon tradition that she had been proffered—truthfully, she’d never seen anything like it before. Like the brooch, it looked artisanal; she actually couldn’t believe that he had troubled himself with acquiring this sort of thing for her.

“This is…”

“An eternal rose from Faerghus, Professor,” said the prince, blue eyes also on the ensconced flower. “Some like to give these as presents due to roses being rare in more inhospitable climes; others tend to give them as gifts simply because of their beauty. I...I cracked the dome just a little when bringing it, though. I’m sorry. It should still keep, however.”

Indigo eyes went from the elegantly carved wooden base to the hairline fracture across the glass, and Byleth wondered just how delicately Dimitri must’ve been handling the thing to only have it form such a spidering crack—how carefully he must have have held the dome after noticing he had gripped it too tight… her gaze softened in appreciation.

“But why?” she breathed, scarcely daring to imagine what had inspired such a gesture.

Dimitri glanced over at her, still proffering the present. His smile had ebbed away into a more serious expression. “Professor… frankly, I cannot think of any way in which to repay your kindness towards me. This is just one thanks of many I owe you.”

Byleth shook her head slowly, long messy braid swaying behind her. “Thank you, Dimitri, but I don’t want you to feel obligated to give me roses because of a life debt. You should give this to someone you like.”

Dimitri flushed slightly. “It’s not because of the life debt, Professor,” the prince contested, a sliver of emotion edging into his denial. “But if you’d like one reason as to why I am giving you this, then I’ll give it to you freely, and gladly: you treat me as one would a regular person. For that alone you will always have my gratitude—no, perhaps 'profound appreciation' is the better choice of words here.”

“I…”

“Please accept this flower as a token of my feelings, Professor,” the prince murmured, holding out the enchanted rose to her.

Indigo eyes lighted on aquamarine, trying to discern which feelings exactly lay behind those sky-like orbs and failing; ironically enough, the honest Dimitri’s eyes could be as impenetrable as the heavens when certain moods took hold of him. Wordlessly she stretched out her small hands to take the dome from his larger ones, fingers briefly flitting over his as she extracted the dainty object from his ginger grip.

“Thank you, Dimitri. I’ll cherish this, always,” Byleth said gently. “Although…”

“Yes?”

“It suddenly seems a bit unfair that I'm getting gifts and giving none in return,” she mused, gaze ranging over the presents strewn across her desk before returning to the dome in her arms.

“Traditionally reciprocation isn't required,” said the prince reassuringly.

“Yes, but—“ An idea struck her then and she gave a catlike curl of the lips. “Close your eyes, Dimitri.”

“Eh—Professor? What are you—“

She waved a hand dismissively. “Just wait and see.”

After he obliged her, Byleth went to work. Placing the eternal rose in the centre of her desk, she knelt and pulled out a drawer, rummaging around inside of it for materials. The second she found a suitably unblemished piece of parchment amongst the clutter, she withdrew the quill from the pot of ink on her desk and scribbled well wishes on the parchment before signing off with her name. That done, she began to swiftly began to crease and fold, pulling her idea out of her mind and giving it body in the parchment; in this way, she worked hard for several minutes, finishing in reality much sooner but spending extra time trying to give her creation just the flourish she wanted.

Finally, she finished, and closed two hands soundly around her elaborate creation, hiding it from view.

“You can open your eyes now,” she said. “Happy Garland Moon, Dimitri. This is for you.”

Giddily she extended her hands to him and opened up her palms to reveal an origami rose, a tiny bit of childish excitement taking her as the lord’s blue eyes widened in surprise.

“Now we’ve exchanged flowers,” Byleth concluded in an overly solemn way, tilting her head back for a better look at the young man. “Think of it as a good luck charm.”

Dimitri was looking down at her and the origami rose with a barely restrained curiosity now, light dancing through his blue eyes like the tail of a playful flame, and his lips were curving upwards in that pleased boyish arc again.

“Professor, you’re always so...so full of surprises. Thank you.”

Byleth’s tongue tied at that, so she just nodded, watching as he carefully plucked the flower out of her hands. Papercrafting was a relaxing little hobby she’d desperately taken to in her recent, darkest timeline, and it was something she’d always kept private until now; it was nice to be able to share her talent with someone in so innocent a fashion… and she felt absurdly pleased by his fascination with the gift.

*******

Late in the Garland Moon, before the upcoming mission, Byleth, gripped by some nostalgia she didn’t truly understand, found her hands slipping to shear some of the white roses blooming that season. Not wishing to waste the fruit of her whims, she pieced together a garland of pale blooms, working painstakingly so that its every bud was tightly wound together; afterwards, she hoisted the wreath across her arm and ventured outdoors, braving the day’s drizzle to wander to her intended’s door.

Tradition called for wreaths to be given to friends and potential lovers, but some consumptive regret lead her down the path to the cemetery instead, where in time she found herself blankly facing her mother’s gravestone, pricked and lightly reddened fingers hesitating over the garland’s placement.

She didn’t know why she was there—only that the cloud surrounding certain latent memories from her first life was wearing dangerously thin again and that she needed some place quiet to just be.

In the graveyard she found just that. Within moments she was shutting tired indigo eyes and leaning back against the chilly stone of the grave marker; within minutes, she was napping, thoughts drifting out into the fog of her mind and far, far away from all of her worries…

Peace didn’t last long, however, for a gruff pitch entered her ears as soon as her mind began flitting about in the early stages of sleep.

“Hey… kid. Wake up. This is no place to take a nap.”

Startled, she jerked her eyes open and found her father standing over her looking pale. In his powerful arms was a messy bundle of wild, bone-white roses.

“Byleth… why are you here?”

“I…” she began, but Jeralt shook his head before coming forward to lay the bundle just below where she’d laid the wreath.

After helping his damp-haired, bleary-eyed daughter to her feet, Jeralt spoke. “This is… this is your mother’s grave. I was going to tell you about this later, but… seems you already know.”

Byleth didn’t answer.

“Kid. Look at me.”

Sleepiness dissipating like sunshine before a storm, the young woman peeked at her father nervously.

