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Broken Smiles, Broken Teeth

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Byleth propped herself up on a long, strange sword in the middle of the throne room across a plush red rug from a short, silver haired woman. The woman was clutching an axe that was the stuff of nightmares, its head seemingly made from misshapen bone. The red fabric of the drapes and lavish rugs did little to hide the blood covering the room. The bodies of dozens of armored soldiers covered the ground, their polished silver armor dulled by the dried viscera caked over it. They we’re not alone however. Scattered around the room was nearly a dozen or so other people, their clothing all distinct and varied, almost none of it seeming fit to be on an actual battlefield. A man with bright green hair lay dead on the ground next to a large wyvern, the color of his robes warped by the blood soaking them. Two women lay a few feet away from him, one atop the other as if trying to protect them. Though it had made little difference as both were filled with long silver arrows. One of them was wearing strangely cut clothes that looked to be made from leather and covered in beads, while the woman laid over her wore a long red gown. Another 7 bodies were splayed across the floor, one with long orange hair, another with it short and choppy. A blue haired man in armor and a young man in long green robes both lay dead on the ground, hands inches away from eachother as if reaching for help that would never come.

“It seems as though your path ends here, my teacher…” The silver haired woman said as she slowly walked towards Byleth. There was no joy in her voice, nor malice. The woman held no hatred in her eyes, just a grim, exhausted determination. “Please know I feel no joy in claiming this victory, but I must strike you down here, and now.” Her heavy footsteps stopped, ending right in front of Byleth, who turned her gaze up to stare at the horned woman, too exhausted to fear what was to come. “Right now, across the whole nation people are killing each other, Byleth. It has to end. If it doesn’t end here, then it will go on forever. Fódlan's future lies across your grave, and if that is the path I must walk than so be it.” Byleth felt a cold, calloused finger hook underneath her chin and lift her head up so she was staring into the woman’s tired lilac eyes. “I had wanted...so badly to walk with you, my love,” the woman paused as tears began building in the corner of her eyes before roughly pushing Byleth away.

Byleth lay there, looking up as she heard a voice that was hers and yet at the same time not whisper. “El….Please….” But the axe tore into the side of her throat all the same.

 

Byleth’s eyes shot open as she sat upright, turning to her side as quickly as she could before violently expelling the contents of her stomach onto the smooth stone beneath her. Never before had a nightmare had such an intense effect on her. She stood up slowly, knees weak. The area around her however was just as unfamiliar as her dream had been. A large, seemingly endless stone-floored room, with a staircase leading up to a large throne, on top of which was draped a rather tired looking young girl, who’s hair was a similar shade of green to the man Byleth had seen next to the wyvern…..maybe? Things were starting to get muddled in her mind as she slowly regained her footing. Details seemed to blur a bit here and there, but this wasn’t the time to dwell on that. The young girl stared at her with a curious look in her eyes.

“How did you ever manage to end up here again?...” Byleth looked at her, confused. “Well, no matter. It’s rather rude of you to interrupt my well-earned rest, very rude indeed. Now come to me, I wish to have a look at you. Something’s different this time….” As Byleth walked towards the strange girl a bit more light shone down on her. Looking down Byleth felt some relief to see her clothes were unchanged from the night before, as opposed to the fading memory of the unwieldy garb she’d worn in that dream. Her hair was still the same short choppy blue mess that ended just above her jaw and her armor was simple. Her black, knee length tunic and black pants were untouched by the dirt and moisture that filled this room. Her midsection, shoulders and arms were covered in a lighter plate armor than the heavy steel of her boots, and both had clearly seen their fair share of battles. Her cloak was seemingly nowhere to be found, but otherwise, she was clothed.

“Hmmmmm, I’ve not seen you like this before,” the child paused before asking ”tell me, who are you?”.

“I…..I am Byleth.” She said. This child seemed kind enough, but it felt much like looking at the water in a canal, the surface was calm, but there was a feeling of something underneath that should terrify her.

“Huh, I had never thought I’d be accustomed to human names, but it seems a small mercy that you hold onto the one I know best. How strange! Hmm. It all feels so familiar, yet at the same time so very very…different. I think it may be time for yet another nap...something seems to have drained me, and I find my mind getting foggier by the moment. Now, get on your way. ”

“Hey, kid, It’s time to wake up.” Byleth’s eyes dragged open and she sat up from her small bedroll, trying to make heads or tails of anything from her dream...either of them. The first had faded so quickly from her mind it was a mess of colors and emotions more than any coherent image.

“Were you having that dream again?” Jeralt asked, kneeling down so his face was closer to level with Byleth’s, resting his hand on her shoulder. She nodded, shaking her head slightly to try and clear it of what remained of the fog of sleep.

“I...dreamt about a woman. She was short, and her eyes were...what were they?” She wondered aloud. She’d remembered the exhaustion in the woman’s eyes, but she’d lost the color of them to the fog.

“You’ve described her to me before. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone like that, green hair and all.” Jeralt said as he stood and patted Byleth’s shoulder.

“No, it wasn’t her...well it was but before…” Jeralt cut her off, though byleth was more whispering to herself than anything so it seemed just as likely he hadn’t heard her in the first place.

“In any case, just put that out of your mind for now. The battlefield is no place for idle thoughts. Risking your life is part of the job for mercenaries like us. Letting your mind wander is a sure way to get yourself killed.” Byleth nodded and stood up, taking Jeralt’s offered hand to help her up.“OK, soon it’s going to be time to get moving towards our next job in Farghus. It’s far from here, so we’ll need to be ready to leave at dawn.”

"Of course, Sir." Byleth replied as she and Jeralt turned to hear the sounds of armored boots clanking down the road cobblestone paths could be heard.

“Good grief, it seems the entire camp is up and waiting for us out there. Let’s go see what…” The door behind Jeralt swung open and a hastily armored mercenary ran into the room.

“Jeralt! Sir, I’m sorry to barge in like this, but you’re needed immediately.”

“Vladimir, what happened?” The young mercenary opened his mouth to reply when suddenly three clamoring masses forced their way through the door. Three people stood, panting desperately, between Jeralt and Vladimir. One of them, a blonde young man with a blue half-cape draped over him was the first to speak.

“Please forgive us for such a rude entrance sir, we wouldn’t bother you were the situation not absolutely dire.” His voice, between his rapid panting breaths, was deeper than would be expected from someone his age.

“What do a bunch of kids like you want at this hour?” Jeralt’s voice held no animosity toward the three of them, but Byleth could see in the way his shoulders were set, he expected a fight.

“We’re being pursued by a group of bandits. I can only hope that you will be so kind as to lend your support.” The blonde boy replied. Jeralt had been right.

“Bandits? Here?”

“It’s true. They attacked us while we were at rest in our camp.” This time the person to reply to Jeralt was the young woman to the left of the blonde they’d just been speaking with. Her attire was rather strange. While the other two were wearing somewhat sensable pants and ornate shirts, with armor scattered around in various places, she wore a pair of black shorts and red tights, along with a pair of black heeled shoes.

“We’ve been separated from our companions and we’re outnumbered. They’re after our lives…not to mention our gold.” the last member of the trio, a young man with a yellow cape draped over his left shoulder, explained.

“I’m impressed by how calm you all seem considering the situation. But, I have to ask, your uniforms…”

“Sir! A large group of bandits have been spotted, just outside the village!” A mercenary screamed out, before he and Vladimir ran out the door, presumably to assemble whatever forces they could.

“I guess they followed you all this way, then. We won’t abandon you to a bandit’s blade, but ensure you do not get in the way.” Jeralt said as he looked over his shoulder at Byleth. Byleth nodded, face blank of anything betraying an emotion, and grabbed a pair of iron brawling gauntlets off of the floor. Jeralt began walking towards the door. “Come on, let’s move. I hope you’re ready for this, all of you.”

The five of them ran out of the building. Jeralt was the first to speak.

“Kid, take the three students and meet me in the northern forest. I’ll get my mount and meet you there with as many men as I can rally.” Byleth gave another nod and turned to the three kids, students but of what she had no idea, and finished sliding her gauntlets into place.

“Follow closely.” They all three nodded, not a moment of hesitation among them. The four of them ran towards the large forest to the north of the mercenary camp. Byleth was preparing to find a clearing to wait for Jeralt and his men, when the yellow-caped student called out.

“Bandits, to the left!” And he was correct. Out of the trees roughly 100 yards away, several large bandits were emerging. The largest of them, a bearded man, had clearly already had seen the four of them, as the bandits began rapidly moving towards them. The girl to Byleth’s right took hold of the blunted Iron axe that had been slung across her back, While the boy in yellow and the boy in blue pulled out a bow and lance respectively.

“Keep close. Red, I want you to my right. Blue, to my left, and Yellow stay behind us. Make sure as few of them get to us as possible and we’ll make sure none of them make it to you.”
“We do have names you know.” The girl in red muttered, clearly none too pleased.

“Make it out of this alive and I’ll learn them. I know enough dead men’s names to last a lifetime, I don’t need any more.” Byleth’s reply, paired with the blank expression she wore, set all three students on edge. “If I tell you to do something and you don’t, your death is on your own head. Understood?”

“Understood... I must wonder if all mercenaries are as strange as you. Well fine, let’s see what you’ve got.” Edelgard said, shifting into a lower combat stance and readying her axe.

“Understood. Thank you for lending us your strength. A death here wouldn’t do, so let us fight together!” The one in blue said to Byleth, his lance poised for blood.

“Understood. Keep me alive, and you will have my eternal thanks.” The young man in yellow said, almost jovially as he readied an arrow.

Byleth nodded and with a “Charge!” the quartet sprang forward. Three bandits ran at them from the left. The lancer charged towards the one leading the pack, smacking the side of his spear into the man’s head, while the archer launched a shot into his head, the blunted training arrow knocking him onto his back unconscious. . The girl in red charged forward and slammed her axe into the shoulder of one of the bandits, a second later Byleth brought her iron-clad fist into the side of the man’s head, bone cracking loudly as he fell dead.

The last conscious member of the initial bandit charge ran forward and swung at the girl in red, leaving a long gash along her right arm. One bandit who seemed to come from the woods to their right charged towards the boy in yellow, but the lancer in blue stood in his path, taking a blow to his side before swatting the bandit back. The lancer took the opportunity and lashed out and swung for the man’s head, catching the side of his jaw and sending the man to the ground, out cold. The archer ran forward and put a hand on his friend’s shoulder.

“Dimitri, are you ok?!”

“It’s nothing to worry about, Claude. A flesh wound at worst. Don’t lose focus.” The one in blue, Dimitri, replied as he clutched at his side, leaning on his lance. “Go help Edelgard and that woman, I’ll watch your back and catch up in a moment.” The boy in yellow, Claude, smiled and nodded at him.

“Ok. Just don’t take too long looking at my ass and not cover your own.” Dimitri chuckled as Claude ran towards Byleth and Edelgard, who stood over the unconscious form of a large axe wielding bandit. Once Dimitri was finally caught up the final four bandits were upon them, including the man with the beard. Two charged forward towards Edelgard and Byleth, and were felled quickly by the duo. Claude and Dimitri tore away from the two women and charged at the bandit that was trying to come up from behind.

Finally, it was time to fight the bearded bandit leader. All four ran towards him, Byleth going forward, with Edelgard running at him from the left and Dimitri from the right. All the while Claude shot at him from behind the trio. The bandit fell to the ground with barely a sound except a dull thud. Even Byleth was left a bit winded by the battle, with the three students all gasping for air desperately. Byleth sat down, leaning against a tree as she began to regain her breath. After a moment or two, the girl in red stood up, having been leaned forward with her hands braced on her knees, and looked at the mercenary.

“Edelgard….my name is Edelgard Von Hresvelg.” She said between pants.

“Good for you.” Byleth mumbled, her tone was as blank emotionally as it ever was. She held her hand out, which Edelgard took in her own in a firm handshake. “Byleth, my name is Byleth Eisner.”

Edelgard...it was quite a pretty name but strangely familiar, as if she had heard it before. Perhaps it was one of her father’s old stories, or some noble she'd heard gossip about. But that wasn’t of much importance. Byleth stood, preparing to begin walking as she heard the sounds of hooves drawing near. Presumably belonging to her father’s mount.

“Come, we need to regroup with the rest of the encampment and see if there are any more bandits around.” The three nodded simultaneously. Dimitri and Claude went to pick up their weapons, while Edelgard continued forward, past Byleth.

Suddenly the quiet was pierced by a loud battle cry. “Die! You noble brat!” Rang throughout the woods as Byleth turned to see the bearded man running at Edelgard with his axe in hand. Edelgard was fumbling with her axe but she wouldn’t make it in time. Byleth launched forward, shoving the girl aside before turning in hopes of presenting some kind of fight, but the axe was inches from her throat when it stopped suddenly. Byleth looked down, and saw everything, even the grass which had been billowing in the wind a moment ago had stopped. When she looked up she saw not the bandit leader, but that strange green haired girl on the throne.

“It seems some things never change with you. I don’t know whether to be happy you seem to be your same foolhardy self or even more angry! Honestly, what were you ever hoping to achieve with that little “noble sacrifice” stunt?” The young girl yelled down from her seat. Byleth could only shrug and look up at her.

“I….she needed help.” Byleth said, looking up as if that was all that needed to be said. The room was silent for a long moment, as the strange girl looked at her with eyes that struck Byleth as almost mournful. After another long moment she sighed and leaned back, slumping against the backrest of the throne.

“Well… I am at the very least glad to see you’re still yourself, with all the hopeless shortcomings that entails. But I can’t expect you to protect your life if you don’t remember the value of it. I am Sothis, the goddess that watches over this land and it’s people, and I guess It’s up to me to guide you from now on. Here is the hope that from this moment on things can make a bit more sense.”

“Sothis? The goddess? You speak of me as if you know me, yet I’ve never met a child so odd as you to claim to be the goddess herself.”

“You think me a child, still? Yet again it shows that all your differences aside you’re as bullheaded as ever. I just saved your life! It’s not the first time I’ve done so either! With how you seem to act I highly doubt it will be the last as well. What does that make you?” Sothis was standing now, her arms crossed in front of her as she looked down on Byleth.

“I am indebted to a child.” This seemed to take Sothis by surprise.

“I suppose you are. Now, I believe we have a more pressing matter at hand. You threw yourself before an axe to save just one girl, and were it not for my quick intervention you’d have died.” Byleth looked at her confused, or at least Sothis believed it to be confusion. On Byleth’s stoic face that meant little more than a slight crease in the corners of her eyes. Of all the things that could’ve changed between their first meeting and whatever had gotten them here, Sothis wished Byleth could have kept a bit more of the emotional spectrum she remembered the young mercenary having. Although she was starting to have trouble remembering what exactly Byleth had been like before. “It is just your lucky day that, whatever has changed, I still seem to be able to rewind time as well as pause it. Only so far, it seems. I feel so very drained and yet I can’t seem to figure a reason why. But I can do it all the same! Now, this time around, please try a bit harder to actually protect yourself, lest you condemn us both to a painful, if very very dramatic, end.” With that, her hands raised into the air, light arranging itself into intricate patterns in front of her as Byleth felt her stomach lurch, and suddenly she was back in the forest, Edelgard standing with her back to Byleth as the bearded bandits shout rang across the trees. Byleth didn’t hesitate for a second, swiftly moving between the two of them and raised her arms in front of her. The Bandits axe lodged in the iron of her gauntlet, and while he struggled to pull it loose, Byleth brought her unburdened fist up under his jaw. His head flew back, and he fell over onto his hands and knees, panickedly crawling away until he was finally stable enough to get up and run. Byleth turned to Edelgard as Dimitri and Claude both reached them, weapons at the ready.

“Edelgard, are you injured?” Dimitri asked watching the bandit disappear into the trees.

“No, Dimitri, I am fine. She was fast enough to stop him before he even got close.” She replied, gesturing to Byleth, who was now busy trying to dislodge the axe currently stuck in her gauntlet. By the time she had succeeded her father and several mercenaries had arrived to the clearing. Jeralt dismounted from his horse.

