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Unexpected Bloom

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[3rd of the Great Tree Moon, 17:00. Imperial Year of 1185]

 

Three days have passed since the end of the chaos. Slowly, but surely, the newly-unified Fodlan is beginning to see changes. The damage, which was the result of the war, was slowly being patched up. Crumbled structures slowly being repaired, burnt grasses being trimmed and tended to, and the common folk who sustained injuries from being dragged into skirmishes, are being treated by the local clinics and healers.

 

Restoration of the kingdom’s former landscape was not the only thing undergoing, post-war, as reformations to the political structure of the Empire has already began. Just as the Adrestian Emperor willed, the worn-out system of placing Crests and nobility above all else shall slowly be replaced by one that values talents instead, regardless of birthright or the possession of the gift of the goddess.

 

Speaking of, the Church of Seiros itself seems to also be going through a sort of reformation itself. Rather than have it abolished completely, the Empire has decided to keep the church up and running, under the supervision of both the emperor and the guidance of the Hero of Fodlan, the Ashen Demon as she is sometimes referred to. Of course, having the one who guided the Emperor herself be assigned to lead the Church makes sense, as the former archbishop has been slain in battle, alongside her closest advisers. That is, if the information made public to the people is to be believed. . .

 


 

A blur. Hearing was clouded, as the irises were hazy. There were inaudible voices in the background, fires slowly dissipating. Though not as faint as the dialogue, marches of soldiers and generals producing what can barely be considered an echo all over the atmosphere. Voices of both men and women can be heard. From what can be made of this unclear scenario, one of them seems to be barking orders. A relatively short figure, clad in red, sending out troops towards the direction of the one witnessing all this. The figure in crimson, as well as two other figures, took a glance to said direction as common knights slowly approached the one producing such a visage. What’s already a rather blurry picture was made even blurrier as the soldiers began carrying the beholder, their sights flickering between light and dark, fading more and more with each blink. Eventually, only darkness remained.

 

Time has passed. The eyes of this individual began to slowly regain their vision. Slowly, the image they see would become closer to clarity. However, what they were seeing was far from what they last saw. No more are the foggy fields or war and the march of the battalions. Instead, what they saw, what she saw, was that of a room that was akin to a palace hall. Pillars made of marble, walls decorated with golden linings, carpets as red as the blood of the fallen, and banners made of silk, plastered with the insignia of the Adrestian Empire. There was no doubt that she’s been brought to the palace.

 

“Where am I. . .? What is this place—?”

 

Rhea asked herself. Her voice was unsteady as her body was weak. It took a few moments for her to finally regain her consciousness, and a few more to fully process what was going on. She eventually figured out that she was within the Imperial Palace, but remained unsure of where exactly within said palace. Eventually, she would notice the change in attire. Though still clad in white cloth, the robes that she wears now was far from that of her battle attire. Her headpiece was nowhere to be found, her sandals no longer being worn her feet, and her wrists bare from the armor that were once adorned on them.

 

Instead, what she carried around her wrists were cuffs, shackles bound to a wall by chain, one placed on each of her arm. Though the length of the chain allows for less rigid motions, it did not allow her to roam freely around the room. Immediately, her line of thought was that of her mother, Sothis, and the desire to find a way to see her once more.  Instinctively, Rhea began to stand, once more having a goal in mind. As her mind has calmed, and her heart too exhausted for her to be able to properly express herself, Rhea once again felt nothing but sorrow for her loss, and anger for the betrayal of both the vessel of the progenitor god, and the scion of the Adrestian Emperor, that once aided her in her conflicts.

 

“. . .!”

 

A ragged breath escaped her lips, as she tried to build up whatever strength was left within her, at the moment. Determined to leave this place, Rhea attempted to tap to her divine powers once more. Though the shackles would be enough to hold a mere human in place, the same cannot be said for one that is capable of assuming the form of a beast. Even in her somewhat weakened state, Rhea would be able to use her powers and break free. Such wouldn’t be that difficult of a task of her, as the moment she assumes the form of The Immaculate One, the chains are sure to snap. With every fiber of her being, she tried to unleash her wrath upon the world, once more.