Jeralt wasted no time in telling her what was on his mind. “You’ve been acting all sorts of ways since we’ve come to this monastery,” the man began slowly, squatting for a moment to adjust the bundle of roses before standing to stare back down at her. “You’re not the same, By… I warned you about Lady Rhea, but I hear you’re going around with her like old pals, Your Grace this and Your Grace that. Still, you barely talk to me. And when you do, your whole way of communicating’s changed… plus, I never told you about your mother, but here you are.” The man let out a slightly desperate bark of a laugh. “Are you sure you’re mine, kiddo? Because the way you’re acting, I don’t even know anymore.”

The half-hearted joke that she was a changeling stabbed her heart some, but Byleth supposed she’d had it coming after attempting to dupe the only person who could know she was different to what she had always been. Passing a scratched hand through her wet hair, she stared up at her father, lips quivering slightly. With Jeralt constantly on missions, and her own work so busy, she had thought that her altered behavior wouldn’t be so noticeable—but of course Jeralt had found her out anyway, just in the way he always did.

“I’m sorry, Da,” she murmured, regret tinting her words.

Jeralt massaged the side of his neck. “There it is again…” he said, but his emotions abated soon enough, disappearing into a wisping sigh. “I’m sorry, kid. I’m happy you’re finding yourself here… I just… it’s all pretty sudden. If something’s going on, you should let me know.”

“Da,” she said, carefully. “There is, but I just… find it hard to explain. I’m sorry that I’ve been acting so oddly. I really don’t mean to.”

A shake of the head from Jeralt. “It’s fine, kid. I'm just glad you acknowledged it at least.”

Thankfulness washed over her in a tremendous tide that began to readily soothe her disturbed inner peace, flowing through her in bracing wave after bracing wave. Her father was letting her off far too easily—but then again, that was the nature of their relationship: he always been her unshakeable pillar of support, accepting whatever strangenesses his child brought to the table without fuss or fanfare.

“Anyway, whatever the reason, it's good that you’re getting independent now. Just don’t forget about your old man, eh?” The skin at the corner of Jeralt’s eyes crinkled as he smiled a little wistfully.

She stared at him thoughtfully.

“Da… if the time comes and I tell you, just promise you’ll believe me, alright?”

“Always,” asserted Jeralt, ruffling her hair. “But for now, I'll wait."

(She swallowed, and wondered how much time together they had in this new era…)

“Alright.”

Jeralt looked at her fondly. “You damn secretive imp. Next thing you know you’ll be telling me you really are engaged to that snotty purple brat with the bad haircut.”

“They said I'm engaged to Lorenz?!”

He laughed at her expression. “Yeah, hard not to hear about how your Garland Moon’s going. Apparently, my kid is becoming a pretty popular teacher,” the former captain snorted, shaking his head in amazement. “Just don’t let me catch you with that Gautier brat—the last thing we need is another mouth to feed.”

“Da!” Byleth protested, going a tinge pink. She didn’t even have any experience in That Area and he was bringing up love children as a joke?!

Jeralt laughed at her disconcertion before sobering. “Anyway… since we’re here and speaking of engagements…”

In one swift movement, he brought out her mother’s ring from a leather pouch in his pocket, showing it to Byleth. She gazed at it silently, finding it just as she remembered: an intricate little marvel with violet stones so vivid they gleamed even in the downcast day’s dull light.

“This used to be Lilith’s—your mother’s. One day it’ll be yours. I hope that someday, you’ll find someone you love as much as I love her," Jeralt said, looking from Byleth to the grave with a far-off, deeply tender expression.

Byleth looked with him, staring at the faded grave marker. How lovely it was that her father still spoke of her mother in the present tense, she thought. How true he was to her even after her death…

(A memory jolted her suddenly then, the scent of pine and snow assailing her nose, and it was all she could do not to tremble as she pushed thoughts of horses and saddles away, away, away--)

"Oh, to hell with it," Jeralt said suddenly, so lost in thought that he for once didn't notice her discomfort. "I'll just give you the ring now. Let's use it to mark your debut. Your mother would be so happy if she could see you now, working with those brats and starting to show your emotions..." His voice softened. "I know she'd want you to have the hope of love, too."

Withdrawing a silver chain from the leather pouch, Jeralt threaded the ring through and then indicated for Byleth to come closer so that he could put it around her neck. Astonished, she took a quiet step in his direction then waited as he fiddled with the clasp of the necklace until it clicked into place around her neck.

"There. Just promise me that you won't give it to the first person that you think looks good out of uniform," Jeralt joked.

Byleth smiled weakly. "I promise."

(Easy enough a promise to make, when she had lost all rights to this ring a long, long time ago...)

Chapter Text

Bloodstained gloves still faintly aglow with the remnants of the Physic that she’d stealthily used on Ashe, Byleth watched soberly as Dimitri took advantage of the chink in Lonato’s chest armor and thrust his lance forward into the weak spot; hitting home, the prince’s lance tore into flesh, twisting soundly through the insurgent. Heaving, the old man dropped his lance and clutched at his chest, then staggered backwards before collapsing at last, falling with a bloody gurgle of 'Christophe'.

A scarlet-splashed Dimitri stepped back, hands and gaze both empty. The very instant Lonato had borne down on Ashe the prince had entered the fray without hesitation, accordingly holding his ground against the dismounted paladin, whose horse Edelgard had earlier incapacitated—but Byleth didn’t doubt that Dimitri was regretting having had to kill the misguided man. Here an ugly scenario had been in play, fate having appointed the young prince of Faerghus as executioner of one of his own lords, and said lord taking dying breaths before his own son’s very eyes.

“I’m… I'm so sorry, Ashe…” Dimitri said, voice just audible over the moans of trees bowing before new, harsher winds.

Ashe shook his head wildly, eyes hollow and voice faint as he watched Lonato’s blood drip from Dimitri’s gauntleted hands. “Y-you saved me. Thank you, Y-Your Highness.”   

(At Byleth’s side her free hand curled into a fist. Damn it, she thought bitterly, thoughts turning over the mess of a mission, damn it — why on earth had Dimitri and Ashe been allowed to come with the Black Eagles in the first place?)

Catherine came in fast and hard from the rear then, boots thunking across the ground as she strode over to Lonato’s crumpled form to check his vitals. After confirming that he was dead, the blonde knight rose with a slow, slow shake of the head. “I never thought I’d see Lonato meet this fate…” 

Guilt rose and fell through the knight's expression as she took in Dimitri and Ashe, suggesting to the discerning observer that perhaps even the resolute Thunderstrike Cassandra felt she had been remiss in not performing her duties quickly enough and executing the man herself.