“Byleth, did you just….” Suddenly a man wearing a suit of armor with a frankly ridiculous shoulder spike, along with several other well armored men came out from the forest where they had just seen the bandit disappear.

“The Knights of Seiros are here! Fear not good students, for we shall cut down all who terrorize…...wait, where are they?” He turned to the men behind him. “Go hunt them down!”. The men nodded and ran back into the forest, while the man came closer to Byleth and Jeralt, calling out as he walked.

“Thank you so much for protecting the young students my kind man! May I ask your… wait…Captain Jeralt!? Is it really you? Haha! It’s been nearly 20 years! Do you recognize me? Of course you do! How could you ever forget your old right-hand man, Alois? I knew you couldn’t be dead!”

“Alois, I see you haven’t changed much in all these years, least of all your volume. But I’m not your captain anymore, I’m a mercenary, so quit with the formalities. If you need me, I’ll be packing up the camp with the rest of my men, we have work in the Alliance.” Exhaustion was clear in her father’s voice.

“Wait! You can’t just walk off, this is fantastic! I insist that you return to the monastery. Lady Rhea will surely want to thank you for protecting her students.

“Garreg Mach….I suppose this was inevitable.” Jeralt’s tone said plenty. He was less than ecstatic, even by his usual standards.

“And what about you, kid? Are you the captain's child?” Alois asked, seemingly sizing her up. Byleth’s response was a quick and simple nod, followed by a rather uncomfortable silence that was finally broken by Alois coughing awkwardly. “Well it does seem while not much was inherited regarding appearance, you certainly learned his way with words. Haha..but still! It’ll be wonderful to show you the monastery as well! I assume you’re coming along?” Byleth gave another quick nod and Jeralt began walking away, giving orders to the men around the camp and preparing for travel.

“Now captain! Don’t go running off again!” Alois called towards Jeralt.

“Even I’m not that daring, Alois.”

Byleth wandered back to the cabin she’d occupied the night before and packed her few personal belongings. She left out a small bottle of healers brew, a strong alcohol used to clean wounds, and a bundle of cloth that had once been a shirt she used for bandaging. She sat on top of her travel pack and now-rolled-up bedroll, slowly undoing the various buckles that held her armor in place and sliding the armour and tunic over top of her head. She finally was able to start examining the damage from the morning. There was a long but rather surface lever gash in her forearm, an arrow wound in her left thigh, and a few bruises where her armor had protected her from a blade but not the force behind it. She made quick work of cleaning out the wounds and wrapping most of them in bandaging before taking time to stitch the arrow wound. She’d always healed faster than most of the brigade so she tended not to want to bother the few mages with healing magic they had, lest they need that magic to save another man later.

It was right about when Byleth had slid her roughspun cotton under-shirt back on that she heard a knock from the front door. She sighed, stood, and turned on her heel toward the door, throwing it open without even a second thought. She’d lived with the company as long as she could remember, and living among nomadic sell-swords meant there were vastly lower bars for personal boundaries than in other groups. However, when the door opened on a slightly nervous looking Edelgard, Dimitri, and Claude, two of whom proceeded to go wide eyed and beat red, all the while Claude remained completely unphased, Byleth began to realise just how stark that difference in standards might be.

“Can I help you?” Byleth asked, leaning against the door frame as she crossed her arms in front of her.

“I...I wanted to thank you. Your help was greatly appreciated, and your skill is beyond question. You’re clearly an experienced mercenary. N..not that that’s at all surprising given your father was a former Knight Captain, Jeralt the Blade Breaker.”

“Hmmmm, I never knew he was a captain. He’s been a mercenary as long as I’ve been able to remember.” Edelgard looked up from what must have been a rather fascinating patch of grass at her feet, if how intensely she had been staring at it was any indication. Making her the first of the awkward duo to be able to look Byleth in the eye. She had a strange look in her eyes, the lilac color notwithstanding. It was something like a vague hope.

“Curious….I’m sure the reasoning for that must be a fascinating story.”

“I’m sure we’ll have plenty of time to hear the story. You’re coming with us to the monastery, correct? I’d love to bend your ear during the trek back to the officers academy. It’s at least a day and a half’s walk from here.” Claude smiled at Byleth as he asked.

“What’s the matter, Claude, trying to ensure this nice woman is there in case there are any more bandit’s you need to run away from?” Edelgard asked, smirking at the archer.
“Now Edelgard, leave him alone.” Dimitri said, a small grin crossing his cheeks. “I’m sure he was only acting in our best interest by leaving us behind to fight those bandits alone.” Claude laughed and soon the conversation devolved into a bickering match filled with accusations of paranoia, cowardice, gullibility and all other sorts of weak-at-best insults until Byleth snapped her fingers, getting the three student’s attention.

“May I ask which part of this pertains to me?”

Dimitri spoke up first.

“Please, forgive our digression. I was hoping to bend your ear for a moment. I’m the heir to the throne of the Holy Kingdom of Fargus, and what I saw of your skill today made me certain that our ranks would be strengthened immensely by having someone of your caliber at the helm.” Dimitri was in the middle of a breath when Edelgard spoke up.

“Your skill on the battlefield truly was beyond impressive, and I’d like to ask you to consider lending that skill to the Adrestian Empire. I’m the next in line for the Imperial throne and I…” Edelgard had taken a step closer as she spoke, but Dimitri put his hand on her shoulder as he tried to continue his point.

“Edelgard, please, allow me to finish my own offer before stepping in with your own. The Holy Kingdom of Fargus would be greatly appreciative of a tactician such as you. If you’d like, I would be honored to extend an invitation to return to the kingdom with me.”

“Whoa there you two,” Claude chimed in, hand rested on his hip. “A little lesson in subtlety would do you both well. Trying to recruit someone you’ve only just met? I’d expect this kinda thing from you Edelgard, but you as well Dimitri?” Claude ‘tisked’ audibly, shaking his head before chuckling a bit.

“These three, I swear, they really never held much in terms of tact even at the best of times. It seems the more things change, the more they stay the same. So, where shall we start this time?” Sothis asked, her voice ringing through Byleth’s mind like a bell. She looked between the three of them. All three looked her in the eyes this time.

Claude's eyes felt cold and empty when examined with any scrutiny, like staring at the eyes of a painting, any emotion you see is placed there specifically to be seen rather then being genuinely felt. On to Dimitri; his eyes held a genuine hope, which Byleth found reassuring, but something behind it felt off, like looking at a fox and not being sure if it intended to befriend you or go for your throat. Finally, Edelgards eyes held a strange mixture of determination and distrust within them, but something was bubbling up underneath...Fear, it was fear, of what Byleth had no idea but this girl was terrified of something. She felt something heavy and, in a way, distant in her chest. It was as if she’d been hit with a stone a split second before and was feeling an echo of the pain. It was such a strange sensation, but Byleth took it as a sign, and stepped down the few wooden steps out of the front door and held her hand out towards the red-clad heiress. Edelgard’s lips stretched into a polite smile before she took the hand and shook.

“A wise choice. While the Empire is not as glorious as it once was, we’re not a nation to be easily broken, and that will not change once I’ve taken the throne.”

“I look forward to working with you. Now, if it would be of no inconvenience, your highness, may I go put the rest of my clothes on?” Byleth asked, her tone and face so blank Edelgard couldn’t tell if the request was sarcastic or genuine. Her face went red and she dropped the mercenaries hand, nodding quickly.

“Y...yes of course, apologies for the inconvenience.” Edelgard said, blushing. Byleth didn’t reply, simply turning and returning to the cabin.

Always such a hurry with those three. She is certainly refined, but she’s none too subtle about the way she evaluates everyone around her. What could strike such fear in the heart of a future empress?” Sothis wondered as Byleth donned her armor.The door opened a minute or two later, with Byleth standing in her tunic and coat as Alois walked up alongside a very tired looking Jeralt.

“That’s enough catching up! It’s time to head back.” Alois exclaimed, clapping his hand on Jeralt’s shoulder. The students and Byleth nodded, moving to join the departing mercenary company. The sun was just cresting over top of the treeline,it was a beautiful site, but the light stung Byleth’s eyes.

Chapter Text

After a long day of hiking the strange band of knights, mercenaries, and nobility made camp in a small clearing off of the main road. One group began cooking over a large fire while the rest made quick work erecting a roughshod camp to last the night. The air was frigid with the wind blowing in from the grand mountains to the north. Byleth tossed her pack to the ground a few dozen yards from the main fire pit and began unpacking a small tent she’d been using since she was a teenager. It consisted of more patches than the original fabric. It had been the first tent she’d had to herself, and she’d been using it for nearly 6 years. Up until then she’d just set her bedroll in the corner of her father’s tent.

About the time she was finishing planting the last stake, ensuring the tent wouldn’t blow away before she slept, the clanging of a bell rang throughout the camp, signalling that it was time to eat. A large pot full of stew was bubbling over the fire as everyone lined up and began filling up bowls. Byleth filled her’s heartily and grabbed a chunk of long-past-stale bread before sitting against a tree towards the edge of the camp. She plucked a chunk of the meat from her stew and popped it into her mouth, washing it down with a sip of broth. After another few minutes Edelgard, Dimitri and Claude walked over to her and sat down. Edelgard took a seat on a nearby tree stump while Claude and Dimitri simply sat on the ground across from Byleth. She didn’t pay them much mind as she ate her meal and they ate theirs.

While in the middle of plucking another rather large chunk of meat from her bowl with her fingers Byleth realised Dimitri was looking at her strangely. She finished the morsel quickly, coughing a bit as some of it seemed to go down the wrong pipe, before looking at the prince.

“Is there something I can help you with?” Byleth asked, it being unclear to those around her if she was sincerely asking or not.

“Oh, no, nothing at all. I apologize I’m just not accustomed to...” Dimitri seemed to struggle to find a way to end his deflection.

“Dining with someone who eats like a feral animal?” Edelgard interrupted, scooping a spoon full of stew into her mouth politely. Claude snickered quietly but continued eating his soup without comment. Byleth was starting to like the archer more and more.

“No! Simply someone who is not so...burdened with worries about etiquette.” Dimitri said quietly, shrugging gently before simply returning to his stew. Byleth wondered what hope this boy had of ever being a good politician if he was so wanting for subtlety, yet at the same time lacking a stomach for stating things outright.

“Unsurprising.” Byleth said “Considering what little you’ve all told me about the other students at your academy so far. I find those who haven’t been burdened by concerns of where their next meal will come from often have time to worry about such things as etiquette .” Edelgard’s glare never left Byleth as the mercenary popped a chunk of broth-soaked bread into her mouth. Something seemed to bubble up in Edelgard’s eyes as she stood up and cleaned off the front of her uniform.

“Please, do not presume to know anything about us, miss Eisner. It’s unbecoming and arrogant. You do not know our classmates, nor us.” She chided, walking off towards the Knights of Seiros and sitting next to Alois before continuing to eat her meal.

“It’s reassuring to see you have about as much social tact this time around as you did the first time.” Rang through Byleth’s head, clearly the voice of Sothis. Byleth wanted to retort and defend herself, but she was cut off. “Oh relax and finish your soup, you lumbering oaf. Wouldn’t want your future students thinking you’re some mad hermit.” Amusement was evident in her voice. Byleth was beyond confused at that comment, but followed the young goddess’s advice. The remaining three diners finished their food in silence before Byleth stood and walked off to her tent. Once inside she removed her tunic, armor, and gauntlets before collapsing onto her bed roll. It took Byleth at most a minute to fall into the empty inky blackness of a sound, dreamless sleep.

 

The next morning passed in a rushed blur as the camp was broken down, packed, and put onto the road. The mass of mercenaries and knights was led by Byleth, Jeralt and Alois, as well as the three students. Jeralt was walking while his mount pulled a large cart of heavy supplies. Edelgard stood on the opposite side of the other two students from Byleth, whether she was still upset after the exchange last night or simply stood there by chance was unclear. Several miles passed in strained silence until finally Dimitri began speaking.

“So…” He started, clearly uncomfortable. “This will be your first time at the monastery, correct? It’s a very fine academy, and the student body and faculty really are wonderful, if a bit...eclectic.”

“It‘s Fodlan in a nutshell. All the in-fighting and noble snobbery, oh and don’t forget the needless drama, it’s endless. But the food is hearty, and the education is second to none.” Claude chimed in.

“Well, like it or not, we’re here.” Edelgard said as the quartet walked through the tree line, stepping into a large clearing at the center of which sat a tall hill topped with grand, ornate buildings that towered into the air.

The caravan made its way up the hill. As they drew closer to the campus another, much smaller, caravan was coming down the same path. At its head was a tall blonde woman who bore a rather impressive, if impractically shaped, sword across her back. The caravan drew closer, and Byleth saw the blonde woman waving Alois to come closer as she sauntered over.

“Alois! Glad to see you back here in one piece. How’d babysitting the brats go?” The woman asked, slapping Alois on the shoulder. Alois rubbed the back of his head awkwardly.

“Good to see you as well, Catherine. Well, we ran into a bit of trouble with some bandits it seems, and thankfully these kind fighters were able to help keep the students safe!” Alois said, gesturing towards Byleth, Jeralt, and the pack of mercenaries behind them. Catherine smiled and nodded at both of them.

“Glad to hear you had someone besides me to pull your ass out of the fire there, Alois. I’d love to stay and chat, but Lady Rhea has me running security on this transport convoy to the Northern Church.” Catherine said, gesturing to the caravan behind her. “I’ll see you when I get back, Alois. You two have a good day, don’t let this guy drive you too crazy.” She said to Byleth and Jeralt, slapping Alois on the back as she walked past. The caravan began back up the hill. A little ways up, the mercenaries broke away and began making camp around the outskirts of the monastery while the knights and students, along with Byleth and Jeralt, continued onto the campus.

Garreg Mach was surprisingly lively. Byleth had expected large, stuffy halls full of students with their noses buried in tomes older than most of their grandparents. Claude’s comments about noble snobbery and drama had only enforced those expectations, but the campus was alive with young men and women sparring with blunted weapons, or launching spells at large mannequins in armor that had clearly seen better days. Byleth saw a woman in a long flowing black gown that had a rather ridiculously neckline lecturing a group of students out in a field and made a mental note to make her acquaintance sooner rather than later.

Jeralt came to a stop suddenly, causing Byleth to bump into his back as he looked up into the air above them. Byleth followed his gaze and saw a woman with bright green hair standing on a balcony above them and looking down. Even from several stories below Byleth could see the elaborate patterns in her robes.

“It’s been years, and as always she looks no different...” Jeralt muttered to himself as he turned his gaze down and began walking again. Byleth followed close behind. “All these years and yet somehow this place, just like it’s headmistress, is exactly as it looked the day I left.” He sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose.

“You never told me you went here before. Were you a student?” Byleth asked. She never really knew much about her father’s past, or her own for that matter. What she did know was more of a blur than anything of much substance. She could remember pieces and fragments but not many actual, coherent memories.

“No. I’d’ve liked to keep it in the past, but I used to be a knight here. Captain, in fact. It was long before you were born when I left. I spent many years of my life slaving away as a soldier in service of the Archbishop, and it seems she’s graced us both with a request for an audience in her office.” Jeralt sounded less than pleased. “That woman has the ear of damn near the entirety of Fodlan, peasant and noble alike. Be cautious Byleth.”

The two of them walked into a large ornate audience chamber, statues and pillars lining both sides of the hall and at the end of it stood the same green haired woman next to a tall, bearded man with shoulder length hair that was a slightly darker shade of green. Byleth felt a crack of pain throughout her skull as she saw the man, shaking her head a bit and rubbing her closed eyes as she, for a split second, saw a flash of blood soaked robes and a dead wyvern. As quickly as it was there, it was gone, fading into the same fog as everything else.

“Thank you for your presence, Jeralt. My name is Seteth, I’m the head advisor to the archbishop.” Seteth offered his hand which Jeralt took and shook, offering a “Right, hello.” in reply. “...Does your compatriat need some sort of care? Her eyes seem to be bothering her.” Seteth asked as Byleth walked up beside her father. Byleth bowed slightly, hand resting her belt near the handle of her dagger.