 

Unfortunately for her, it seems that the perpetrators behind her confinement within the castle walls have already thought of that. Though Rhea had slightly more than enough strength to use her abilities, there was something actively restraining her from transforming. The fallen child of the goddess found herself not only unable to transform into the monster within her, but also found herself incapable or producing even a single spark of a flame, through the use of her magic.

 

“How—What is this!? How is it that this is possible—!?”

 

Before the fallen saint could say or do any more, the sound of doors opening had echoed throughout the room. Slowly, the large doorway would creak, allowing the light from the world beyond the walls to slowly enter. As the chamber doors have fully opened, various figures would slowly enter the room. First would be a small group of around four Imperial troops, all carrying lances as a means of protecting not only themselves, but those they’ve escorted.

 

Having moved to the sides to pave the way, the Adrestian Emperor herself, Edelgard von Hresvelg, would begin walking towards the chained idol. Behind her were two other familiar faces. One is Edelgard’s most trusted adviser who, more often than not, operates from the shadows to complete tasks he considers ‘insignificant’ to the Emperor. The other is, of course, the daughter or the former captain of the Knights of Seiros, as well as the woman who houses the Crest of Flames, and the power of the progenitor god. Said woman is also the wielder of the sword that the King of Liberation once wielded, which is at her grasp at this very moment.

 

“And on the third day, she rose again. Heh. It seems that this reptile has quite enjoyed her divine slumber, Your Highness. . .”

 

Spoken with a tone of mockery from the dark and brooding figure. The dark sorcerer, Hubert von Vestra, shot the eyes of the saint with a disparaged glance, before turning his attention to the Emperor. Though both Edelgard and Hubert have stood against the goddess, it seems that the heir of House Vestra was less thoughtful of the prisoner before them, viewing her as nothing more than a beast tied to a leash. Of course, Hubert was never a man of faith, only that of reason. He wasn’t exactly a man of compassion either, especially not towards the adversary of Her Majesty.

 

As the dark mage’s dry sense of humor eluded his lips, the monarch paid little to no regard to it. Instead, her gaze was towards that of Rhea’s own hues. The moment she was close enough to the Nabatean, El immediately darted her spheres towards the former’s own intense stare. For a moment, neither one of them spoke to one another. The scion of the Empire carried only a determined expression within her irises. On the contrary, the gaze of the goddess only carried hatred and anger, wanting to exact revenge towards whom she considered a traitor.

 

“Why. . .?”

 

The war saint hissed at the direction of the emperor. Her hues filled with contempt and disgust and her eyes somewhat twitching, as she continued to maintain the exchange of stares she had, with the figure of royalty standing before her. To be stripped of her authority, her powers, her armor, and even the only family she had left. It was humiliating, her fate constantly fueling her grudge against the world and humanity, as each day passed by. Worst of all, she was spared from the sweet release of death.

 

Meanwhile, the horn-adorned queen arched her eyebrow. She felt nothing towards the daughter of the goddess, neither hatred nor pity. All she felt was a sense of necessity, seemingly having spared the goddess for her own plans. And by the looks of it, only a select few individuals know of Rhea’s current condition, as most would assume that she is dead. With the Nabatean seemingly poised to be the tool of the empire, Edelgard remained silent, having a different purpose in mind for the green-haired woman, that far involved being someone the emperor could make banter too.

 

“Why did you spare me. . .? To humiliate me—? Torture me—!? WHY!!!”

 

The woman of draconic descent roared. Though not as loud as the curses she would constantly yell in anguish, throughout the war, Rhea raised her voice towards the Imperial bunch. While Edelgard, Hubert and Byleth remained unfazed, the soldiers accompanying them were startled, having raised their weapons and aimed them towards Rhea’s direction, albeit all in a nervous state. Remaining calm, Edel raised her right hand to signal the troops behind her, instructing them to return at ease.