There was no such doubt in the younger woman who had aided in Lonato’s demise, though: gore-flecked axe gripped tightly within her hands, Edelgard said firmly, “We did what had to be done.”

Catherine gave Edelgard a weary look, then glanced back to the corpses of Lonato and his horse.

“We did indeed. Well, good work, everyone… Manuela, Byleth, I’ll go collect the rest of the troops and then we’ll all head back.”

After the knight of Seiros left, the professors and the class were left to their own devices for a period of time. The Black Eagles on the field clustered together automatically, the slightest of speech stirring their throats; despite the political expediency of sending a group of people with no ties to Faerghus to fight in its territories, they hadn’t taken any better to the fight with the militia than the Blue Lions might’ve. Linhardt, for instance, had been so thoroughly revolted by the affair that he was now throwing up into a bush while Petra held his hair, and a tearful Bernadetta was sagging in Manuela’s arms while the head nurse hummed soothingly into her ear. The others weren’t much better off, all the Eagles save Hubert and Edelgard in a state of shock; if not silent about the matter, then they were grimly discussing it.

“Damn it, this was all so pointless,” Caspar said lowly, a fist trembling at his side. “Where was the justice in this?“

“Frankly, I think there was none. To have lead his people to such a tragic end—that Lonato was no noble but a menace,” Ferdinand opined, then put his hand over his mouth as he realised who exactly was in their presence.

Ashe’s shoulders heaved at the words. Like Dimitri, he stood paces apart from the group of Black Eagles, a lonely figure silhouetted against the dark grove they had fought in. When Byleth saw tears beginning to roll hot from the boy’s eyes she drew nearer, laying a comforting hand on his shoulder.

“Ashe?” she murmured.

“I… don’t worry about me, Professor. I’m…I’m going to check on the town to see whether my brother and sister are alright,” said Ashe in a voice that was barely above a whisper. “It’s…” he glanced at his own sullied hands, “i-it’s the least a monster like me can do now…”

Dimitri snapped around at that, blue eyes vivid against the gloom as he honed in on his friend. “You’re not a monster, Ashe,” the blond said forcefully. “If anything, I—“

The prince wasn’t given a chance to finish. “I need to go now. I’m sorry,” Ashe blurted, breaking out from under Byleth’s grip and darting off towards the road leading towards the town.

Byleth watched the boy go with an old, sinking feeling. There had been nothing to be done about Lonato’s rebellion, which had sprung up out of nowhere like in the past timelines, but after seeing her students suffer, she dearly wished that the capacity for change had extended to this encounter, too…

As if sensing her mood, Dimitri turned to her, troubled blue eyes seeking out her indigo. “That was my first time killing civilians, too. I…Professor, I wish that we could’ve found another way to settle this dispute… that we could've found a path of peace. Those people didn’t have to die like that…”

At this a crimsoned Edelgard turned on them, pink lips pursing in obvious disapproval. “Those commoners fighting for Lord Lonato believed they were fighting for a just cause. It’s disrespectful to consider them victims when they died for what they believed in,” the white-haired girl said, hoisting her axe over her shoulder in a dismissive sort of way. Her words rang out with a cold clarity through the forest: they were clearly intended not only for Dimitri, but anyone else who felt the same qualms he did. “If we hadn’t done what we did, even more civilian lives would’ve been lost.”

An uneasy beat.

“You're right about the latter," replied Dimitri a bit grudgingly, "but tell me, Edelgard. Those in power always say they take lives in the name of some just cause, yet is it truly alright to do so? Is it not presumptuous?”

The imperial princess’ expression was just as glacial as her tone. “You will be a poor king if you cannot appreciate the necessity of sacrifice.”

Ah, and there it was: those fundamental differences of theirs rearing their heads early on. Byleth took in a breath, willing herself to speak.

“That’s enough, you two,” she told them, authority ringing in her quiet voice. “This is no place for debates. You have your differences of opinion, but this mission proved you can put those aside — do try that again now.”

Dimitri had the grace to look abashed; Edelgard of course did not, merely staring at Byleth as though she had suddenly produced concrete evidence of the Goddess Sothis’ active benevolence.

Fortunately, Catherine and Ashe soon reappeared together on the winding path, a troop of church soldiers close behind them.

Catherine spoke up the minute their forces merged together. “Hey, Professor, would you check the body for me again?”

Byleth nodded, then slunk over to where Lonato lay dead, kneeling upon the ground to inspect the body. Knowing what to look for, she made easy work of the task, rolling the corpse over and stripping it of armour until she found a scroll emblazoned with a red wax seal. When she came to that incriminating piece of evidence she at once rose back to her feet.

“I found something.” Byleth swiftly deposited the scroll into the awaiting Catherine’s hands, and watched as the knight broke the seal.

Catherine's face swiftly cascaded through a range of emotions. “This is... this is a note mentioning plans to assassinate Lady Rhea on the Rite of Rebirth,” Catherine breathed, blue eyes livid. “There's no telling who sent it, so that's suspect, but… we need to report this right away." The knight turned to her grimly. "Nice work, Professor. Let’s go.”

Sothis gave a sleepy sigh and turned around in her mind, muttering about bloodshed and the senselessness of it all.

Byleth didn’t raise the idea that it made no sense for a man who had wanted to personally kill the Archibishop to be carrying around an assassination plot—nobody ever had seemed to dwell on it before, after all. So she just let it go and let events unfold.

 

******

 

In the absence of a House to lead, Byleth was left to herself during the Blue Sea Moon, and so experienced an unprecedented amount of freedom, which she eagerly used to her advantage. In the early month she preoccupied herself mainly with studying advanced white magic, maintaining her fighting form, and looking out for a newly reclusive Ashe.

The challenge of comforting Ashe she approached with especial care; while she knew that the Blue Lions were looking out for their brother-in-arms, she felt for the boy and desired to aid in his recovery as well. She first reached out to the archer by asking him to run easy errands and help her during class hours, in the hopes that it would coax him out of his shell. When the young man started slowly moving around in a more usual way, she asked him to start sparring with her after hours and join her in preparing desserts for the monastery. She did all of this because she sensed that Ashe was implicitly looking for a tether to the living, and some sort of constant in the chaotic aftermath of Lonato’s rebellion, both of which she was happy to provide.