“My apologies. The light simply caught my eye and blinded me for a moment.” Byleth lied, eyes never leaving the green haired man.

“Oh, I am sorry. These windows can make some issues with the light, but...usually that is more during the evening than the morning… but that’s no matter! It’s been such a long time, Jeralt.” Rhea said, nodding towards Jeralt and Byleth. Her voice sounded kind, but something felt missing from it. What exactly, Byleth couldn’t quite tell.

“It has. I had intended for it to be less, Lady Rhea, but the world kept me busy and sadly I haven’t been able to keep in touch.” Jeralt said with a bow towards the archbishop.

“I understand, Jeralt. After the loss you endured here, I couldn’t imagine it would be easy to return. Thank you for coming to speak to me. And is this the daughter I heard so much about from Sir Alois?” Rhea gestured to Byleth as she spoke.

“Yes. She is my second in command. I’d have loved to introduce you to her mother, but sadly she passed not long after Byleth was born. An awful plague swept our village, and she was too weakened from labor to survive.” Jeralt’s words made Byleth even more curious. He had always said that her mother had died in battle. Byleth had never heard him speak like this before. She could tell he was lying through his teeth, but it was as if he was walking on eggshells.

“My deepest condolences, Sir Jeralt. Miss Eisner, I heard much from Alois about your valliant work protecting our students. May I ask your name?

“Byleth.” She said bluntly.

“A fine name indeed.” Rhea said, another smile crossing her cheeks.”From the bottom of my heart, thank you for saving our students. I couldn’t bear the thought of a student being lost, whether here at the academy or out in the world.” Jeralt made a quiet “Hmph” sound in the back of his throat. “Jeralt, I assume you have already come to know what it is I wish to ask of you, have you not?” Rhea turned from Byleth towards her father. Jeralt sighed and nodded.

“You want me to rejoin the knights of Seiros.” Rhea Nodded. “I won’t say no, but….” Rhea frowned.

“Your hesitation hurts, Jeralt. I know it can’t be easy, but these events show we have more need of you than ever. I have some business I sadly must attend to, so I must step away, but I expect Alois will desire a word with you as soon as possible. Please, listen carefully to them. Farewell.” Rhea bowed as she finished speaking and walked away.

Byleth stood outside the hall as Jeralt and Seteth spoke in the chamber further. Finally Jeralt stepped out and began walking down the hall and Byleth followed close behind.

“I can’t believe it. The nerve of that woman. She drags me back and to make matters worse they’ve dragged you in as well. Seems we’ll be stuck here for a while.” Jeralt muttered, barely audible to Byleth as he pushed open a door to a large, dusty office just down the hall from the audience chamber.

“We?” Byleth asked as she looked around the room from her position leaning against the doorway.

“Yes, we. I’m afraid the Archbishop has need of your service, as a teacher in the officers academy here in the monastery. Those brats you saved are students here, heads of the three houses no less, and the Academy lost a professor earlier this month. Apparently that damned Alois recommended you highly to the archbishop. They’re sending the other professors to meet you here to discuss the specifics.” Jeralt said. Not a moment later a tall man in a long beige cloak, matching suit, and with a rather absurd mustache walked into view alongside the woman Byleth had seen in the field earlier. Byleth moved into the office and allowed the two to step inside as she stood next to her father. The woman was the first to speak.

“So, you’re the new professor?” She said, eyeing Jeralt up and down without shame. “My oh my, we’ve been missing a ‘stern and handsome’ type.” Jeralt became visibly uncomfortable.

“Er, no. She’s the one you’re looking for.” Jeralt said pointing to Byleth, not even looking at the woman as he dug through the drawers of a desk in the office. He leaned over and whispered to Byleth. “Kid, be careful. Especially around Rhea. I don’t know what she’s thinking, and she may be up to something.” Byleth nodded at her father's advice. He walked them out of the office and closed the doors to the office behind them.

“So, it’s you then? My, you’re rather young...” The woman said once they had finally moved farther down the hall into another office. At the center of the room a large strange pedestal stood out from the carpet and the walls were scattered with overloaded bookshelves. The woman was eyeing her up with a finger on her chin in much the same way she had done to Jeralt. Her dress, which Byleth had mistaken for black, was actually a dark blue and she was now wearing a white furred cloak accented with orange chords.

“Competence and age are not necessarily correlated, as you well know. But I will say you are not the type of person I expected to be offered the professorship, a spot with the guard, perhaps. But, all that aside, my name is Hanneman. I’m a crest scholar and professor here. This is my office. I look forward to working with you. If you’d be so kind, I insist you pay me a visit later so I may examine if you bear a crest on this here analyzer.” The man with the absurd mustache said, shaking Byleth’s hand as he spoke.

“Byleth.” She introduced herself as she shook Hanneman’s hxand.

“Quite the chatterbox.” The woman muttered under her breath before reaching her own hand out to Byleth. “I’m Manuela. I’m a professor, the resident physician here at the academy, a songstress, and available. It’s nice to meet you.” Manuela shot Byleth a wink at the word available. Byleth took Manuela’s hand.

“Available, you said” Byleth asked, and Manuelas face visibly lit up. Byleth was going to ignore that last remark, but it wasn’t her first time interacting with a woman like Manuela, they weren’t uncommon to run into as a mercenary, and she knew that playing along was probably her best bet in staying on the professors good side. Hell hath no fury and all that, besides, she was rather attractive.

“Hmmm, maybe you will actually be more fun to have around here than I thought.” Manuela mumbled to herself. “Yes, available. If you’d like we could...”

“Oh Goddess be merciful Manuela, spare our colleague your flirtation, or at the very least spare me. We have much to discuss.” Hanneman blurted out, cutting Manuela off to her visible distaste. “So, it seems you’ll be taking charge of one of the academy’s three houses. I’d imagine you’re not aware of the nature of the houses here at the academy, are you?” Henneman asked as he looked at Byleth’s blank expression and was uncertain whether it was due to confusion or if she was just...like that.

“Do you really expect her to know?” Manuela chastised, soon after she and Hanneman explained the three houses, each affiliated with The Alliance,The Empire, and The Holy Kingdom, and their three house leads all being the next in line for leadership.

“The next leaders of all the three major powers in Fodlan, all here in a single year, quite the prestigious lineup. I just hope none of them cause any trouble, or goddess willing start some political conflict over petty drama. But that’s beyond the point. It’d be a good idea for you to go speak to the heads of each respective house and see which house would be a good fit for you. The Archbishop said we’d be meeting at noon to pick our house, so It’d be best to get a move on. We’ve notified the house leaders, and only the leaders, that you’re the new professor here. Hanneman thought it’d be more fun that way.” Manuela smiled as she saw Hannemen’s jaw drop in indignation at her final sentence.

“I most certainly did not! That was your idea!” Hanneman protested as Manuela waved Byleth away.

“Go on, talk to your students. We can continue our conversation some other time.” Manuela said with a sly smile. Byleth walked off down the hall towards the stairs down to the main floor and began wandering the campus to try and get her bearings. The Monastery was massive and complex. Byleth was worried she’d get lost easily, but the whole place felt so strangely familiar to her.

“I am so very curious. This all seems similar to the last time...but still different here and there.” Sothis’s voice rang through Byleth’s head yet again.

“What do you mean, last time?” Byleth muttered under her breath to herself as she wandered the halls.

“Do you really not remember? Anything? We’ve been here before, many times. But why we’re here again, I have no idea.”

“No. I don’t remember any of this.”

“Well, that makes this even more confounding. We’ve never had issues before with you remembering our times turning back the clock. Yet you greeted me as a complete stranger the day before yesterday… I’m trying to remember anything of the last time through all of this but my memories feel hazy, fractured. Many of them feel so strange, as if I’m not seeing them through your eyes the way I see the world around you now. They clutter my mind, but fade to mist the moment I try to remember anything concrete from them.”

“Well, as far as I'm aware, you are a stranger. But my mind feels much the same. I remember myself, but my past is a fog. But it’s always been that way, for as long as I’ve lived.”

“That’s exactly the issue, you fool! Your memories and mine aren’t meant to be one and the same! Ugh, just go about your business before someone sees you mumbling to yourself and thinks you’ve gone mad. But please, do try and act like you’re some kind of functioning human being and not some emotionless shaved bear of a woman. I had forgotten how boring of company you could be when you are like this.” Sothis griped. Byleth shook her head, exasperated, and walked on past one of the small training grounds in front of a long column of what appeared to be classrooms. In the grass off to one side a young man with bright orange hair and his shirt collar unbuttoned was chatting with another student with choppy grey hair as well as a tall student who’s complexion gave him away as a man of Duscar. He stood at least a head taller than either of the two around him. Byleth approached the trio, and the redhead noticed her right away. He turned towards her with a cocky grin.

“Well well, quite the lucky day huh Ashe, Dedue? Being approached by such a beauty is quite an honor. My name is Sylvain Jose Gautier, please, feel free to speak to me whenever I can assist you.” Sylvain made a dramatic bowing motion as he spoke. An awkward cough came from the grey haired student.

“Uh, Hi! My apologies for Sylvain. But you must be the one everyone has been talking about! I’m Ashe, and this is Dedue. He’s Prince Dimitri’s right hand man.” Ashe smiled and gestured to the taller man.

“I have heard you rescued his highness. I will never be able to express my gratitude, but should you ever require my strength please do not hesitate to ask.“ Dedue bowed towards Byleth with his hand over his heart. She returned the gesture. She’d worked with many Duscan mercenaries, and this greeting was a sign of respect she wished to return.

“Pleased to meet all of you. Might you know where any of the house leads are?” Byleth asked. Sylvain shrugged, while Dedue and Ashe both nodded.

“His highness is currently waiting in the infirmary for Professor Manuela to attend to the wound he received on the battlefield.” Dedue explained, gesturing back in the direction Byleth had just came from. Ashe piped up as Dedue finished speaking.

“I believe Edelgard is in the Black Eagle’s classroom with Hubert. I’m not sure where Claude is...” Ashe pointed to the door directly behind Byleth after mentioning the classroom. Byleth nodded and thanked the three of them for their help before turning and walking towards the door. It was bordered on both sides with red banners bearing a large golden eagle. The door to its left had similar banners, both colored blue with a knight emblazoned atop a griffin. Between the two doors stood two young women, one taller with curly blonde hair and the other shorter with red hair. The blonde, who was wearing a shawl tied over her shoulders, noticed her and waved politely. Byleth stopped and nodded to both of the girls.

“You don’t look familiar at all, who might you be?” the girl with blonde hair asked with a rather soft voice. “Are you a new student here at the Monastery?” Before Byleth could reply to the blonde girl’s question, the girl with the orange hair spoke up.

“Mercy, she’s a bit old to be a student here don’t you think? She must be one of those mercenaries everyone’s been all abuzz about today! I got it right, didn't I?!” Byleth nodded at the orange girls question, earning a large grin as she continued on. “Yes! I knew it. Hehehe, I’m Annette,and this is my best friend Mercedes!”

“We’re student’s in the Blue Lion house here at the academy. It’s wonderful to meet you.” The blonde, Mercedes, said as she gave Byleth a warm smile. Byleth put on her best approximation of a welcoming grin, making both girls visibly uncomfortable as she introduced herself. She nodded goodbye and entered the Black Eagle classroom, seeing several students scattered around the room. Before she could take stock, however, Sothis’s voice rang through her mind.

“Perhaps it’s best if you just be yourself and not try ”emotions” until they come more naturally. Those poor girls looked as if they were worried you were about to have a conniption and your monotonous excuse for a personality was a bit less off putting, at least I think it was.”

“Fine, just please make up your mind. I’m doing my best here.” Byleth muttered to herself as she looked back at the classroom. Over in one corner, a young woman with long brown curls and a hat perched at a rather precarious angle on her head stood searching through a bookshelf, while Edelgard stood next to a chalkboard with a young man whose hair was a rather sickly greenish-black. The two seemed rather deep in conversation, so Byleth went over towards the girl at the bookshelf. As she approached, the young woman noticed her and smiled.

“Well hello now, you are most certainly not a familiar face. My name is Dorothea. Is this your first time around the Monastery? I’d be more than happy to show you around if you’d like.”

“I’m Byleth. I work as a mercenary. You’re correct, this is my first time here, but I do seem to be finding my way around well enough.”

“Hmmm, pity. So you’re the devilish rogue type, eh? So dramatic. I’m a former opera performer, so I quite enjoy a flare of the dramatic. You should hear me sing some time.” Dorothea said with a giggle. Byleth, however, was completely oblivious as she caught sight of the black haired young man walking away. She decided it was time to talk to the heiress.

“I’ve never been to an opera, but I’ve quite enjoyed the few traveling musicians the brigade has come across. Perhaps I could hear you some time. But for now I have some business with the princess. Pardon me.” Dorothea chuckled and turned back to the book shelf as the mercenary walked away. Byleth wondered what she’d said that was so funny. She approached Edelgard.

“So, Seteth informed me you’ve been offered a teaching position here...pity. I was hoping you would lend your strength to the empire, if not your manners. But nevermind that. Have you had a chance to meet everyone here at the Black Eagles?” Byleth shook her head no. Byleth wondered for a moment at first if she had really aggravated the empress that much, but it seemed she hadn’t burnt every bridge with Edelgard just yet. The princess nodded to herself and began pulling photos of students out of a folder she picked up off of the desk behind her.

“There’s Hubert, heir of Marquis Vestra. He’s a hard worker, if a bit cold blooded at times. He just left to go gather some things for me.” Edelgard showed byleth a photo of the young man who had just left, then replaced it with a photo of a tall orange haired noble. “Then there’s Ferdinand, who spends more time challenging me as his ‘bitter rival’ than actually studying. Heir to the prime minister, and his beliefs on the responsibility of the nobility are something he’s proud to declare, though I do wish he’d include ‘quiet’ to those responsibilities.” Next was a photo of a student with long dark green hair and large bags under his eyes. “Lindhart you might’ve seen buried half asleen p ia book if you passed by the library on your way here. His intellect and skill with spells is unmatched, but the fool can’t seem to find a way to put it to good use.” The next photo was of a shorter boy with shaggy blue hair “Caspar is the second son of count Bergliez, and his strength, while impressive, clearly came at the cost of his wit. It seems to be more common than I’d hoped.” She mumbled under her breath. “He seems to think that fighting everything bigger than him on this continent is the way to prove his worth. .” Next it was a photo of a girl with short messy purple hair. “Bernadetta is the daughter of Count Varley, and tends to be quite the eccentric shut in. But she is a gentle soul. I try to make sure she gets to class, but I fear even I can’t goad her into it when she has a really bad day.” Next, a young woman with intricate braids and a purple mark tattooed under her eye. “Petra is the granddaughter of the king of Brigid, A vassal state to the Empire. That’s how she became enrolled here to begin with. While she can have trouble communicating, her skill can’t be beat and she’s brilliant.” Next Edelgard held up a picture of Dorothea. Byleth cut her off.

“I’ve met her. Former opera singer, and I’d hazard a guess that she is close to professor Manuela.” Edelgard nodded and returned the photo to the folder, chuckling a bit and throwing it back onto the desk. Byleth took that as a good sign.

“I guess you could say that. They’re former members of the same troop. It seems you’ve learned about everyone.” Edelgard said matter-of-factly. The Mercenary shook her head ‘no’.

“Who could I possibly be missing?” Edelgard asked, exasperated. Byleth pointed at her, and she seemed to blush a bit. “Oh, me? Well...if they’re bold enough people like to refer to me as arrogant. The more cautious of the nobility however simply calls me distant. But there’s little to do, as I will rise to become the next Adrestian Emperor no matter their idle gossip. It seems in many ways we’re nearly opposites.” Byleth was curious what she meant by that, but she thought better than to ask her to explain. She nodded and thanked Edelgard for her time before walking away.

She walked around the Monastery a bit more. She had hoped to find her way to Manuela’s office, but ended up getting turned around, ending up towards the very southernmost point on the campus beside a large fishing pond and a greenhouse. Sat on the edge of the pond was a young woman with orange hair and an archers sleeve on her left arm. The girl noticed Byleth almost immediately, leapt up, and ran towards her.