 

“Why I have spared your life should not concern you. Just know that I intend to use you for a cause that I am certain would benefit the people. However, you may consider this an act of mercy if you so desire, ‘Lady’ Rhea.”

 

“Mercy. . .you dare call this mercy. . .? After having taken all those I hold dear in my heart away from me, leaving me chained within this palace, and slowly draining what little powers I have, you would still see yourself as merciful. . .!?”

 

As the two women had a heated exchange of words (or rather, the emperor being at the receiving end of the former archbishop’s heated words), the dark sorcerer next to the Adrestian Heir would interject himself in the exchange, citing his own rebuttal towards the prisoner before them.

 

“You’re quite mistaken, ‘archbishop’. Your powers are not being ‘drained’, they are simply being restrained. I was instructed to place a spell upon those shackles, as a. . .precaution. To prevent you from causing us any more trouble.”

 

. . .

 

“Though now that the idea has been mentioned, why is it that we allow this inhuman to continue drawing breath, instead of simply stripping her of her powers and use it as we see fit for our plans, Lady Edelgard?”

 

The sinister-looking male inquired, turning around to Her Highness immediately after responding to the misconceptions of their captive audience. Shortly after his question, Hubert remained silent for the remainder of the time and listened to what Edelgard had to say.

 

“Hubert, we have already discussed this. Rhea’s powers alone may suffice for our plans to come to fruition, but our Professor and I have our own unfinished business with the archbishop. I have several questions of my own that I want answered, and I shall not allow the death of our prisoner until I have those answers, at the very least.”

 

Soon after, Rhea spoke once more. Though her being remains bound by the shackles of the empire, her emotions are left unchecked, allowing her enough energy to express her disgust, contempt, hatred and overall disapproval for whatever it is the Emperor seeks to do, as well as what she has already done to her.

 

“No. I would rather die than serve you! You’ve taken my mother away from me—and now you intend to use my power to fulfill your own wicked schemes!?”

 

“You seem to be mistaken. I do not aim to fulfill any sort of ‘wicked’ scheme, whatsoever. I will use the power of the goddess, to right the wrongs of this land. I, unlike you, do not wish to enslave humanity.”

 

“How DARE you!? You are the ones who betrayed me! You are the ones who betrayed my mother! I am not the one who is wicked, you TRAITORS are!!!”

 

With anger slowly consuming her once more, the Nabatean quickly flung her arm towards the Emperor. In an attempt to unleash her rage, Rhea’s right palm formed into that of a grip, startling not only the soldiers, but Byleth and Hubert as well, by attempting to choke the life out of the white-haired woman.

 

Though the peons were on their guard, and both of Edelgard’s most trusted have taken a defensive stance to protect her, the royal heir herself remained unfazed, her expressions remaining stale as her body did not flinch, even for a second. Though her prisoner wanted to choke her, Edel stood confidently before Rhea, as the latter’s shackles prevented her from laying even a finger onto the queen’s flesh.

 

Indeed, Rhea’s chains were somewhat lengthy, allowing her to move around better due to being less restrained. However, they weren’t made too long to the point that Rhea could just about wander the entire room. Not only that, but Edelgard made sure not to stay too close to her, with the palm of the goddess being half an inch away from her own throat. After this failed act of retribution, Rhea slowly recoiled herself, lowering her arm as she stepped backwards.

 

“You claim that I am the wicked one, and yet, here you are desperately attempting to choke me. You must think me some kind of fool, Rhea.”

 

“Though it seems Lady Edelgard is, fortunately, unscathed, I suggest you sit still and behave properly. Lest you wish to suffer the same fate as your brethren. Heh.”

 

“Hubert.”

 

“Ah, it seems I have overstepped my boundaries. My apologies, Your Highness.”