(The knowledge of what it was like to lose a father was seared into her soul, after all.)

Yet despite the fact that Ashe seemed to get a bit better, he didn’t truly open up until she on a whim came to his room to bring him a small token of friendship—specifically, some sugar candies that she remembered him appreciating.

“Thank you, Professor,” he said after unwrapping the package and seeing rows upon rows of crystalline squares inside the gift box. “This is too kind, really.” Mild green eyes turned away from Byleth as sheer surprise gave way to a sudden shame. “But... what you’re doing… I don’t deserve this.”

“Nonsense,” Byleth said firmly.

At that one word the boy’s lithe form sagged, making him seem even smaller than he really was; preemptively, he took a seat at the chair pushed away from his desk, seeming to fall rather than rest against its frame. In a moment words that had been seemingly welling up inside Ashe rushed out of him like water gushing past a newly fissured dam.

“I don’t… you see, Professor, I-I was a thief before, just to make ends meet for my little brother and sister. Lonato… he caught me prowling in his home. I’d been distracted by the wonders of a beautifully illustrated book I found open in his room, even though I couldn’t make head or tails of it… he ended up offering to teach me my letters and letting me go with just a slap on the wrist. Telling me to come through the front gates next time,” Ashe chuckled sadly. “He ended up adopting us all… he saved us from the streets.

He saved me in more ways than I can count, too. He taught me how to live virtuously, like a true knight. I want—I wanted to be just like him, noble and kind.” Green eyes lowered, suddenly fixating on the blue carpet adorning the floor. “But I, I… repaid him--I repaid everyone with…”

There Ashe stopped, his punctuated speech overwhelmed by shallow breaths of emotion; presently he was grasping for the edge of the table with one hand, knuckles whitening as he held on as if for dear life.

The silence might’ve festered then, for Ashe’s sudden outpouring of words seemed have spent his social energies, but Byleth didn’t wish for Ashe to spiral into the torture of circuitous thoughts—she didn’t want him to fall prey to the what-abouts, the what-ifs, the why-not-mes—so she drew closer. Her thoughts were slow at first, but when they did arrange themselves they swung into a steady stream of words.

“You did not leave him with nothing. You gave him a son he could be proud of. You are noble and kind.” She sucked in a breath before continuing. “Ashe… once, I lost someone very dear to me. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t save them.”

Ashe blinked hazily, lips just parting for surprised speech. “You, Professor? But you’re so—so strong—“

Byleth’s lips thinned as she remembered all the times Jeralt had died before her eyes, his body seizing as the Agarthan danger twisted poisonously deep into his body.

(For a second she had to breathe in to remind herself that she was with Ashe, and not listening to Jeralt’s heart beat out its last desperate calls—)

“There are some things that only fate has the strength to decide,” she replied, before realising how horribly uncomforting that was and adding, “Just as there are some people you cannot save, because they will not allow you to save them." Like Lonato.

Ashe's pale green eyes lifted some in their expression, as if he were considering the value of her words.

"But you… you can live onwards, past the grief. I know it’s hard, but after taking the time to mourn… you can live for the things they believed in — no, for what you now believe in. That is one of the greatest tributes you can make.”

It was why she carried on, after all: the pursuit of a lasting peace.

 

******

Preoccupied as the Knights of Seiros were with preparations for the protection of the Archbishop, Byleth felt the weight of the atmosphere of the monastery with particular keenness the week of The Rite of Rebirth. The staff was ill at ease and muttered overmuch after meetings; the students were constantly asking for her level-headed take on the situation. All of it did nothing to assuage her own emotions about the situation, which were a mix between fear and anticipation, for once.

Frankly, she had a feeling about The Rite of Rebirth, and it was not—emphatically not—a good one.

Because of this, sleep was more arduous a task than ever, and when the bells for curfew sounded one night she found herself seriously considering Sothis’ offhand suggestion of meditating in somewhere in Garreg Mach before bedtime. Tempting as Dimitri’s offer of nighttime support was, whenever she considered taking him up on it, self-loathing spiked through her, overshadowing the pleasant feelings she had whenever looking at the eternal rose on her desk, and effectively quashing any thoughts of meeting up; thus, she felt inclined towards pursuing other avenues of relief. The Goddess Tower, for instance, was a peaceful place wherein she surely would be able to put her thoughts to rest…

Mindlessly she swept down the slender bridge to the Goddess Tower, moving with deliberate quietness into the building. As a Professor, she had the right to wander nearly wherever she pleased, and she didn’t fear being stopped for coming up here, but she really didn’t want to draw the guards’ attention. She had every mind to be alone tonight.

Of course, her need for solitude was soon overruled by Fate’s desire for preordained encounters whenever it was least convenient for her. She might’ve groaned had her sharp eyes not recognised the person leaning on the stone of a window sill, looking out into the glittering nighttime sky. Curiosity piqued, Byleth walked past the great wall of flowering, sweet-smelling vines towards the motionless figure. She had half an idea as to what he was doing here, but nothing beyond that…

“Are you stargazing, Claude?”

The young man seemed too lost in thought to have heard her quiet question, but repeating herself did the trick; in a second he gave a start as if waking out of a dream. In a slow sweep of cloak and starlight the lord turned towards her, face bearing a curious expression.

“…I might be. Are you here to do that, Teach?”

“No, but I wouldn’t mind doing so.”

“Well, alright. Why did you come here, then?”

“To scheme,” said Byleth a bit tartly.

Claude cocked his head. “Usurping my role as the prince of ploys, are you Teach? Can’t say I saw that one coming from such a straight-shooter.”

“That’s why it’s the ultimate scheme, in contrast to your puerile ones,” she said smoothly, imitating Edelgard’s snootier tones.

A sound slipped out from the lord’s throat, so quiet that she almost thought she’d imagined it; presently she realised it was a genuine laugh, soft like an apparition lately conjured by moonlight. Before she could really grasp having heard it, though, the sound was gone, tucked tightly away into Claude’s secretive breast.

“Alright, why are you really here, Teach?” he asked lightly, but on seeing her lips purse added, “I can keep a secret, you know. I have my fair share, so what’s one more?”