“Hey! You’re captain Jeralt’s kid right? I’m Leonie, I was the captain’s first and best apprentice! I’m sure you’ve heard about me.” Leonie grinned cockily as she finished introducing herself and reached down taking Byleth’s hand and shaking it. Byleth had not offered it.

“The name is not familiar, but nice to meet you Leonie. I’m Byleth. I'd be curious to put that ‘first and best’ to the test.” Leonie’s grin dropped a bit, but grew wider at the challenge.
“Oh, I bet you would! I don’t care what it takes, I’m gonna show you I’m the best.” Leonie said. Leonie bid Byleth goodbye and walked away. Byleth shook her head, wondering if all of the students were going to be this strange, and walked in the opposite direction. Byleth took a moment to try and find her way back to the offices, and a few minutes later she ended up right at the doors of Manuela’s office, doors Manuela happened to be closing with an exasperated sigh.

“Teenagers, I swear…” Manuela muttered under her breath as she turned to go down the hall, seeing Byleth standing a few feet away. “Oh, Professor Eisner! Dropping by so soon? Hmmmm, you don’t seem ill… Are you that smitten already? I should’ve known, it’s always the butch ones that fall the fastest.” There was a rather long silence as Byleth remained completely blank-faced. “Awww, do I have you speechless already? I tend to have that effect on people, but I’m a bit disappointed. Maybe your lil show in the hall was just that...Is your bark a bit more than your bite?” Manuela asked with a cheeky grin. Byleth shrugged and crossed her arms.

“I’ve never had any complaints about my ‘bite’ before. But I think it’d be best to avoid mixing business and pleasure when I’m just starting here.” Manuela had a devilish grin as Byleth spoke. She’d been given a challenge, and she loved challenges. Byleth continued on. “I was hoping to see Dimitri. I heard he was in your office for medical care and wanted to talk to him about the Blue Lions.” Manuela’s expression shifted from challenged to almost laughing.

“I…don’t think now is the best time professor. He was recovering from a slight infection with a bit of help from some herbs I had, but it seems he has a visitor, young mister Claude.I think it’d be best to leave them be for the time being. Claude seems none too pleased at the young prince’s penchant for injury in the field, and a lovers quarrel might not be a good thing to interrupt.”

Byleth wasn’t sure what was funny but the bell struck noon before she could ask further. “Oh, Look at the time! Let’s go speak to the Archbishop.” Manuela said, pushing Byleth towards the Audience Chamber. Byleth walked on, stumbling a bit due to Manuela’s rather forceful shoving, and entered the chamber. Standing at the end of the carpet was Rhea and Seteth, both of whom were chatting along with Professor Hanneman until Byleth and Manuela reached them.

“How are you enjoying your time at the academy thus far? I hope you’ve found the student’s brimming with vitality and good intentions.” Rhea said, smiling peacefully. Byleth nodded in acknowledgement. Seteth spoke next.

“I suppose it’s time for you three to take charge of your houses. I must note I personally am against entrusting students to someone lacking any sort of trackable history such as you miss Eisner. But the Archbishop has deemed it appropriate.” Byleth wasn’t sure how to reply to that, so she simply ignored it. She didn’t hesitate for a moment.

“I will take charge of the Black Eagles. I have already accepted an offer for a position in the Empire from Lady Hresvelg, so it makes the most sense to serve the students of the Empire.” Rhea nodded, lips turning downward just barely at the corners.

“Your heart has made its choice. All I ask is that you guide these open minds towards virtue, care, and righteousness. They are all wonderful children of the Goddess, and they bear the weight of Fodlan’s future upon their shoulders. I pray you appreciate the honor of leading them.” Rhea clasped her hands together as she finished her grand declaration, and began walking away.

“Oh my dear...how far it seems you’ve fallen in all these years.” Sothis said, though Byleth couldn’t tell if she was speaking to Byleth or herself. Byleth was pulled from her musing by Seteth speaking up.

“Professors, it would be wise to go meet your students and get acquainted. There will be a mock battle at the end of this week to gauge the students current skill level. Please do not disappoint the Archbishop. That is all.” Seteth walked away before the professors could acknowledge what he’d said. The three of them walked out of the chambers.

“So, professor, you have a job offer from Lady Edelgard in the Empire already? How’d you manage to swing that?” Manuela teased, nudging Byleth with her elbow as they all three walked down the stairs and out towards the classrooms.

“Oh Manuela could you for once keep your mind from the gutter? Our colleague hasn’t been on the grounds for an entire day yet and you’re already harassing her.” Hanneman griped, thumbing through a small notebook he’d pulled from one of his pockets.

“I am doing no such thing! I’m just saying there are many ways to earn such a prestigious offer.” Manuela protested. Byleth was unsure of what exactly the two were in such a huff over.

“I saved Edelgard, along with the other two house leads, from bandits that had chased them to our camp. Edelgard and Dimitri offered me positions in their service, and Edelgard’s offer was the one I accepted.” Byleth’s explanation seemed to leave Manuela disappointed.

“Oh, you’re no fun at all, Professor Eisner.” Manuela griped as the three reached the line of classrooms. Byleth said goodbye to the other two and walked into the now rather crowded classroom. All the students were gathered together, chatting amongst themselves as they looked intently at the door.

“Wait, you’re our new professor?!” A loud young man Byleth recognized as Caspar shouted from the back of the room.

“Calm yourself Caspar. Don’t be rude.” Dorothea piped up.

“Expecting politeness from him is a long lost cause.” Lindhart said,quickly seeming to fall asleep in his seat. Byleth wondered if she should wake him, but saw no point in it. She turned back to the class and her eyes settled on a shorter woman with purple hair who went white with terror the second they made eye contact.

“Ah! W...why are you looking at me like that? Stop it! Ohhhhh, I knew the new professor was gonna be scary..” Burnadetta shied away from Byleth, backing away towards the opposite side of the room.

“I’m sorry for the chaos you’ve walked into, professor.” Dorothea whispered as she walked past Byleth and began speaking to Bernadetta, resting her hand on her shoulder.

“You certainly don’t seem to be the type I’d expect to teach us, but I’m sure you must be quite talented to have earned the position! I look forward to learning from you.” Ferdinand said, shouting slightly over all the chatter.

“I look forward to working with all of you as well, but I must warn, from the information I’ve been given it seems most of us are rather close in age, but please do not forget that our experience is vastly different. I will do everything in my power to ensure you all learn to be strong fighters and leaders, and to make sure you live long enough to be both, but that will not be enough to keep you alive if you don’t work hard to keep yourself that way.” Byleth saw every student’s face, save for Edelgard’s and Hubert’s, drop and go a bit pale. Bernadetta continued her panicked whimpering even louder than before.

“Tactful as you ever were, I see. At least this time you didn’t make them think you were about to keel over.” Sothis teased, knowing the mercenary couldn’t retort.

“You...you have a gut professor. I will take much joy in learning with you. I will not be dieing.” Petra said, her words were a bit jumbled, but Byleth could see a determination burning in the back of her eyes. She was going to be a good leader, Byleth could tell already.

“Petra, sweety, I think you mean she has guts, not a gut.” Dorothea piped up, making Petra go a bit red.

“Oh, please be taking my apologies professor. I have some troubles with the language of Fodlan.” Petra corrected, rubbing the back of her head, embarrassed.

“Nothing taken Petra. Please tell me if there’s anything I can do to help you with lessons.” Byleth replied. Petra’s demeanor visibly brightened.

“Professor, I must say I have high expectations of you, and high hopes with it. I will do as instructed, as any other student here, but I really must ask that you learn some level of manners. ” Edelgard said standing at Byleth’s side, a hand on her hip.

“I have no idea what you mean by that. But I do look forward to working with you. Just know, I intend full well to push everyone to their limits, especially you. If you’re to lead an empire you’ll need to be at your best, and a noble’s easy life makes for poor preperation.” Byleth was going to continue on, but she could see Edelgard’s mouth dropped into an annoyed frown. Interactions with nobility really never were her strong suit. That was her father’s area expertise.

“Maybe we should break the ice! W..what about some training? I’d love to see the new professor in action!” Caspar finished his suggestion and looked, rather desperately to the other students. The conversation seemed to devolve as Petra wondered why ice would need to be broken, and half the class attempted to explain the expression to her while the other half lemented having to train. Edelgard seemed to calm slightly, her aggravation now directed to the other students. Hubert stepped forward and chuckled.

“Looks like you’ll have quite a job, calming down this racket. I don’t envy you in the slightest. But I’d highly recommend ensuring you remain respectful to Lady Edelgard. I’d hate for your tongue to get you into a grave situation.” Hubert’s words dripped with malintent.

“ I hope you’ve not bitten off more than you can chew, professor.” Edelgard chimed in from Byleth’s other side, either unaware of or uninterested in Huberts comments. Byleth nodded and slid her gauntlet off of her left hand, sticking two fingers in her mouth and making a loud, piercing whistle. The entire room went silent as Byleth replaced the gauntlet onto her hand.

The rest of the evening was spent doing rough introductions, as Byleth assessed each student’s interests, training styles, specializations, and other information she thought important to their learning. Edelgard seemed rather uninterested in speaking to Byleth, primarily interacting with Hubert and for a short while Ferdinand. Finally, around 8 in the evening, Byleth called the day to a close and began walking towards the student’s quarters, where she’d been given a room for her time as a professor. As she was walking, looking at the numbers on each door trying to find her dorm, a loud holler rang in her ear.

“Professor!” Leonie shouted, and Byleth turned to see the orange haired girl less than a foot away from her, panting and sweating slightly. “I knew I’d find you eventually! I’ve been running all over this school looking.” She took a deep breath and rested a hand on her hip. “I want to be in your class! I will not take no for an answer.” She faltered a bit after that, and Byleth got the distinct feeling she hadn’t exactly thought past this. Byleth took stock of the brash young woman and considered for a minute. Finally she shrugged.

“Ok.” Byleth said, expression blank as ever.

“Now listen, I said I won’t...Ok?” Leonie looked confused as she repeated the reply.

“You can join. If it’s approved by the Archbishop, or whoever approves transfers. I’ll leave that to you to find out. Better to transfer now than halfway through the year. We’re meeting at sunrise tomorrow in the classroom for our first session. Be there on time.”

Leonie was beaming.

“Thank you professor! You won’t regret this!” Leonie ran off cheering immediately after she finished talking. Byleth turned and entered her dorm, collapsing onto the large bed pushed up against one of the walls, her armor still in place. Her head hit the pillow and she was out like a candle in a matter of seconds.

Byleth opened her eyes a second later and found herself lying against the base of the large stone throne that Sothis was, as always, dramatically draped over.

“So,your first day of instruction come and gone yet again. How does it feel?” Sothis asked, looking over her shoulder at Byleth.

“It’s interesting, to say the least. They seem like good kids. I just pray to the goddess I can keep them safe.” Byleth mumbled her reply, but Sothis heard it all the same. She nodded along.

“I remember, you said much the same when we first met them. But I don’t think you have any room to call them kids, dear Byleth. You’re barely a year or two older than many of them.” Sothis remarked. She thought best not to point out the irony in praying to the goddess while, well, speaking to the goddess.

“You...you keep talking about us going through all this before...what happens? Why have we done this so many times? If what you say is true why do I have no memory of it?” Byleth’s question seemed to strike a chord with Sothis. She sighed and turned over, looking down past the arm of her throne at the professor.

“I….I honestly do not know. I only remember bits and pieces. The first few months always seem to go rather well….then there’s just flashes of chaos. I remember bits and pieces, us guiding the students through misty fields and rocky canyons, a monstrous tower, but after that it’s just...dark. So empty and dark in every direction. That’s all I can remember. I see things after that but it’s different. They feel as if someone else’s memories are invading my mind, and they hurt me when I try and recall them.” Sothis became more and more strained after each sentence, as if the words were physically assailing her. Byleth desperately wanted to know more, but she could feel a piercing pain creeping into the back of her mind. She’d have to wait to find out more. She reached up and rested her hand on Sothis’s shoulder.

“It’s ok...don’t strain yourself.” Byleth said. Sothis sighed and let her eyes flutter open, looking back at Byleth and smiling.

“I don’t know what you did last time Byleth, but ...you certainly know how to keep things interesting.” Sothis heaved a heavy sigh. “I think I need to sleep....and it’s getting close to time for you to go do your job.” Byleth nodded and went to stand up, but when she did, she felt herself sitting up in bed. Her second day had begun.

Chapter Text

Byleth heard the bell tower ring and sat up slowly from her bed, the light from the dawning sun practically blinding her. She looked around, groggily, and saw her room scattered with her few worldly possessions. Over the past week her room had become rather messy, with scattered pieces of her armor spread out on her desk and several identical tunics and pairs of pants piled up around on the floor.

Byleth slid, or more accurately fell, out of the bed and quickly donned her clothes and armor.The day of the mock battle had finally arrived and she had no intention of being late. A few minutes after she finished fastening everything into place, a knock came from her door. She opened it and there stood Edelgard.

“Professor, the others are gathered at the training ground.” The heiress reported. She was not the most talkative with Byleth, but she had yet to be disrespectful in the few days of training they’d had so far. Byleth grabbed her gauntlets and slid them into place, walking out of her door and alongside Edelgard to the meeting area that had been set aside for the Black Eagles. The first few minutes of the walk were quiet, nothing to be heard except the sound of stone crunching under their boots. As they drew closer, she thought it might be good to at least try and build some sort of rapport with the head of her house.

“How are the other students feeling?” She asked, trying to cast out a line, any kind of line in hopes of a bite.

“They’re nervous.” Edelgard’s reply came back, short and blunt, but it was still something.

“And you?” Byleth quirked an eyebrow as she asked.

“This is barely anything more than a sparring match. I have more pressing issues.” Edelgard’s tone, while still tense, was a tiny bit more relaxed. “Besides, this is my chance to measure your worth as an instructor. Do you think you’ll rise to the occasion?”

“Just you wait. You’ve seen me on the field, and I’m not alive after this many years for lack of talent.” Edelgard made a noise Byleth almost thought could be a chuckle.

“Such confidence. For all that could be said, at least you keep things interesting. But that aside, each of us has trained and we’re prepared to take on whatever comes our way. Do not hold back, whether on us in the future or on our opponents today.”

Byleth nodded and the duo met with the rest of the Black Eagles. Greetings and pleasantries were kept to a minimum, and soon enough Byleth, Edelgard, Leonie, Dorothea, and Hubert moved towards the battlefield while the rest of the class cheered them on from behind. The small group moved to the designated starting location and waited for the signal. A bell rang throughout the field and the Eagles rushed forward. The group ran around a corner and saw two paths, one leading through a tight grove of trees. Byleth pointed to the opposite path that ran around the tree bank and the group continued down that path.

Suddenly, from around a tree in front of them popped out Ashe Duran of the Blue Lions. The adopted child of Lord Lonato’s shock of solver-white hair was unmistakable. On Byleth’s order Hubert and Leonie split away from the other three, charging at Ashe while the raf of the class ran past.

Leonie smacked the Blue Lion across the head with the blunt end of her training lance before Hubert cast a wind spell throwing the dazed student against a nearby tree. Leonie gestured for Hubert to go on and the two began running back to the main group who were now dealing with Dimitri and Dedue.

The rest of the Blue Lions were dealt with swiftly, and the Eagles began moving to take down the Golden Deer. On Byleth’s order, Dorothea and Hubert moved as quietly as possible through the woods while Edelgard and Leonie charged alongside her around the tree bank.

They rounded the trees and came up behind Hanneman and the Golden Deer students. Hanneman was standing on a similar pedestal to that Manuela had been standing in. Clearly someone in their group had anticipated that they would either be attacked from the front path or from behind, as Hanneman was facing the oncoming Eagles while Claude and Hilda were facing forward. However that quickly changed when they heard the three sets of heavy footsteps charging them. The three Eagles charged Hanneman, but thanks to a pair of well aimed shots from Claude Leonie was forced to redirect, and instead chose to charge Claude and Hilda alone.