 

Both Edelgard and Hubert were unimpressed at the war saint’s pitiful attempt of retribution. The shadowy individual would then warn Rhea about what were to happen, should she attempt another move like that. Despite his intentions being that of protecting his liege, it seems that the Adrestian heir didn’t appreciate his words too much. While El does not trust Rhea and her kin, she does not, however, abhor the Nabateans to such an extent. No, there is a different group that has earned her that level of hatred. All that shall be a tale to be told for another day, however. For now, it seems that the dark mage has something in mind that he wishes to speak, yet his tongue remains stilled about it.

 

“Your Highness, there is something I wish to discuss with you. There is a certain. . .concern that I wish to raise, yet I fear that this is not the appropriate place for such a topic. I am also uncertain that the former archbishop would be willing to listen to your words, given her current temperamental state.”

 

“Alright. I suppose I shall save that idea for another day. After all, I only came to this very chamber to see whether or not the child of the goddess still breathes, or if she’s still within this room.

 

After a quiet exchange of words between the master and her most-trusted vizier, Edelgard takes one last glance towards the chained Nabatean, before dismissing her troops. The emperor adorned in red soon makes an exit from the chamber, once the soldiers began marching towards the doors. As Edelgard slowly walked away from the scene, Hubert moves to her side and followers her. Meanwhile, the silent mercenary averts her eyes from her companions and sends a somewhat conflicted expression towards Rhea, turning to leave afterwards.

 

“. . .Why? Why did you do it. . .?”

 

Before Byleth could even take a step towards the direction of the exit, however, Rhea called out to her. Rhea’s voice was wavering in emotions, fluctuating between anger and grief. Her eyes, and her overall expression, reflected that of contempt. Yet her eyes, slowly becoming watery as tears begin to form, told a story of one who is disheartened. Though the betrayal of the Adrestian Empire was just as unexpected, the professor’s allegiance aligning with her enemy was one that left a more personal mark on her. For the woman who bore the heart of her mother to betray her, it was as if the one family she had sought to see once more is being taken away from her again.

 

“Why did you betray me. . .? Why did you side with that traitor, and leave me all by myself!? Why!?”

 

Rhea cried out in anguish. Her voices, carrying the very negative emotions she is currently feeling, pierced through the ears of the former mercenary. Byleth felt no regret towards siding with Edelgard, as she sought to protect the very student whom she formed an emotional bond with. And yet, she could not help but feel a semblance of guilt for actions. Indeed, it was Rhea that made her live a rather unusual life, being unable to properly feel and convey human emotions, as well as lacking a heartbeat. The Nabatean was the one who made her human and inhuman at the same time.

 

Despite all that, Byleth felt no hatred towards Rhea. Perhaps there was a bit of a grudge, but the instructor only fought the archbishop not to appease a personal vendetta, but as a necessity to stop her madness. The mercenary turned around to look Rhea in the eye. Her hues carried the same pain that Rhea’s has, and a pained expression was painted on her face. But she could not say a word. She showed that even after what she has done, she still feels guilt towards what she did to Rhea. However, Byleth was a woman of few words, and in this scenario, she found it especially difficult to utter any, be it of comfort or repentance.

 

After a moment’s gaze of guilt, Byleth turned her back from the chained goddess, making her leave from the chambers, about to head to where Hubert and Edelgard are currently situated at. The sound of the doors creaking would echo through the room once more, as the once-opened doorway slowly shut themselves closed. After a thud from the gates, there was silence. Not a sound was heard from the chamber, just as there was much less light gracing the room.

 

Slowly, Rhea fell onto her knees. Her heart continued to flare up with the desire for vengeance. Yet, said heart also continued to pain her with the sorrow she has received. No longer holding them back, Rhea released soft wails of sadness, as her tears began rolling down her cheeks nonstop. She was betrayed, she was left alone, she was humiliated, and now, she felt the loneliness building up inside of her once more. Her mother is no longer of this world, her entire race slaughtered in the ages of old, and the only family she had left are no longer by her side.

 

All she wanted was to find peace, to no longer be alone in this world. Yet it seems that wish continues to distance itself from reality. . .