“I’m just here to clear my head. Much as you are, I’d think.”

Claude smiled. “Oh, in that case… why don’t I help you take your mind off? Let’s talk, relax, get to know each other. I’ve been curious about you for a while, you see,” green eyes gleamed, “and I heard the Blue Lions greeted you a while back. Well, consider this the Golden Deer version… just short a few stags, doe, and cake.”

Byleth stared long and hard at the handsome boy, who was stretching out his arms high above his head, unwinding his body as if she’d already accepted his offer. Fortunately for Claude, he was correct in assuming she'd stay, for with the inception of emotions in Byleth and the passing of different lives had come a new, annoying nostalgia which just wouldn’t allow her to let a chance to bond with Claude slide.

“If that’s not enough a reason, what would it cost to hire you permanently and make the Ashen Demon tell a few tales?”

“Your life.”

“Ouch, wasn’t expecting that steep a price, so Teach it is. Come on, come over here. We can stargaze while we’re at it… that should fill a few awkward silences.”

Bound for the window as if by magic, she stepped out of the umbra and joined him for a spot of stars and deja vu. How long had it been since they had looked out at the same sky, just the two of them…?

“It’s a dreamy atmosphere, isn’t it? Up here in the Goddess Tower, it feels like the world’s capable of making almost anything happen…” Claude remarked, coming to stand by her side. “Do you think anyone’s looking out at the stars right now, in the monastery?”

Byleth absently thumbed the white rose brooch she wore, tracing over its rippling petals.  “I think so. They… have a way of drawing the eye. Out here, the skies are so clear…”

“Full of promise. And when the moon’s accompanying them like this, I feel renewed,” Claude said before asking suddenly, “Do you ever wish you could go back to being a mercenary, Teach?”

“Sometimes,” she said without thinking.

The white light of the moon, the lone observer of their odd rhythms together, rendered Claude’s features pale and invested his gaze with an uncanny glitter that only intensified as she misspoke. “Oh?”

“Times were simpler then,” Byleth explained, mind going all out in different directions as one part of her brain chided her for the new nervous tic she was developing in caressing Edelgard’s brooch, and the other (Sothis) suggested that she start talking about constellations to try and recover the conversation.

“Teaching doesn’t seem like that stressful a gig… in fact, it’s downright cushy compared to mercenary life. What do you mean by that?”

“I just meant that there were fewer thoughts to plague me,” she replied evasively, then tried to change the subject. “The dog star is looking beautiful tonight. It’s one of my favorites… why are you up here, Claude?”

“Mm… Sirius is one of mine too…huh, me? Well, I haven’t been having the best sleep of my life since coming to Garreg Mach. Unless Dimitri gives me a good wallop in the training grounds before bed, this is about the only thing that helps,” he said glibly.

Dimitri and Claude seemed to be fairly good friends in this timeline, she thought to herself, mind briefly lingering on the image of them cooped up together in the library… she placed her hand on the windowsill, smoothing her gloved fingers against its cool stone as she considered what to say in response to that.

There wasn’t much she could think of—she was in a queer headspace at the moment—so she settled for a sympathetic murmur. “Bad dreams, Claude?”

His weight shifted besides her, and for a long, awful moment he didn’t speak.

Surprisingly he did answer her soon enough. “The worst,” Claude replied, then continued in low, suddenly pressing tones: “Tell me, Teach, have you ever experienced a dream so realistic that you can feel it—hear the axe cutting an arc through the air, taste the blade as it meets your skin and rends? Have you ever awoken sore in the place where silver burned into your blood?”

Automatically her gaze flickered back to Claude, drawing upwards to the soft skin beneath his eyes. She had noticed bags under his eyes at certain points in time, but had always ascribed the darkening there to late night reading habits, not anything like this…

“Night after night after night…” Claude was looking out at the stars. “What’s breathing life into these kinds of dreams, Teach? I did some introspection and I still can’t seem to piece an explanation together…” He looked sharply back at her, catching and pinioning her gaze like a butterfly wing on a collector’s board. “You know, not sleeping well makes a person start asking crazy questions, like, ‘which is the dream and which is the reality’, or ’am I paying for the sins of some past life I don’t know about?’”

His words struck a chord fast within her, playing her emotions to a discordant tune; the ice of shock began to sing its way across her body, striking deep into her veins and miring them in a glacial fear that couldn’t be eased by the night’s warmth. In Claude saying that, was he implying what she thought he was? Was this coincidence at play or fate at work?

Did Claude remember something—anything at all?

(Yet, how could he remember, when he was not thrall to the powers of time—)

Something of her internal conflict was perhaps seeping into her carefully schooled expression, because Claude turned around to look at her strangely. “Do you know what I’m talking about?”

“Possibly,” she said carefully. “Sometimes my nightmares are similarly… tactile…”

He considered her, then sharply turned away. “If that’s the case, then perhaps I’m just overthinking things. Don’t mind me. Anyway, do you believe in gods, Teach?”

Her mouth had dried up.

“Yes,” she said, in a slightly hoarse whisper. “I never used to, but now I do.”

“I have to say that I don’t entirely blame you. Lately I’m starting to wonder whether something’s lurking just beyond the stars I’ve watched all my life. Garreg Mach might make a believer out of me yet.”

She bit her lips uncertainly, unsure of what to say. What could she say in response to all this? Should she say anything?

It turned out she didn’t have to. When Claude spoke again, it was only of trivialities—of favourite meals and preferred weapons, of her background as a mercenary and choice of accessories.

All throughout the remainder of their starry evening together, Byleth couldn’t help but feel uneasy, and as though she had failed some sort of test.

Chapter Text

Sothis was awake. Sothis was also concerned.

With you, it’s always brooding about one student or another, isn’t it? the goddess remarked.

Edelgard’s axe wasn’t silver, but, Byleth began, yet was cut off in her own thoughts by a mental sigh. 

I am certain that you are just being sensitive to anything that reminds you of our pasts, said Sothis, invoking in Byleth’s mind an image of the little goddess floating thoughtfully, chin in her hands. Dreaming of past events shouldn’t be possible—that would mean that Claude is… oh, I almost had a theory, but no matter. You are, as they say, ‘reading into things’.

The professor stopped on the stairs leading down to the fishing pool to shake her head in denial—yet she knew it to be the truth: taken aback by her evening with Claude, she had since been dwelling on its beginnings rather excessively...