Byleth threw a jab at the mustachioed professor, which he nimbly dodged before launching a wind spell at her that threw her into one of the pillars surrounding the pedestal. Edelgard swung her training axe and slammed it into his side, which gave Byleth a chance she took immediately. She stood back up and charged. Another wind spell was hurled, this time at Edelgard, which sent her rolling back in the dirt. Byleth sent a right hook into the side of the man’s jaw, sending him stumbling to the side. Edelgard hastily crawled her way up off of the ground and swung her training axe at the back of Hanneman’s legs, knocking him onto his back and finally drawing out his surrender.

Leonie charged forward towards Claude and Hilda, looking between the two of them and deciding Claude was the biggest threat. Hilda was always a bit spacey whenever they talked, and she figured that type of attitude wouldn’t pose much threat in a fight. She lunged forward with her lance and was so close to landing a strike, but the archer moved just barely out of the path of her spear sending her stumbling. She managed the right herself, and dodged out of the way of one of Claude’s blunted arrows, leaving her back to Hilda who swung her axe into Leonie’s side. The strike sent an immense pain through her body, but she charged forward again and swung her lance’s handle out, trying to catch Claude in the jaw but it barely caught his shoulder. The hit landed faster than she expected, leaving her slightly off balance and Hilda kicked her legs out from under her before swung her axe down. Leonie barely rolled out of it’s path and jumped up back to her feet. ‘Goddess, this girl is brutal.’ Leonie thought as she stood there, lance at the ready. Claude and Hilda both eyed her, ready to pounce but staying out of reach until they struck.

“Give up, Leonie! You’re outnumbered.” Hilda said with a cocky grin.

“Calm down, Hilda. Don’t let your guard…” Claude’s sentence was cut off by a large stone slamming into his side, making him grunt in pain. Hubert and Dorothea stepped out of the forest, Dorothea clutching another rock and smiling as she hurled it at Hilda with unattural speed. The pink haired girl managed to dodge out of the way.

“They said we could only use wind spells, but they never said we had to cast them on people.” Dorothea said with a wink at Leonie. The lancer chuckled and shook her head at the songstress’s antics. “Sorry we were late sweets. The woods are a lot harder to walk through than the paths.”

“Perhaps if you weren’t trying to walk around them in high heels, Dorothea.” Leonie teased. Hubert sighed, exasperated.

“Could you two please wait until after the battle is done to chatter away.” He said, sending Claude stumbling back into a nearby tree with another wind spell. Hilda charged forward and swung her axe at Dorothea, hitting the songstress in her shoulder. Leonie lunged out with the handle of her lance in retaliation, smashing into the side of Hilda’s jaw and knocking the girl out cold. Hubert, Leonie and Dorothea all turned, ready to attack Claude, but the leader of the Deer was stood weaponless and with both hands up.

“I give up…” he wheezed, his breath having left him when he made intimate connections with the nearest ficas. “We all know I’m not going to win against all three of you, and unlike Dimitri I'm not too excited about the prospect of getting beat to hell.” Claude said, walking off towards the campus.

Jeralt announced their victory, and the Eagles, both those who’d been in the fight and their classmates, congealed into a giant cheering mass with Edelgard and Hubert stood awkwardly off to one side. Edelgard had an unmistakable smile on her face, and it only faded to a dull grin when she saw Byleth approach the cheering students.

“You were right, Professor. I was not disappointed.” Edelgard said.

“I’m glad I could impress. You were a good ally in the field.” Byleth said with a nod, causing Edelgards grin to grow.

“Thank you. Perhaps your appointment to instructor was not such an unfortunate turn of fate for the Eagles after all.” Edelgard said, the giant mass of students moving over to them as they spoke.

“You were wondrous, Professor! Here is to hoping this victory is the one of many!” Petra cheered.

“Hahaha, maybe I've got a run for my money with you after all, Professor.” Leonie jokes from the back of the group.

“Most assuredly! Hehehe, truly an appropriately theatrical performance, if I do say so myself.” Dorothea chimed in from beside Petra, still clutching a rather intimidating rock.

“So that is what it looks like when you don’t hold back, huh professor?!” Ferdinand piped up as Hubert grumbled from the sidelines.

“I think we should acknowledge just how much we owe this victory to Lady Edelgard.” he said quietly. Lindhardt looked confused and as if he were about to say something when Caspar rested a hand on his shoulder, shaking his head ‘no’.

“That was truly terrifying, Professor! I hope I’ve never gotta see the receiving end of that...” Bernadetta said, actually managing to muster up a sentence. Byleth thought it was a compliment, but was not quite sure. Edelgard chuckled at the large group as they all began moving towards the dining hall to celebrate.

“You all are ridiculous.” Edelgard shook her head at the class’s antics as she spoke. “But take this as a lesson! When we fight together, we win!” The Eagles cheered.

The Black Eagle’s made their way to the dinning hall to spend the evening celebrating their victory. On the way out of the training grounds however, Leonie saw Ashe still sat under the tree that Hubert had thrown the poor kid into, and she decided to walk over and check that he was ok. Leonie walked over and offered Ashe a hand up, which was gratefully taken.

“Wow, you all really were impressive.” Ashe commented, wiping off some dirt and bark. Leonie chuckled and wiped a piece of bark off of one of Ashe’s shoulders.

“Thanks. Sorry about going a bit hard on you. I feel like we didn’t really give you a chance sneaking up on you like that.” Leonie said, a bit embarrassed. She had a knack for going a bit too far.

“Hey, don’t worry about it! It’s like Lord Lonato always says, failure is the best guide to improvement! However difficult improvement might be with how ...uh...interesting Professor Manuela’s style of teaching is at times.” Ashe said, gesturing towards Manuela and the rest of the Lions who were walking back towards campus.

“I’ve heard some interesting stories from guards around the monastery about her. Hahaha, I just hope for your sake she does better at teaching than trying to seduce Professor Eisner.” Leonie joked, nudging Ashe with her elbow.

“Wait, really!?” Ashe asked, practically shouting. Leonie was a bit taken aback, and Ashe clearly noticed before awkwardly trying to salvage the conversation. “I...I just mean that must’ve been funny to see. I can’t imagine Professor Eisner taking too kindly to that sort of thing. Hahaha.”

“From the sounds of it, the professor was giving as much as she was being given, but still sounds like it crashed and burned. If the gossip is to be believed that is.” Leonie said. Ashe’s eyes again picked up a rather interesting excitement.

“Really? That’s…rather interesting. Um, have a good rest of the night Leonie, I’ll see you around!” And like that Ashe was gone, running off to the rest of the Lions. Leonie cocked her head to the side, mumbling something about “why is everyone in this school so damned weird” and shaking her head before going to rejoin her classmates.

 

The Eagles were all chattering and cheering over a large dish of sweetbread that Byleth had managed to convince the kitchen to supply. How exactly, no one really knew.

The former mercenary reached down for a small fruit tart from the tray as the class all droned on about the battle and their plans for the Battle of the Eagle and Lion that was a few months away. She felt a gloved hand bump against her own and looked to see it belonged to Edelgard, who’d been reaching blindly for the same tart as she spoke to Hubert. Edelgard looked over and saw the professor’s hand already on the tart, and gave a slightly embarrassed look.

“Oh ...my apologies, professor.” Edelgard said, drawing her hand back. Byleth shrugged and slid the tart closer to the heiress on the tray.

“No apologies needed Edelgard. Here, take it. You clearly enjoy them much more than I do.” Byleth said as she took her hand away from the pastry. Edelgard didn’t hesitate, taking the sweet and biting into it.

“Thank you, professor.” Edelgard said after swallowing her bite.

”I am quite surprised to see the future Empress has such a fondness for something so common as sweetbreads.” Byleth’s comment seemed to make the heiress rather embarrassed, her cheeks turning red as she took another bite from the pastry before returning to conversing with Hubert. A little while after that Byleth decided it was time for her to depart.

So many of the students were distracted by their own conversations, flirtations and diatribes that she managed to sneak out unnoticed, or at least not commented on. The air was cool on the campus as she stepped out of the dining hall. A soft wind blew from the north and rustled the trees near her.

“It is such a nice night… I wonder just how many of these we will get.” Sothis pondered, her voice ringing through Byleth’s mind.

“The weather is nice, yes. I’m glad to hear you seem to be feeling better.”. Byleth whispered.

“My mind feels less fractured than it did, yes. But whether that is a result of the cracks being mended, or simply being put under less strain, is yet to be seen.”

“Well whatever it is, hopefully it lasts.” Byleth rounded the corner as she spoke

“I feel a distinct doubt we have that level of luck left in us.” Sothis muttered under her breath, even though her voice rang as loudly as ever. Byleth saw something in the shadows that covered the steps leading to her doorway. Her fists balled up and she bent her knees, dropping into her readied stance as she approached, prepared for anything.

Well, anything but seeing Ashe Duran of the Blue Lions sat on the stoop in front of her dormitory. That surprised even Byleth. She relaxed her stance and stepped closer into the light in front of the young student.

“Hello.” Byleth’s voice clearly startled the young Lion, as Ashe jumped up after finally noticing her presence.

“P...professor! I hadn’t seen you there!” Ashe said, shoulders quite obviously tense.

“That’s rather apparent, young man. Is there a reason you’re perched outside of my quarters?” Byleth asked, rather tired at this point. Ashe went a bit red and frowned. Had her remark been that cutting, or were students at this school really so fragile?

“I…” Ashe froze for just a moment, eyes going a bit wide with nerves before finally seeming to have been shaken out of it and speaking again.“I want to transfer into your class.”

Byleth crossed her arms, hand resting on her chin as she looked Ashe up and down, sizing the young student up. What was going on with these kids? Leonie one week and then Ashe the next? At least Leonie had her strange obsession with being Byleth’s rival to justify her transfer. What possible reason could Ashe have?

“Why?” Byleth’s question seemed to take Ashe off guard, as if Byleth had been expected to just agree immediately. Or perhaps Ashe expected the opposite? Either way Byleth got the distinct impression this little plot hadn’t been very well thought out.

“I… I saw your skill on the battlefield today. I want to learn from you. I’ve wanted to learn about Axe combat and brawling for years, and you seem better equipped to teach me that then Professor Manuela.” Ashe said, words seemingly stumbling out more than an actual thought-out argument. Byleth nodded along with Ashe’s reply to her question. She had no reason to doubt someone who seemed like a genuine enough kid, but she was put off by the rather obvious lie, or at least half truth, she was being fed. But what possible alterior motive could a student have for wanting to change classes? Byleth already knew the rather brutal nature of her physical training routine was commonly known around campus, so it couldn’t be that Ashe expected an easy year with her, so she really couldn’t see any harm in it.

“Fine. Meet us at the Black Eagle classroom tomorrow at sunup. We’ll be doing our physical training so dress appropriately. Inform Professor Manuela and submit a letter to the Archbishop.” Ashe smiled from ear to ear, Byleth had already begun walking past and towards her dorm so the many exclamations of thanks were lost on deaf ears as she closed her door with a heavy thud.

Byleth dropped herself onto the bed, slowly undoing her armor where she lay until she was sufficiently undressed and was able to drift off to a merciful, dreamless sleep.

 

Several days later, and some distance away in a large redstone canyon, a scruffy bearded bandit was speaking to what appeared to be a tall man in an intricate white and red suit of armor. ‘His’ face was covered with a mask that had the look of painted porcelain and was covered in intricate patterns.

“What the hell happened?! All we were told was kill the nobles, and yet we ran head first into the knights of Seiros and a band of mercenaries!” The bandit screamed at the ‘man’. A sigh escaped Edelgard’s lips and came out a rattling, metallic noise thanks to the mask she wore.

“You proved yourself worthless, that is what happened. I had hoped you would achieve your goal and rid me of the thorns in my side, despite the knights and the setback they presented. But not only did you fail, your actions lead to the former knight captain and his daughter becoming tangled in the plans to come.” The Flame Emperor exclaimed at the bandit. Edelgard’s voice rang out, like the ring of a sword that had just crashed against armor. It had a heavy metallic vibration underlying every breath and word.

“We didn’t sign up to fight a bunch of knights! You said kill the nobles, we aimed to do that! Just tell me how we finish this mess up.” The bandit tried to defend himself, but the Flame Emperor was clearly more focused on her own mutterings.

“What was that woman thinking, hiring such a boorish mercenary to be a professor. She can fight, clearly, but the woman has all the strategic prowess of a drunk bear. If the Archbishop keeps making decisions like this our job may be easier then we planned.” With that, the figures attention snapped to the bandit again. “You underestimated the challenge, an amatuer mistake to say the least. Now your only option is to die. You’re on a road to nothing but a rather brutal and painful end, and now I must locate a more properly adequate replacement.” Before the bandit could raise a protest, a bright flash of red light engulfed the figure, and by the time the light had disappeared, so had ‘he’.

Another few days later, Rhea requested to speak to Byleth and Edelgard in the Audience Chamber. When Rhea entered the chamber, she spoke to Byleth first.

“You have done a wonderful job so far working with the students. It’s clear your renown is not unearned. I hope you have been able to find some time to bond with your students.” Rhea said as Seteth took a position beside her. Byleth nodded, and she could swear Edelgard whispering something to herself, but Byleth’s attention was grabbed again by the Archbishop. “Wonderful! Just remember, the mock battle is nothing compared to the grand Battle of the Eagle and Lion later this year. That is the true challenge, and will be an opportunity to truly show your skill.” Seteth coughed, and when Rhea went quiet he began to speak.

“But, until then, we have your houses first official mission in service to the church. You’ll be tracking the bandits which attempted to kill the heads of the three houses just a few weeks ago. You’ll be notified as soon as the knights have found them, and I highly recommend you use this time wisely and train your students well. Is this understood?” Seteth quirked a brow at Byleth as he spoke, to which the young professor replied with a nod and a simple ‘understood’. “Good. Our students have been learning about combat through study, but this is a precious opportunity to teach them through practical experience. But be careful, this is no mock battle. Be prepared for anything. Both of you, use your time wisely.” Byleth and Edelgard both bowed and turned to leave the room.

As they walked down the stairs towards the main campus Byleth could practically feel the heat from the rage burning off of Edelgard. The girl was not good at masking her emotions, Byleth had learned that much already. It was silent for a good portion of the walk until Edelgard finally broke the silence.

“The last time we faced bandits, you saved me. Hopefully this will give me the opportunity to make that debt even.” Edelgard's tone was one of obligation, but that olive branch was something, or at least Byleth hoped it was an olive branch and not a switch with which to further attack her.

“Do you mean to say you hope I am put in mortal peril, Edelgard?” Byleth asked, intending it as a joke but her tone was as unreadable as it ever was. Edelgard chuckled a bit, and Byleth enjoyed the sound.

“No. I wouldn’t say that at all, Professor. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and finish the assignment you gave us yesterday.” And before Edelgard had even finished her sentence she started walking off into the distance. Byleth sighed to herself, and a familiar ringing came through her mind.

“You two really never did make much sense to me. Especially since you really have no tact when it comes to socializing.” Sothis commented. Byleth sighed again and shook her head.

“That seems so, to say the least.” Byleth muttered, walking towards the classroom. Sothis chuckled as Byleth walked through the door. It seemed the first half of her comment was lost on the poor fool.

A few students were scattered around the various shelves and desks that cluttered the room. Petra, Dorothea, and Leonie sat around the fireplace chatting about Petra’s life in Brigid. It seemed to be rather exciting, based on the way Dorothea was paying attention. Ashe sat at a desk nearby, reading away at some text Byleth couldn’t read the title of. Byleth noticed Ashe look up from the book, only to immediately return back to reading once the transfer student noticed her walking past. Ferdinand, Caspar and Linhardt all sat around a desk, Linhardt fast asleep as always while Ferdinand and Caspar spoke excitedly about training plans.