Concentrate instead on the presents, and then on preparing for the Rite—it’s in two days’ time! 

Byleth herself gave a sigh at this. Sothis had a point—she truly had no choice but to carry on and see to certain affairs before attempting to pry anything out of Claude (a trying task in and of itself which would certainly take time, luck, and effort)... casting all out of her mind but the girl she was looking for, she drew in a breath and continued down the steps.

Happily, she found her quarry of choice almost instantly: Flayn was sitting alone on the wooden jetty, softly singing the lyrics to some hymn or another and gazing into the water, looking thoroughly distracted. Coming nearer, Byleth cleared her throat to announce her arrival, one arm moving the box she held into the crook of her left arm, the other hastily moving to hold the stuffed animal behind her.

Unfortunately, her approach seemed to unduly frighten the girl; at once Flayn gasped, ringlets bouncing into the air as she darted out of her seated position like one of the fish she so loved to eat. Impossibly bright eyes widened to almost comical proportions, the dragon girl stared at the professor as if she’d just been caught doing something she shouldn’t have been.

Byleth blinked owlishly at her. “Hello, Flayn,” she said gently, “I wanted to speak with you.”

“O-oh, Professor Byleth! Hello there...”

Byleth could’ve sighed at the lackluster response: though normally sociable with everyone else, Flayn was far more distant towards her in this timeline; in an echo of Seteth’s guarded behavior, his daughter always shyly slipped away from Byleth before the professor could so much as get in a proper greeting. It was…troubling, but Byleth had determined to try and bridge the gap between them somehow.

This was just the way in which she intended to do that: giving Flayn a (rather late) birthday present.

Oblivious to Byleth’s good intentions, Flayn continued addressing her in a very stilted manner: “I do hope that you shall forgive me for my impertinence, but what is it that you wish to ask of me? I am very… busy.”

“Busy thinking of tasty fish? Busy slacking off?"

“Professor! It is a trifle rude to imply that I am not telling the truth, do you not think?”

Byleth arched a thin brow at the way in which the girl’s porcelain skin was guiltily flushing. “Then I suppose you’ll have to live bearing the trauma of my crass insinuations. Anyway, I've brought you something.” Shifting the weight of the present box, she brought out the stuffed fish from behind her. “This is for you, Flayn. Happy late birthday,” Byleth proclaimed, right hand solemnly extending the pastel, custom-made plush towards Flayn.

A flabbergasted look took hold of Flayn’s features, widening her mouth into a small ‘o’ and her sweet eyes into saucers yet again. “You—you knew my birthday was this month?”

Byleth nodded. “You’re a tricky person to catch, though… I couldn’t give it any earlier. I’m sorry.”

Again Flayn flushed, embarrassment distinctly sweeping through her expression and turning her features another shade of vivid pink. Nonetheless, Byleth knew she’d won a small victory when bright green eyes flitted to the soft plush rather covetously, and small hands tremblingly accepted the gift.

“You did not have to go to such lengths, Professor. We hardly know each other,” the green-haired girl remarked, clutching at the stuffed fish.

“That’s true enough, but I’d like to be friends if we can,” said Byleth calmly.

Despite the lack of a smile on the professor’s face, Flayn’s awkwardness peaked at the truthful response. “Well… um… thank you, Professor. I-I shall cherish this fish always!” the girl squeaked. “Er, I’m ever so sorry—I must go now!”

With that, the dragon girl took her leave, pitter-pattering away with the fish in tow, her green hair flying behind her.

Byleth stared after her, indigo eyes narrowed in thought. Perhaps having tried a gesture instead of words would help open things up with Flayn, or perhaps Seteth would find great joy in disembowelling the plush for hidden blades or poisons; either way, she’d tried, and all that was left to do was deliver her other gift.

Byleth didn’t intend to hand over the chessboard in person, though—leaving it in front of Claude’s room ought to be enough. After all, she wasn’t sure that she could face him alone quite yet.

 

******

 

Slinking down the patterned marble of the cathedral, Byleth glanced about as she rounded the corner, surreptitiously checking that no one else was prowling about as she made her way to her destination. Satisfied that nothing stirred in the hallways, she made her way quickly forward. The Rite would begin shortly, and she knew perfectly well the futility of patrolling the upper corridors when it was the Holy Mausoleum that would be targeted, so she had not wasted time in staying at her assigned post; as it were, she had every intention of forcing her way into the Mausoleum and protecting what lay within the tomb of Seiros.

(She had determined that she needed to re-obtain the Sword of The Creator not only for its power and Rhea's trust, but for the symbolism behind owning the sword itself; were she to lead some faction in pursuit of saving Fodlan--say, the Church--possessing that Relic would give people something to believe in.)

To that end, Byleth went down the path leading to the Holy Mausoleum, and tried the tall door. It was locked, but she picked it easily enough using some spare hairpins—a trick she’d picked up from Ashe so many lifetimes ago. Relocking the door behind her, she descended into a short corridor leading into the burial chamber, walking quickly until she eventually entered the room lined with cold rows of sepulchres and pillars.

She was pleased to find the resting place empty of people for now—she’d come on time, in that case. Now to hide in the secret, alternate passageway until the enemies entered.

Something about this situation isn’t right, though, Sothis muttered, and Byleth glanced around, looking for something amiss. Finding nothing odd for the moment, she strode over to the wall behind which she knew a passage to exist; pressing a careful palm against a particular arrangement of stones, she watched as the wall shifted and a door-shaped hole formed to reveal—

To reveal the Golden Deer.

Surprise pricked at her, though didn’t manage to overwhelm her stolid expression.

“Teach,” Claude greeted from within the dusky passage, as if they were about to take high tea and she had just arrived as his special guest.

Pushing aside her nervous feelings about what had happened up in the Goddess Tower, Byleth spoke quickly. “I’m here for the same reason you are,” the professor told her student conspiratorially, and watched Claude’s eyes light in immediate understanding. “Is Professor Hanneman—?”

Claude shook his head. “He told us to patrol alone. We’re not exactly supposed to be here but… you had the same hunch as we did, huh?” He shook his head slowly. “Of course you did,” he answered himself. “Well, now that you’re here, we could use your help. What say you, Teach? Ready to take on some grave robbers?”