Byleth sat at her desk, which faced the entryway to the classroom, and began checking her notes. There was a rather obtuse set of pages where she had gathered most every student's preferences and talents, but now she had to begin to figure out how to refine their skills, and what to refine them into. This had turned out to be much more exhaustively academic than Byleth had anticipated. She had always been a mercenary, even before she was old enough to fight she would train with or even just watch the other mercenaries when they trained and fought. Fighting was the thing she was good at. Academics? That eluded her. Her handwriting was chicken scratch, and her experience with magic was next to non-existent. History had always struck her as a fool’s errand to study. What is the point of learning about what those long dead did when you could join them at any moment if you aren’t careful? But Byleth supposed that she’d have to learn rather quickly if she intended to actually prepare her students for the world outside of the Monastery.

Slowly the students trickled out of the classroom, while Byleth remained there, sat at her desk, pouring over her own notes as well as texts on Faith and Reason training. Byleth had a sneaking suspicion it was going to be a long night, and many more were to come.

 

The next few weeks went on without much if any incident. Byleth had decided to try a routine consisting of alternating physical training days and study days within the classroom. While this may give a bit more physical instruction to the magic users than they’d necessarily need and give the fighters and sword wielders more magical and theoretical instruction, as Hubert was more than willing to repeatedly inform her of, Byleth knew these students were training to be officers. Being able to think as well as fight was a necessity. Besides, it seemed to be working so far.

Byleth stood on the edge of the training field as the students ran laps past her. Linhardt was going at a pace that could generously be called jogging, while Caspar and Ferdinand were both sprinting wildly, trying to outpace each other. Byleth whistled, signaling an end to the laps, and the student’s gathered up around her.

“Allright. Today’s drills are about defensive fighting. I want each of you to pair off with someone who’s skill set is antagonistic to yours, and one of you attacks while the other blocks, then vice versa. Leonie, Ashe, you two pair off and I want you running your lance and axe. Ferdinand, Hubert, I want you running sword and magic. Dorothea, Petra you two run sword and axe. Bernadetta, I want you to work with Edelgard, Caspar, you work with Lindhart. ” Byleth saw each group pair off and grab their training weapons as she finished her instruction. Bernadetta nervously walked towards Byleth, clutching her training bow in her hands.

“Pr...professor, someone’s watching us train.” Bernadetta pointed over towards the tree line as she spoke. Byleth followed her finger to see Jeralt, who waved from his position leaned up against a tree.

“Don’t worry Bernadetta, it’s simply the captain of the knights. I’ll see what he wants. Practice as usual.” Byleth walked off before Bernadetta could reply.

 

“You are making my students uncomfortable, staring at them from the shadows.” Byleth said as she finally got close enough to speak. Jeralt laughed, although he wasn’t entirely sure if that was meant to be a joke or not. He moved away from the tree and began to speak.

“Don’t worry. I’m just here to bring a message from the Archbishop. They’ve located the bandits you’re set to hunt down. They’re in Zanado, the Red Canyon. Apparently the knights were able to push them into the deepest portion of the canyon and have the only entrance and exit blocked, so they won’t be going anywhere. Lady Rhea wants your house out of here at dawn tomorrow. It’s about a day and a halfs trek to the canyon, so make sure your students pack enough supplies.”

“Understood. I’ll inform the students after drills.” Byleth replied. Jeralt smiled at her and rested his hand on her shoulder.

“A real battle this time huh? This’ll be most of your students first real fight. Take care of them, kid. They’ll need you to watch out for them.” Byleth nodded.

“I will. They’re good kids. They’ve learned a lot already.” Byleth’s statement made Jeralt laugh.

“You say that with all the sincerity of some war-haggard old veteran as opposed to someone who’s barely past being a kid themselves. I’m sure they’ll do fine. I never taught you much about tactics, but you’re good in the heat of the moment and at making good calls on the fly on the battlefield. Now, get back to your students. I’ll see you when you get back.” Jeralt wrapped Byleth in a hug, before walking back to the Monastery. Byleth returned to her class.

Ashe swung out at the Leonie with a blunted axe, and she just barely managed to block the swing with the handle of her lance. She swung around and aimed the tip of her lance right at Ashe’s abdomen, but her shot missed as Ashe lunged back out of her way, landing on the ground before swiftly jumping up and returning with another axe swing.

“Cmon Ashe, you’re not getting anywhere close!” Leonie taunted as she swung out with the blunt end of her lance. Ashe blocked the strike and shoved Leonie back before swinging out in her direction. The axe came within an inch of hitting Leonie, but she managed to miss the blunt wooden blade. Ashe swung a follow-up strike, but before it could hit Leonie ducked underneath the axe and knocked Ashe’s legs out with the pole of her lance. Ashe hit the ground with a thud and the axe went sailing off towards the trees as Leonie pointed her lance tip at Ashe’s chest.

“Your footwork is getting sloppy. You gotta keep your base solid or you’ll just be begging to get knocked onto your ass. Quite unbecoming of a young noble lord don’t you think?” Leonie chuckled and held out her hand as she spoke. Ashe, who’d been laughing just a second ago took her hand quietly and stood.

“Yeah, I suppose it is.” Ashe said before walking off to grab the axe which was now lost somewhere in the tall grass. Leonie wondered if her teasing had really been that cutting, but Ashe was always so strange it was hard to tell. “Could he just be in some mood? He’s never been a sore loser before.” Leonie wondered to herself. Ashe found the axe and returned.

“Hey, y’know you did really good today. Even if you’re a bit clumsy.” Leonie laughed awkwardly to herself, and Ashe shot her an almost pitiful grin.

“Thanks Leonie. That means a lot coming from you.” Ashe said, rubbing the side of the leg Leonie had knocked out during the fight. until the professor’s loud whistle rang across the field, signaling for their return. Leonie began walking toward the professor,and Ashe joined her a few seconds later. The whole pack of students formed around the professor, sweaty and bruised.

“Word has just been sent from the Archbishop. The bandit’s we’re hunting have been found roughly a day and a half away from here. We’ll be leaving at dawn tomorrow. Make sure to pack well, but pack light. The last thing we need is one of you being so exhausted from the hike you can’t even stand to fight. Pack enough rations for four days, a bedroll, proper clothing, and any other necessities.” Byleth instructed from the center of the ring of students.

“Yes! I can’t wait to get this started! Rugged trekking through the woods and a battle!? Those bandits will never know what hit them!” Caspar cheered from behind Byleth.

“Just be careful your stench doesn’t attract any feral beasts to our campsite in the night, Caspar.” Ferdinand chimed in, punching the blue haired Eagle in the shoulder.

“I quite like camping. The stars are wonderful to sleep under. I just hope the dew doesn’t damage my books…” Lindhart sleepily chimed in, sat at the base of a nearby tree.

“Lord Lanato always loved camping! I can help set up the camp so that our food won’t attract any kind of wild critters!” Ashe said, grinning from ear to ear.

“W...wait, camping?! Like...in the woods? In the open? Where something could get you from any direction...oh dear! I’m gonna be bear food for sure!” Bernadetta grimaced and buried her face in her hands. Dorothea and Petra walked up behind her, Dorothea placing her hands on the archers shoulder and patting softly.

“Oh there there Bern, you’re not gonna get eaten by a bear. You’ll have all of us around to keep you safe.” Bernadetta looked up from her hands as Dorothea spoke, almost seeming to feel better about the prospect.

“Yes! Being eaten is very unlikely! Bears are hibernating this time of year, it would be much more likely you’d die from bandits than any sort of bear, Bernadetta!” Petra said cheerfully. Bernadetta proceeded to run off screaming.

“Thank you so much for helping neutralize that situation, Petra, your contributions are invaluable.” Hubert muttered sarcastically. Dorothea shot him a glare before walking off in the same direction Bernadetta had ran.

“You all heard the professor. Pack accordingly and meet at the front gate at dawn!” Edelgard shouted, and each student ran off towards the campus to pack. Byleth was about to walk towards campus as well, when she saw Edelgard and Hubert speaking together, stood completely still.

“Aren’t you two going to pack as well?” Byleth asked

“We are already both packed. I had my pack prepared with enough supplies to last for at least a week's journey when the archbishop informed us of the mission.” Edelgard said, rather pleased with herself.

“Yes. We encouraged the others to prepare ahead of time as well. But it seems none of them heeded it, which is hardly shocking. Those who do not prepare are fools in the best of cases. Let us hope their idiocy doesn’t get any of them killed.” Hubert said, his grin was openly smug.

“Hmmm, I certainly hope not. That would be most unfortunate. What will you do for the rest of the day, then?” Byleth asked, crossing her arms.

“Not much beyond recuperating from today’s training. Sore muscles make for a rather long trek. What of you, Professor?” Edelgard asked.

“Well, I need to go pack my bag.” Byleth said with a shrug, walking away before her sentence was even finished.

Chapter Text

The class gathered at the front gate as the sun began to crest over the distant hills. Once everyone was gathered together Byleth led the team out onto the main road out of Garreg Mach. The Black Eagles’ first mission had officially begun. Things started well as the students seemed to rather enjoy the march, as if it was a nature hike. There were, however, a few comments from a certain tired student.

“But really professor, why such a long arduous walk when a cart would be so much faster?” Lindhart mumbled from beside her.

“Because traveling by cart or carriage when you're with soldiers on foot is a sign of a weak officer. The right opponent will see a weak officer and a demoralized army and know how to turn one against the other. That’s why even the commander of the mercenary brigade I belonged to, who specializes in mounted combat, walks when his troops are in transit. It also helps build endurance. A weak officer is bad for a battalion’s morale.” Byleth explained. Lindhart sighed, seemingly appeased by the answer if not pleased by his still being obligated to walk. Edelgard’s eyes seemed to linger on her for a moment too long, though Byleth could not read her expression. The rest of the day’s walk went by without much incident, and as night drew closer the class found a large clearing in the woods off of the path to set camp in.

Byleth had several students gathered around her as she showed them the process of building a fire at the center of their camp. Linhardt asked why they’d need to know such rudimentary knowledge when any mage could simply wave his hand and spawn fire. Hubert made, for what Byleth thought must be the first time, a comment in her defense and asked what Linhardt would do if he’d exhausted his magic in a battle. Linhardt shrugged.

The camp was steadily constructed as the students worked to pitch their tents while Byleth began making something resembling a dinner.

As they finished pitching their tents and setting their bedrolls Byleth had finally managed to create a rather decent smelling, if not looking, meal. Byleth began handing out bowls to each student as they sat down around the fire. Finally she filled her own and began eating alongside the students. There was a long silence, interrupted only by the sound of chewing and tearing meat, the latter usually coming from Byleth. After everyone had eaten their fill, the students began to chat among themselves until Byleth spoke up.

“Listen up! Tomorrow will be most of you all’s first real fight. You’ve all grown considerably since the mock battle, and if you are careful I have no doubt that you'll make it out of this alive. But, you’re still students, and that isn’t certain. Especially if every one of you are only focused on fending for yourself. You’re training to be officers, but as of right now, you’re soldiers and you are my responsibility. If I speak, you need to listen. I will never give you an order that I think will get you killed. But most importantly if you hear someone get hurt, help them. On the battlefield, you and your comrades are the only ones you can count on. Not instructors back at the monastery, not your family or a priest, not even the goddess herself. If you can’t rely on the people around you, if you can’t trust them to watch your back they trust you with the same, people will die.” Bernadetta squealed at Byleth’s words, and several students looked down or away. Hubert and Edelgard both seemed to have that same strange look in their eyes that Edelgard had given her on the trail.

“I promise, I will do everything I can to make sure we all walk home safe and sound, but…just watch out for each other.” Byleth’s words left the entire camp engulfed in silence that dragged on for what felt like hours. Each student did whatever they could to look Byleth in the eye save for Hubert and Edelgard.

“Thank you for that, Professor.” Edelgard said, standing up. “But I do believe it’s growing late. Perhaps it would be best to call an end to the evening and allow us all some rest.”

“That’s a fair point, Edelgard.” Byleth gestured towards Hubert and Ferdinand. “Aegir, Vestra, I want you two to stand guard over the camp. Wait until the moon is up in the dead center of the sky, and then wake up Ashe and Leonie. If anyone needs me, I’ll be in my tent.” The class replied with weak goodbyes as Byleth wandered off to her tent. While every student had a single tent that was barely big enough for the larger students, Byleth’s professorial tent was big enough for at least three people, more even.

“You really have so little faith in them?” Sothis’s voice rang through Byleth’s mind as the professor undid her armor and prepared to sleep. She shook her head.

“What would ever give you that idea?” Byleth’s voice, for once, was at full volume as she spoke to the goddess haunting her mind.

“I wonder. I said nothing to your little diatribe to the three brats when you first met them, the lancer and archer, and Edelgard and such, but there’s a strong difference between speaking to people you barely know and students you are supposed to be instilling some form of confidence in. And even farther, as the “goddess” you so energetically dismissed any hope in, I’d say I’m one of their key assets. Or have you forgotten completely about my abilities? You don’t seem to have acquired more head trauma than your usual, so I can’t imagine you’d forget something like being able to rewind time itself.”

“I have not forgotten, no. But in my defense, if my headaches are any indication you’re still straining to piece together a past I’ve got no memory of to begin with. I have a great debt to you for saving me but I can’t rely on that, and they can’t either. I have to teach them how to take care of themselves, and that doesn’t come from relying on a god. That comes from learning to rely on yourself and your allies.”

“Oh you are so stubborn! I am not some wistful feather, here one moment and blown away, gone the next. I am sadly stuck here in the baren emptiness you seem to call a mind, and until that changes my power is available to you as needed. So use them! Ugh, Just go to sleep, you oaf. Your pessimistic musings bore and depress me more than this empty throne room.” And with that, Sothis was gone, and Byleth was finally allowed to sleep.

 

Back in the clearing, the students began breaking off into small groups, wandering towards groupings of tents as they chatted among themselves. Dorothea, Petra, and Bernadetta were gathered together in front of their tents.

“Ooooooh, I don’t want to die!” Bernadetta groaned, sat on the ground hugging her legs to her chest.

“Berni, don’t worry, you’re not going to die.” Dorothea muttered, rather exhausted, as she rubbed Bernadetta’s back. Petra was staying rather silent. “Just go ahead and lay down. I’m sure that Hubie and Ferdinand will keep good watch over the camp.”

“Ok…” Bernadetta mumbled, looking down for a moment before she got a nervous look on her face. “Hey Dorothea…Petra...are...are we friends?” She asked, looking between the two of them. The two girls looked at eachother, neither sure how to react. Petra moved closer to Bernadetta’s other side.

“Bernadetta, of course we’re friends. I thought that’d been rather plain for some time now. Whatever would make you ask something like that?” Dorothea asked, wrapping her arm around Bernadetta’s shoulder.

“Bernadetta, are you feeling alright? You are looking as if you’re going to be vomiting.” Petra’s comment didn’t seem to help the situation much, but when she took Bernadetta’s hand in hers the small girl seemed to shake a bit less.

“I just...What the professor said… I know we’re classmates and that kinda means we have to be ‘friends’, at least a little, but the way she talked about it ‘out there in a real fight’ just made me wonder. I just… I just want to know that there’s someone there looking out for me. Old memories just tend to get in the way I guess. You two are both just so kind, and you never yell at me, you’re just…” Bernadetta went quiet. Petra squeezed her hand.

“Bernadetta, It is not to be worrying about. You are not some shaking rabbit being hunted alone. We will be helping you.”

“Yeah Bern, no matter what happened before, you’ve got plenty of people watching out for you. I had thought we’d been friends for a long time, so I really am...Bern?” Dorothea was cut off as Bernadetta stood and shook her head a bit, as if shaking off a trance.

“Just forget it. I’m being stupid. Father would….he’d just be absolutely…..Goddess have mercy.” Bernadetta mumbled as she walked into her tent, leaving the two behind. Petra and Dorothea both looked completely confounded, and they sat in silence for several long, drawn out minutes before Petra finally broke it, whispering barely loud enough for Dorothea to hear.

“...Was it something I said? Fodish is such a trouble language, I feel my toes are in my mouth more than they are not.” Petra collapsed on her back, staring at the stars as she spoke.