“Count me in.”

Without another word, she too melted into the darkness of the passageway, ensconcing herself in the safety of the shadows.

From the left Hilda popped up behind Claude to peep at the two. “Ooh, good, I’m so glad you’re here, Professor—that’ll make things way easier,” chirped the pink-haired girl (whose sentiments were shortly echoed by a hulking Raphael, who let out a thrilled ‘awww yeah! This will be awesome!’).

Claude held up a finger to his lips and shushed the two errant Deer. “Pipe down you two, they’ll be here soon…”

“They should be here after the bells toll,” Byleth murmured, carefully closing up the passageway again.

The half-Almyran cocked a sharp expectant smile her way. “That sounds about right. We'll start on your signal, then, Teach.”

 

******

 

Byleth and the Golden Deer lay in wait, all now bound by the same covenant of silence.

Before long the bells tolled, heralding the ritual’s commencement. From the cramped passageway, Byleth watched through a small grated window as the main door was flung open, and the heavy tramp of boots signalled the first wave of Western Church soldiers. First came the ordinary rank and file, streaming down the center of the room in a grim, orderly procession that spoke nary a word but which moved with focused purpose; they finished their march only after reaching the front of the room and gathering loosely around Seiros’ elevated coffin. Then came a knot of priests that was headed up by the Dark Mage Byleth recalled from all her previous lives, the only sound they made the rustling of robes as they too followed the path to the main coffin…

She craned forward to try and see where the Death Knight was, but oddly enough didn’t find him present there—

No—just a second. The group was clearly waiting for someone now.

But that someone wasn’t the Death Knight: instead, from the main door emerged a small, feminine figure wearing a painted mask and clinging sable cloak. The new arrival immediately commanded the Western soldiers’ attention, the men springing to attention as the person came their way.

“Get to work,” the slight figure said coldly, its sophisticated accents not concealed by what appeared to be a voice-altering mechanism embedded within the mask.

“Are you not going to help us, Lady Acantha?”

When the Lady deigned to respond, it was with an obvious boredom that echoed throughout the chamber. “I am merely here to supervise…. you did claim an ability to undo holy enchantments such as this, correct?“

They'd heard enough. Byleth signalled that she was going to open up the door, then sprang out from their hiding place once she had done so. The Golden Deer shortly followed suit, popping up like mushrooms after rain before gathering at the start of the central path, behind Claude and Byleth.

“Damn it, those Central Church dastards were staking out in here?! Go and distract them while I open the coffin,” the Dark Mage squawked, throwing an arm out to gesture wildly in the direction of the Golden Deer and their professor.

“Just a bunch of kids. Don’t worry, boss. We’ll kill ‘em all,” promised a cocksure soldier, his laughed promise carrying through the mausoleum.

“You had better,” said the cloaked woman, this Acantha whom Byleth had never heard of. She turned slowly to look about as if she didn’t have anything better to do, then paced towards the coffin, willingly turning her back on the enemy in a defiantly haughty way.

“And we thought the Death Knight was fucked up,” said a soldier crudely, but Acantha didn’t reply, merely leaning over the coffin as if her fingers alone could penetrate its mysteries.

“Looks like we shouldn’t mess with that one,” Claude muttered to Byleth. “A Dark Mage, if her aura and getup are any indication… should anything happen, I’ll leave her to you, Teach.”

Byleth nodded, trying not to feel concerned about the appearance of a brand new enemy she had never seen before.

She glanced quickly throughout the room. A quick surveillance of the enemies showed that it would be a struggle to cut through the middle, which soldiers, thinking that the Golden Deer meant to rush them, were already heading to guard. Only a few foes moved towards the left and right, though, three physical fighters going to the left and a pair of mages going to the right… with that, it became clear what had to be done: the way the mausoleum was set up, the Golden Deer could take on the smaller groups, then use the regular placement of the tombs to funnel the middle enemies slowly to either side, preventing the students from being overwhelmed.

Byleth’s voice dipped into a whisper. “Command the glowing tiles, they raise your resistance. Claude, Hilda, Lorenz, Marianne, you go right.” With Claude in charge of the other group, she didn’t need to fear for them so much; she knew he could innovate quickly and extract them out of a scrape if need be. “Use your magical defences to your benefit,” she added to Lorenz and Marianne. “Ignatz, Raphael, Leonie, Lysithea, we're going to the left. Let’s go!”

“It’s showtime! Yaaaargh!” boomed Raphael, his very muscles seeming to twitch with anticipation as he hefted his axe out of its sling. In another second, he took a bit too much initiative and bounced off towards the left's advancing triad of lance-wielding soldiers.

Leonie yelped in concern and called, “Hey, this is a team effort!” Making good on her words, the redhead quickly followed in his footsteps in a bid to provide support.

Ignatz and Lysithea exchanged a glance of trepidation that was shortly overridden by Lysithea’s roll of the eyes.

“Oh honestly! I’m all for speed but this is moronic!” the tiny girl scowled fiercely, yet nonetheless took up the pace that Byleth was setting in Raphael’s wake.

“They’ll be fine,” Byleth promised, sword drawn and eyes on her students’ advance. Raphael must have misinterpreted the ‘go’ as ‘start trouncing everyone in reach’.

Indeed, Raphael’s sudden assault on the leading mercenary’s shoulder had blown the man back and stunned the other two, who clearly hadn’t been expecting much of a fight; a second later, this had allowed Leonie to slip in and disarm one, sending his lance flying away to clatter across a small tomb. Byleth allowed herself a small grim smile at how much they’d progressed: Raphael was a bit overzealous still, but his defences had improved, and his teamwork with Leonie was much more streamlined now.

“What the hell! These are monsters, not kids!” cried the disarmed soldier.

“I’ll show you a monster,” Leonie snapped, bringing her lance around to wound the speaker so grievously that when his mouth next flew open it was with a spatter of blood.

“Lysithea, Ignatz, right,” Byleth snapped, seeing that their little exchange had already attracted trouble from the central lane of the mausoleum.

“I-I’m on it!” Ignatz said nervously, shouldering his bow and taking aim at the first advancing soldier, an archer.