“No, Petra, you putting your foot in your mouth seems to be the least of her worries. What could she mean about her father and all that?” Dorothea wondered as she laid back and joined Petra in staring at the sky. After a while, they each went off to sleep in their own tents. .

 

“Must you really continue your ridiculous training routine this late at night? Your grunts are going to keep the entire camp awake.” Hubert griped as Ferdinand lay prone across the ground, pushing himself up and down.

“Yes!... I must!...I have to ensure I can be stronger than Edelgard!” Ferdinand grunted between pushups, before finally standing up and stretching.

“Perhaps you’d have more time to train if you were not so busy speaking sedition against Lady Edelgard.” Hubert shot back with a scowl.

“Well, perhaps if you were not so preoccupied with ‘Lady Edelgard’ every second of the day you might be better company. I speak no sedition against her, in fact quite the opposite. I only ever aim to be strong enough that I may stand as a good advisor in times of trouble. A friend is one who is able to point out where someone is failing and where they must improve, not one who nods and ‘yes ma’ams’ blindly.” Ferdinand rested a hand on his hip.

“I grow tired of the river of filth and nonsense flowing from your mouth, mister Aegir! You seem beyond hopeless in your attempts to surpass Edelgard.” Hubert said, standing and poking Ferdinand in the chest.

“Goddess have mercy, for once in your life speak of anything other than Edelgard! You are like a gull, squawking away the same tired sound over and over! You must have some interest beyond her. I want to hear it. Whatever it is that brings something resembling joy to the blackened pit you call a heart, I want to know what it is.” Ferdinand shot back, pushing Hubert’s hand aside. “Well?”

Hubert was quiet for a moment, glaring into Ferdinand’s eyes until his glare slowly faded into a simple scowl, and finally his shoulders relaxed and he looked down at the fading flames of the campfire.

“...Coffee.” Hubert muttered, kicking a rock near his shoe sending it skittering across the dirt and thumping against a log.

“What?” Ferdinand’s brow quirked up.

“I enjoy coffee. I find the taste of tea too weak, and most people make it much too sweet. When Lady Edelgard takes her tea, I have a small pot of coffee brewed for myself.” Hubert sighed and crossed his arms in front of him. Ferdinand couldn’t help but chuckle.

“It is quite predictable for your one great joy in life to be something so bitter as coffee. But thank you, Hubert.”

“For what?”

“Well, I asked you a question, and you answered. I half expected you to curse me, or worse yet poison my morning rations behind my back.” Ferdinand replied, patting Hubert on the shoulder.

“Well I would not relax so quickly young mister Aegir, the night is young. But I don’t think, if the professors cooking tonight was exemplary of her skills as a whole, my poisons would be necessary.” Hubert cracked an almost imperceptible smile.

“Ha! Is that a joke? I must flee and call the best healers of Garreg Mach because I do believe you’ve lost your mind Sir Vestra. But I must agree. The professor is a stellar instructor, but a cook she is not.” Ferdinand took his hand away from Hubert’s shoulder and looked up at the sky. “It looks like the moons about to the middle. Should we grab Ashe and Leonie?”

“Unless you intend to spend the entire night with this pointless conversation, I’d say so. I shall leave waking them to you. Goodbye.” Hubert walked off, and Ferdinand did not even get enough time to respond before he was gone. He grumbled and walked off to gather their replacements.

 

The next morning was quiet as the class packed their gear and took to the road. This went unnoticed by the students and professor alike, each of them lost in their own thoughts. The dirt and rocks they walked over grew more and more into blood-red sand as the hours ticked by and they drew closer to the canyon. The path slowly led into a decline that went down between two steep cliff faces, and if Byleth was not mistaken on the other side would be their contacts.

“Professor. May I speak with you a moment?” Edelgard asked, running up beside Byleth, her hair was slick with sweat.

“I don’t see how I could stop you, Edelgard.” Byleth nodded in acknowledgement of the heiress. “What’s on your mind?

“It was about your speech last night. What you said about only being able to trust those fighting alongside you even more than the goddess.”

“Yes? I hope it didn’t offend. But you don’t strike me as much of the religious type.” Byleth said. Edelgard seemed unsure of how to take that.

“No, it’s nothing like that. I just hadn’t heard you make much reference to the goddess before. It was just, nice.” Edelgard looked away from Byleth, staring off into the distance.

“Nice how?”

“It was just refreshing, I suppose. At the Monastery so much emphasis is put on the goddess. We’re always told about the importance of faith in the goddess, praying to the goddess, ‘by the will of the goddess’, it’s unending. I was just happy to hear someone actually say we are allowed some agency in our own lives.” Edelgard said, a smile crossing her lips as she finished speaking. Byleth wasn’t sure how to respond. She had never held any serious faith in anything beyond Jeralt and the brigade. In her battles, they had always been the ones to protect her. What else could you need if you had people you trust by your side?

Byleth was about to hazard a response, when the whistle of rushing air struck her ears. She knew that sound.

“Down!” She yelled as she lunged towards Edelgard, a moment too late as they both were struck with a flame spell. Several screams could be heard as arrows and fire spells rained down from the cliff sides onto the class.

Byleth felt her side burning, and saw a small portion of her tunic had caught light. How could Byleth have been so stupid? A ravine was a prime target for an ambush, and she’d just walked the students in blind. She swatted away at the flame as Edelgard struggled out of her camping pack, the thick canvas of the pack having been set ablaze. Byleth pulled the short sword from her belt and quickly slashed away the straps, tossing the bag to the side. She turned to the others, and saw the pathway engulfed in chaos.

Hubert was launching Nosferatu blasts at a mage standing on one cliff side while Leonie tried to pick off archers on the other. Byleth saw Dorothea had received a terrible burn on one leg, and Bernadetta was sobbing as a massive gash bled profusely from her arm. Several men armed with axes, swords, and polearms began to drop into the canyon.

“Edelgard, follow close behind. We can’t let those men get anywhere near the others.” Byleth ordered as she ran forward and smashed her gauntlet into the side of one attacker's skull. His bones crunched audibly beneath her swing and he fell dead. The clothing he wore looked familiar. These were the bandits that had attacked them in the woods. They’d somehow escaped the knights and laid a trap.

“Leonie! Hubert! Stop what you’re doing! Hubert, you and Linhardt target the archers, Petra, I need you to focus on mages. Ferdinand! Ashe! Caspar! Leonie! We need to make sure those bandits get nowhere near anyone else. Follow behind me and Edelgard, and if you see an opening to take one down, do not hesitate! Dorothea, mend your leg as best you can and help Bernadetta. If she can hold a bow she needs to help us here on the ground immediately.”

The students all looked terrified, but Byleth had to trust the determination she saw burning behind many of their eyes. Dorothea crawled towards Bernadetta, trying to calm the girl as her hand glowed green against her own thigh. The skin began visibly mending itself.

Byleth, Edelgard, and their small team charged forward. At the lead of the bandit charge stood that same bearded bandit as there had been on that night in the woods. He grinned evilly, axe in hand, as his forces met Byleth’s head on. The sound of clashing metal and tearing flesh filled the air. The enemy easily outnumbered the team Byleth had rallied for the charge by nearly 2 to 1. The professor saw two bandits slice out at her, one landing it’s blow and burying his blade in her lower thigh. She swung out in retaliation and knocked him out cold.

Caspar felt a sword slice open his upper arm, and soon after his axe blade lodged into the offending bandits skull.

“Are all battles this exciting professor!? Come on, who’s next!” Caspar roared as he lunged at his next opponent.

Ferdinand grunted under his breath, an arrow slamming into his forearm forcing him to coddle the limb. As he was focused on the arrow, another bandit was charging at him, axe at the ready. Ferdinand slashed out with his uninjured arm and slit the throat of the assailant. He moved to the next target, sword aimed for the back of a bandit who was locked in a brawl with Caspar, as his voice rang through the valley.

“I will end you all! You’re no match for me, bandit scum!” He screamed as his blade hit home.

Linhardt sent out a blast of energy and felt himself breath a bit deeper as he sapped the life from a bandit who’d been trying to pin him with an arrow for what felt like an eternity. The archer dropped to the ground, and didn’t get back up. The horror of what he’d done hit Linhardt like a train, and his knees felt weak underneath him as he began to drop to the ground.

“I...I killed him, w..what have I done…” Linhardt clutched at the sides of his head as tears began streaming down his cheeks. Suddenly, something hooked under his arm and hoisted him back to his feet. Hubert’s cold sneer filled Linhardt's ears.

“Linhardt! Now is not the time!” Hubert launched a fireball at a newly appeared bandit, and his snarl of pain as an arrow lodged into his shoulder was horrifying. “Grah! We do not have time to break down here! Go help Dorothea or curl up and die! Do whatever you will but make a decision and get to it!” Linhardt nodded for a moment and stepped shakily over to Dorothea, who’s skirt and boot were ragged from the damage of the flame, however her leg seemed healed. She was trying to heal Bernadetta, and Linhardt dropped down next to her, his hands glowing green as he joined her.

“Thank you, Lindy.” Dorothea said as she looked over her shoulder towards Petra, who was standing a few feet away launching arrows at the bandits on the cliffside. “Petra, are you ok?”

“I am fine! These men drop just as beast. Do not mourn them, Linhardt, any more than you would mourn a rabid dog” Petra replied, her own clothing was torn and tattered. Linhardt, cheeks still wet with tears, nodded weakly as he saw the wound on Bernadetta’s arm finally close, however the poor girl continued sobbing. Dorothea put her hands on either side of the girl's face, and forced her to look into the songstress’s eyes.

“Bern, you need to snap out of it! The professor needs you up and fighting. We need you up and fighting!” Dorothea pleaded. Linhardt wasn’t sure why she’d put such a strange emphasis on ‘we’, it would seem obvious that if the professor needed her, all the students would. But it worked, and Bernadetta nodded weakly as she picked up her bow from the ground.

Leonie and Ashe stood side by side as they faced off against one behemoth of a bandit who wielded a pair of swords as if they were daggers. Ashe blocked one swing, but Leonie didn’t dodge far enough out of the way of his other, a rather vicious slash dragging across her left hip. Both of the Black Eagles lashed out at once with their weapons, but they were parried with ease.

Every time one of them would attack, the beast of a bandit would knock it aside and retaliate until both of them were covered in gashes and wounds. It wasn’t until Ashe heard Petra screaming for them to duck that they finally gained an upper hand. Both students dropped down as an arrow flew above them and into the bandits stomach, making him stumble for just a moment.

“Leonie! AIm high! I got low.” Ashe grunted, swinging out and slamming the blunt side of the axe-head into the side of the bandits knee. The joint bent at an unnatural angle until it finally gave out with a loud snap. As the goliath dropped Leonie lodged her lance into his throat, blood raining down onto the two of them. Leonie panted with her hands on her knees as Ashe could only stare at the corpse, eyes wide.

“He...he’s dead...he’s really dead….I….we killed him.” Ashe muttered, staring down at the bleeding corpse.

“Ashe had we hesitated, had we paused for even a second, he would’ve held no qualm about killing us. This is what we’ve trained for, so when men like that try to kill us or innocent people we can stop them.” Leonie rested a hand on Ashe’s shoulder, and the silver haired Eagle nodded weakly.

“Y...you’re right. It could’ve been us laying there…” Ashe held silent for a moment. “Thank you” Leonie nodded and helped her classmate to stand, and then the two of them charged on to the next fight.

 

The professor blocked a slash from a bandit's blade with the metal of her gauntlet, her arms covered in slashes and burns from the onslaught her class was forced to face. She swung out and managed to catch the bandits jaw, snapping his head to the side and followed it up with a jab to the throat. She felt his windpipe shatter. A loud metal ringing came from behind her and she turned to face it. Behind her stood Edelgard, axe up and blocking the blade of an axe that was clearly aimed for Byleth’s back. Edelgard pushed the bandit back, and swung her axe in retaliation, leaving a gash across the bandits abdomen. The bandit’s beard was speckled with blood, and he laughed as his axe head slashed her thigh, sending blood pouring down her leg.

“So, you two again, huh? Well, such a shame your knight friends were about as dumb as you. They pushed us into the final cliff of the canyon, but only blocked the southern road, so all we had to do was take the eastern road around and they never knew what hit them!” He swung out again smashing his axe into Byleth’s gauntlet, the sheer force of the strike bending the metal and crushing part of her arm between the iron. Byleth slammed her fist into the bandit leader's stomach, ripping her other arm back and aiming for his head.

“Professor!” Edelgard screamed, Byleth turned to her, but not fast enough. A pair of bandits charged forward, one slashing out at her with a sword strike, which she managed to step out of the way of only to step right into the path of the second bandit’s lance. The blade tore into her shoulder and pinned her against the stone of the cliff.

The leader hefted his axe, intent clear as he readied to end her life. Byleth fixed her eyes on the man about to kill her as she screamed inside her mind for Sothis. The axe came within inches of her throat but finally Byleth saw the axe slow, and with it everything else until the world was completely stopped.

“I was wondering when you’d finally call for me! You’re getting demolished out here!” Sothis chided, as Byleth felt reality shatter around her and everything began moving in reverse. She felt the sickening sensation of the lance pulling out of her flesh and the meat of her shoulder stitching itself back together until she was finally right back where she had been before Edelgard’s warning. “I fear this is the most I can muster. Do try not to get killed this time.” Sothis mumbled weekly.

Time resumed, and as Edelgard began to scream Byleth turned and swatted the sword away, grabbing the bandit attached and throwing him towards the white-haired student. Byleth dropped down, the lance going right over her head before swinging up and breaking the handle of the spear. The lancer dropped his broken handle and drew a dagger from his belt. Byleth heard a thunk from behind her and the sound of gushing fluid, and could only pray that sound was being made by the bandit’s body and not Edelgard’s.

The bandit leaders axe came within inches of Byleth’s arm, and a whistling sound could be heard as an arrow lodged into his chest. He reeled back and Byleth seized the opportunity, kicking out at his knee with her heavy boot. The bone cracked with an audible snap as his leg buckled under him, bending the wrong direction. His scream filled the air as he fell to his back.

Byleth heard footsteps, and Edelgard yelling orders at the mass of students that had collected around the small brawl. The dagger-wielding bandit moved toward the professor but his motion was cut off as the professor grabbed him and threw him against the cliff. Petra and Dorothea were the last to join the mass of students around Edelgard as Byleth slammed his head against the stone wall and tossed his limp body to the ground. Unconscious or dead, Byleth did not care.

The bandit leader was attempting to crawl away as Byleth moved to him. She threw him onto his back, towering over him as she reeled her arm back and smashed her fist into his nose. Then she pulled back and slammed her fist down again, and again, and again, and again.

The class was silent as she wiped her gauntlets off on his tattered clothes. She turned back and saw the ragged remains of the students she had walked into that ravine, her students. None were dead, but each of them looked exhausted in their own way. Many of them looked so soaked in sweat and blood that they might drown in it, or that at any moment their muscles could give out and put them on the ground. Linhardt looked distant, trying to avoid the horrors he’d just seen. Hubert and Dorothea both looked so drained that they might pass out at any moment and Bernadetta shakily clutched her bow close to her chest, tears in her eyes as Edelgard Petra and Dorothea stood by her.

“I….I didn’t want to...but he was trying to kill the professor...I just want to go home....” Bernadetta whimpered. Edelgard tried to console her, but her words seemed to do little to calm the girl. Byleth walked over, stepping over the body of a bandit whose head was smashed open on the ground, a sword inches from his hand. She knelt down in front of Bernadetta to be closer to eye-level, resting a hand on her shoulder.

“Thank you, Bernadetta. Had it not been for you, I might’ve lost, or at least taken even more damage during that fight.” Byleth stood and looked over her class, “You all did well. An ambush like that is damn near impossible to be prepared for, let alone to make it out without a casualty. There was a small campsite off the road not too far back, we’re going to move back there and set camp for the night. Our healers who still have magic left can tend to our worst wounds, and those of you left I can help as best possible.” The nods Byleth received in reply were weak, but loyal.