The boy's attack didn’t stop the man from letting an arrow fly, but Lysithea was ready to compensate for Ignatz's misdirection, strands of her hair and the hems of her skirt and sleeves rising as she began a dark chant, purple energy glowing at her fingertips; a miasma of dark energy soon was expelled from her hand, hitting the archer and burning through his armour into his chest, indenting the flesh there most gruesomely. This was enough to end the archer’s life, as Lysithea always had been capable of doing massive damage with the simplest spells—especially when critically focused.

“Pay attention Ignatz, this isn’t child’s play!” Lysithea snapped, but was silenced by a Look from Byleth.

“Good reaction time, Ignatz. Just remember, they’re out to kill us,” Byleth muttered as three soldiers began to move past the tombs. “No hesitation!”

Putting on his best face, a more determined Ignatz soon let not one, but two arrows fly successively into the lead soldier’s sword hand, causing the man to swear loudly and drop his weapon.

Nodding in approval, Byleth glanced over to Claude’s group and found them progressing nicely with the mages; having drawn the stubborn pair out, the small gang of Golden Deer were taking advantage of the trap tiles and firing at at them from all directions.

Back on Byleth’s side, more soldiers were soon drawn into the area; truly staggered by the regularity of the Holy Tomb’s layout, they were forced to weave over to the students in such a way that gave Ignatz to pepper them with arrows and Lysithea time to hurl deadly dark magic their way before they even met Raphael, Leonie, and Byleth at their routes’ end. When the soldiers wised up to the scheme and attempted going round to the left to pour in unhindered, the students and Byleth waited a tick before picking up their heels and dashing off the vacated centre aisle—forcing another game of cat and mouse.

On the other side the action was almost mirrored, Marianne firing off the new Reason magic Byleth had suggested she ask Hanneman to teach her, and Lorenz joining in for a surprisingly potent combination. When two priests did draw close, they were unpleasantly surprised by the dual weapons born by the two; Lorenz took the lance off his back and pushed back the other mage with strength shockingly equal to his magical power, while Marianne swung her way past a Miasma and just barely managed her first kill with a sword.

“O-oh, Goddess,” came Marianne’s panicked voice, clear as a ringing bell in the resonant chamber. Closer now, Byleth could see blood sprayed across the poor girl’s face, and her sword hand shaking violently; on second glance she saw that Marianne’s side was smoking with the telltale sign of a deep dark magic wound.

“It’s alright, Marianne, I’m here,” Lorenz called, fingers starting to glow with healing magic as he advanced towards her.

Knowing that Lorenz’s efforts wouldn’t be enough to seal the wound, Byleth subtly lifted her own free hand, gloved fingers beginning to emit pale sparkles that gathered until they coalesced into an orb of Physic, which she sent gently bobbing the blue-haired girl’s way.

She didn’t stick around to see whether anyone had noticed her use of magic, though, for it wasn’t important at the moment and there had just sounded a loud cracking noise from the front of the chamber; glancing hurriedly over, she looked in time to see the nameless Dark Mage channeling a string of glowing runes to fly from his hands and close around the coffin before disappearing. It looked as though he just broken through another ward on the coffin—the last one, too, if his victorious yelp was any indication.

There were still enemies moving about on either side trying to regroup, but the central lane remained relatively clear, and Byleth knew what she had to do. Signalling for her students to stay back, she shifted her steel sword in her hand and began to run for the coffin—evaded an arrow, ducked a fireball—ran, ran, ran, loping towards the coffin like her life and not a stupid sword was on the line—

At last the blank-faced ivory mask tilted towards her—she was now close enough to see it was all white but for the red roses curling up its sides.

“Oh no you’re not,” said Acantha, finally acknowledging Byleth’s advance. Had it not been for the porcelain mask clinging to the small face, the lips beneath it might’ve been curling into a sneer. “This sword is ours,” the Lady snapped, and brought up both arms in a glow of energy.

It took a mere moment for Acantha's Dark spell to activate—and when it ignited, it did so with venom. Insects too horned, spiked, and devilish to be anything but figments of magic’s cruelty began to crawl out from the woman’s voluminous sleeves, gathering like storm clouds around her arms; after a gesture, they began flying in a buzzing, piercing torrent towards Byleth, who braced herself… in a moment Swarm Z immersed the professor, black insects biting and gnawing at her whole body like hungry demons straight out of the eternal flames, devouring her in a painful nightmare of bulging compound eyes and sharp pincers and hooked fangs—

In the distance, Leonie screamed out her name.

The panicked cry spurred Byleth to fight off the magic faster, encircled limbs and head beginning to glow as her magical resistance kicked in; soon enough a bright pulse went outwards, flinging the insects away like so much debris, scattering them into nothingness.

Byleth panted. Turned her head. Stared at Acantha. She still felt pain, but she’d been through worse—though the simple spell had quite a kick, meaning that this woman was indeed a mage of some talent.

Huffing out a breath, Byleth cried out and surged forward, slashing her sword at the woman.

(Whoever Acantha was had underestimated her. She should’ve used a different Dark spell. This one had slowed her down, but it hadn’t slowed her enough.)

Her blade struck home, rending fabric and skin alike. Acantha cried out and staggered backwards, yet all the same kept gathering magic about her hands. Not wasting time in finding out what the masked woman was going to attack with, Byleth spun round towards the other Dark Mage, who had dropped the Sword of the Creator onto the floor from surprise; shooting downwards, the professor grabbed for the Relic just as a deadly conjured moon began to materialize overhead head like some fell executioner’s axe—

Two things then happened at once:

Acantha's Luna began to descend just as the Sword of the Creator sparked crimson beneath her fingers.

Then the Relic began to glow and glow, running the same heat through Byleth's gloves as after Solon and Zaharas. A brilliant shock ran through the professor then, swift as wind and fierce as fire, and she tasted an almost unbearable sweetness in her throat and heart—for a moment the latter beat on some some kind of electric, glorious high. She could feel her hair unraveling from its braid to flow freely in conjured winds, her glamours flickering, and her energy tripling—

And then she was one with the sword again, slashing upwards and shattering the Luna entirely.

“The Sword...! So that’s how it is,” gasped Acantha, wincing.

Byleth turned on her viciously, but the woman’s hands began twinkling with the deep violet and crimson lights of Warp—

Energy surged through Byleth again, starting a revolt of blood and brain once more, and she felt her eyes roll back in their sockets as her knees suddenly give way to a familiar fall.