“Professor, I don’t think prolonged walking would be best for Lady Edelgard.” Hubert said firmly. Byleth looked and saw the sizable damage to the heiress’s thigh, the poor girl was propped up on her bloodied axe as if it were an old man's cane.

“Do you think you can make it a mile if I help you?” Byleth asked. Edelgard nodded, determination undulled in her eyes. “Good.” Byleth offered her hand, and Edelgard took it. The professor took Edelgard’s arm and slung it over her shoulder, allowing the princess to place a rather large chunk of her weight onto Byleth.

“It will be fine, Hubert. We need to move. I can make it.” Edelgard assured as the class began the longest mile they’d ever walked. Exhaustion was clear in their entire bodies as they crawled slowly down the path they’d just traversed. Hubert stood close behind the professor and Edelgard, as if Byleth where to drop the Hresvelg at any moment and he needed to be ready to grab her before she hit the ground.

The students trudged on, moving farther and farther from the hell they had just survived. Ferdinand and Caspar leaned on each other as they walked, each one supporting the other as much as the other was supporting them. Bernadetta and Petra walked closely beside Dorothea, the songstress insisting every few steps that she was fine. Leonie was walking using her lance like a walking stick, Linhardt and Ashe walking alongside her. Byleth sighed and hefted Edelgards weight a bit higher up on her shoulder, feeling some relief in her lower back as she began to speak.

“I guess you ended up getting what you’d wanted.” Byleth said quietly. Edelgard looked at her, confused.

“How do you mean, Professor?” Edelgard’s words were interrupted with weak grunts at every other step.

“You got your chance to save my life. Were it not for you, I would likely be dead several times over. Your assistance and quick warning were invaluable.” Byleth said. It was true, in a sense. Byleth had Sothis to thank for still being breathing, but had Edelgard not warned her in the first place she’d have been in a much worse spot. There was a long stretch of silence, several minutes in fact, before Edelgard finally replied.

“I… I didn’t want you to be in mortal peril professor. I just…” And yet again the silence returned.

“Just what, Edelgard?”

“I just wanted to prove to you and Seteth and all the rest of the instructors that we aren’t some helpless children.”

“Edelgard, you all are students, many of you barely into adulthood. Do you expect us to simply let you loose in the world? I wasn’t even running alone on missions until just a year or two ago.” Byleth explained, adjusting a bit to heft Edelgard higher onto her shoulder. This however only seemed to infuriate Edelgard further.

“Exactly! You’re barely older than most of us, so it wouldn’t be outside of reason to think you’d understand more than most that age and experience are not interchangeable.” Edelgard sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose, her other arm clinging to Byleth’s neck.

“How do you mean? Of course I understand that. ”

“Then why is every other word you say to us something about how ‘real life will be difficult, don’t get careless’? You seem incapable of comprehending we’re not all spoiled children who grew up in the lap of luxury. It shows you have no idea who your students actually are, where they come from, or anything about them for that matter!” Edelgard wasn’t masking her anger anymore, a deep scowl carved the lower half of her face.

“I think you give me less credit than I’m owed, Edelgard. I pay more attention to my students than you think.”

“How so? What do you know about any of us that I didn’t tell you on that first day at the monastery?”

“I know that wasn’t your first time killing.” Edelgard went white as a bedsheet, and whether it was from what Byleth had said or the blood loss, she wasn’t sure.

“I...I have no idea what you mean, professor.” Edelgard muttered, looking down and away.

“Yes, you do. I can see every single one of your classmates trying to process their first kills. Even those like Ferdinand and Caspar who weren’t heartbroken by it are clearly trying to make sense of the madness and yet you and Hubert both seem no different than you did prior to the fight, save for the flesh wounds and burns. You’re either both absolutely mad, or you’ve killed before.” Edelgard opened her mouth as if to speak, but Byleth was not looking for answers. “ I won’t ask you when, or why. But the way you two always seem to be standing off from the class, chattering among yourselves needs to stop. Whatever happened, it can’t just be you two. You aren’t working alone, so please stop acting like you are. All that’s going to do is get you killed and put your comrades at risk. Now get your head out of your ass and learn to rely on people around you. You’re here to be a leader, a leader has to learn to rely on those under their command as much as those people rely on them.”

Edelgard never replied and the silence between the two hung, tense and unpierced. Soon enough they reached the clearing. Byleth set Edelgard down on a log, and began helping some of the students pitch their tents. The students who could use healing magic began taking turns to mend the worst of the wounds, rotating between Linhardt and Dorothea every few minutes in an attempt to prevent one or both of them from passing out. While they mended the biggest wounds, Byleth pulled some of the lesser-injured aside and began cleaning wounds with alcohol and stitching them shut. Hubert’s grimace as Byleth stitched the arrow wound in his shoulder actually managed to draw some sympathy from the haggered professor.

Finally, after hours of stitches, magic, and labor the worst of the wounds had been sealed. Petra and Bernadetta helped a nearly-unconscious dorothea to her tent, and Caspar all-but-carried Linhardt to his. Byleth sat at the hastily built fire pit, cooking a pitifully small meal out of what rations had survived the attack. Sothis had been silent since she’d saved Byleth from the axe and Byleth found the empty quiet of her own mind rather lonely. Slowly, students began to file in around the fire, taking seats around the cooking food as Byleth passed around bowls of what was little more than watered-down broth and small chunks of cabbage and salt beef. Everyone ate in silence, until finally to everyone’s surprise Bernadetta spoke.

“Professor… how….how long does it take for this stuff….the killing…..how long does it take before it starts getting easier?” The entire class turned towards their exhausted instructor. Byleth looked at the fire and felt her shoulders grow heavy as she pondered how to respond. In the end she let out a long sigh, scratching the back of her head as she looked up at the students, her students. They needed her and Byleth had no idea what to do. This was something she felt utterly unable to actually teach them. She’d never had an issue killing, men had come into the brigade only to leave after their first kill many times. She’d seen grief and guilt a hundred times over, seen her father speak to these men a hundred times more, but she’d never seen killing as anything other than her means of survival. A man intends to kill you, you kill him first. A man intends to pay for your food to protect his family from being killed? You kill the people intent to kill him. It was brutal in its simplicity. But Byleth knew she was an outlier in that instance. Her student’s needed something more.

They needed Jeralt. He knew how to talk people through their first kills. He could set their minds at ease. But he wasn’t there, so she decided she’d try her best to answer like he would, and hope it’d work.

“It doesn’t. Or at least it shouldn’t. It should never be easy.”

Linhardt spoke up, staring at the fire if for no other reason than not to have to look any of his classmates in the eye. “Then how do you do it? This? Day in and day out?”

“You learn to not let the weight pull you down. It’s not easy for most, and the weight never really leaves you, but you learn to bear it and let the strain of it strengthen you as opposed to pull you under the water.”

“That doesn’t answer his question, professor Eisner.” Edelgard said, her eyes had been locked on Byleth since the professor had begun answering Bernadetta. “How do you not get pulled under?” Byleth flailed for a moment mentally as she tried to think of how to respond.

“You remember why you fight in the first place. Killing isn’t something you should ever just do. It has to be for something. Even if it’s as simple as making sure you see another day or have food in your stomach. Whatever it is, you have to hold tight to it, and never let it go.”

“What is your reason, professor?” Edelgard asked.

“...” Byleth searched for an answer. It's always been just what she did. She killed because she was a mercenary, that was how her and her father fed themselves, kept wood on the fire during winter, kept alive period. “I fight so that I can keep myself and the people I care about alive.” Byleth finally said.

The next few hours passed without much in the way of eventful conversation, and eventually students began migrating to their tents. As the sun finished setting and night drew in Byleth and Edelgard were the only two left around the fire. Edelgard was leaned back against her log, head lulling down every once in a while as she fought sleep. She had volunteered alongside Byleth for first watch, but it seemed she was more exhausted than she thought. After a while, Byleth coughed into her hand and the heiress jumped slightly, head shooting up.

“Edelgard, I think it’d be best if you slept. Your wounds were serious, and even with healing magic they can drain you. I can watch the camp, but you should rest.” Edelgard looked down, embarrassed.

“Professor, I appreciate the offer but...my bedroll and tent were damaged in the battle, I couldn’t go to sleep if I wanted to.”

“Then you can sleep in my bedroll.” Edelgard’s eyebrows knit together as Byleth spoke, and Byleth realized a moment too late how what she had said could be interpreted. “Don’t go taking that the wrong way. I will wake you when my watch is over, and you will take second watch while I sleep. That bedroll is of no use to me while I'm out here covering the watch.” Byleth saw a blush creep into Edelgard’s cheeks, silently wishing Sothis could be there to give her at least some kind of direction.

“Of course professor, I ...I had no doubts of your intentions. But I just…. I don’t tend to be comfortable sharing a sleeping area with others. I tend to try and keep my tent away from others when I can.” Edelgard looked down and fiddled with a rock in her hands.

“May I ask why?”

“I tend to speak in my sleep. And I have...nightmares. They can make me rather disoriented when I wake up. I’ve attacked more than one unfortunate housekeeper who woke me in the night. It’s just easier to sleep away from the others.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. It’s nothing you did. In a way I think they’re important. A reminder.” Edelgard said, tossing the rock aside.

“Of what, exactly?” Byleth asked, fiddling with her short sword.

“The reason I keep fighting. The same reason as you, Professor. Family.” Edelgard took a long breath, shuddering a little at the end. “I shouldn’t be the heir to the Empire. Nowhere close. I am where I am because I was the one who survived long enough to earn the title. Every older sibling I had was either killed or....broken, and I was left alone. Now I have to try and make something of it so that everything that happened, all that suffering, can be worth something.” Edelgard wiped away a tear from her cheek with the palm of her hand, which she held clenched in a fist.

“You’re not alone, Edelgard. At least, you don’t need to be. You have an entire class to work alongside.” Byleth said plainly. Edelgard didn’t reply for a long while, the silence only filled with the crackling of the fire between the two. But finally, she stood and spoke.

“Maybe you’re right professor, but that changes little. I should get some sleep. Please, just forget about what I said. I have not told many about my past. I’d rather not have it get out.” Byleth nodded as her student walked past her and towards the largest tent in the clearing.

 

Edelgard’s mind was at the same time exhausted and yet buzzing. She sealed the flap into the professors tent behind her, and didn’t even kick her shoes off fully before dropping onto the single bedroll. She finally managed to get her last boot off, and curled up in the thick fabric, which reeked of sweat. Underneath that however she smelled soil, deep and earthy, mixed with what smelled like...lavender? It was such a strange combination of scents, but not unpleasant. She felt awful to have abandoned her post on watch to the professor while at the same time stealing her bedding, but that was overshadowed as her face grew warm again from thinking about the implications of Byleth’s clarification about ‘ill intentions’. She had been, at the time at least, more concerned about the possibility of waking in a terror and accidentally attacking the professor in her confusion.

Edelgard’s exhausted mind turned to the professor in question, unsure of what to make of her. Every moment she seemed to change, at one time an oaf devouring meat like a feral hound, the next she was able to read Edelgard like a book, and yet Edelgard could never seem to read her. She was practically a blank slate walking around in steel boots. Her stomach twisted at the bittersweet thought of what the Professor has said. It’d been so nice to be told she wasn’t alone, but how could Professor Eisner truly know that? She had no idea what Edelgard and Hubert has been working on all these years. Would her classmates really stand beside her if they knew what she intended to do? The lengths she was willing to go to make a better world? Would the professor? Would she even be able to trust them, or her, with the knowledge of what she and her siblings experienced? Some time in her pondering Edelgard von Hresvelg finally managed to drift off into an empty, dreamless sleep.

Byleth sat on her tree stump, staring into the fire as she tried to ponder what in the world she was going to do with these students, when most of the time she barely knew what she was doing beyond her own survival. Goddess, how she wished Sothis could be there to yell some sort of direction into her mind, yet still she was silent.

 

Midnight came and Byleth went to awaken Edelgard. She got near the tent and could hear slow, even breaths. She was about to speak up, to wake her up, but something made her think better of it. If what Edelgard had said was true she likely didn’t sleep soundly often.

Byleth sighed quietly and walked away, ambling over towards Hubert’s tent. He was no healing mage, so he was better off with regards to rest than most in the camp. Byleth woke him up, kicking his tent until he finally stormed out, and the two went and retrieved Petra. The two students took spots around the fire, settling in for the night and Byleth walked over towards a nearby tree whose roots stuck up out of the ground. She took her cloak off of her shoulders and undid her armor, setting the pieces onto a stump nearby and leaving her in her pants, boots, and tunic.

She laid herself on the ground, finding a spot of elevated dirt from the roots of the tree to lay her head down on, and draped the cloak over herself as a makeshift blanket. She’d slept in rougher places.

“Um, Professor, what exactly are you doing?” Hubert asked, annoyance clear in his voice.

“What do you think? I’m trying to sleep. Wake me when the sun’s rising.” Byleth muttered as she waved the black haired boy off.

Chapter Text

Byleth learned, however, that Hubert had very different definitions of what exactly constituted “sunrise”. The sun was already halfway over top of the tree line when Edelgard woke, and she couldn’t quite remember the last time she’d been able to sleep uninterrupted. After a moment she noticed the light filling the tent around her, and her peace transitioned into a groggy confusion.

She stretched and crawled out of the comfortable bedroll. She found her boots in one corner of the tent and walked out. The only people awake it seemed were Hubert and Petra. The Brigian women was cooking something on the remnants of Professor Eisner’s cooking pit, and Hubert was staring off into the treeline with a deep scowl. The moment he saw her approaching he stood and bowed.

“Good morning, Lady Edelgard. I had intended to wake you, however I was unsure of where your sleeping arrangements had been moved to.” Edelgard bid him to relax.

“It’s no bother, Hubert. Have you seen the professor? She lent me her tent last night and was meant to come and wake me for the second watch, but it appears that did not happen.” Edelgard’s question sent Hubert’s face into a sort of emotional gambit. The moment he heard the word ‘professor’ his usually mischievous expression morphed into one of annoyance, but as Edelgard continued it shifted to confused, and contemplative slowly after that.

“Yes...She came and quite rudely awoke myself and miss Petra for guard duty last night, then proceeded to wander over there and sleep in the dirt. I had thought she’d gone mad, or perhaps received some brain injury during the battle” Hubert explained, waving towards the direction he’d been glaring earlier.

Sure enough, there among the roots of a massive oak tree laid the professor’s cloak, with a small tuft of shaggy blue hair jutting out of one side, and at the other end the professor's heavy steel boots.

Edelgard knit her brows together as she looked at the sleeping form of her professor. What in the world was this woman up to? She shook her head and walked away, heading back to the tent to retrieve her axe and what little remained of her pack from Byleth’s tent as the Professor rolled over in her sleep.

Her rolling jostled her coat, knocking it down past her eyes and allowing the rays from the morning sun to shine right into them. She grumbled to herself and sat up, dirt and twigs dropping out of her hair as she went to stand. The sound of her spine popping in more than half a dozen places could be heard throughout the camp as she finally finished stretching and donned her armor. Finally fully dressed, she went to sit by the fire.

“Good morning Petra. Anything to report?” Byleth asked as she threw another log onto the fire. Petra shook her head.

“Nothing, professor. It was quiet all night.” Petra said, stirring a surprisingly full pan of eggs and meat.

“Young miss Petra took it upon herself to scavenge some rations from the woods. She came back with a blouse full of eggs and fist full of dead birds in less than an hour.” Hubert said smugly. Byleth nodded, impressed.

“Good job Petra. Once that’s done cooking, go wake Bernadetta and see if Dorothea is in a state to wake up. I’ll get the rest of the camp and we can get our day started.”

“Understood. Thanking you, professor!” Petra said, smiling as she continued with her work. Byleth stood and walked towards her tent. Nodding to Edelgard as they passed each other.

 

The rest of the morning passed in a blind rush as the Black Eagles ate their food, broke down their camp, and made their way towards home. The healers were back to some level of energy, but they wouldn’t be running any marathons any time soon, so the class walked slowly up the trail to the monastery.

Byleth stood at the front of the class, and a bit behind her stood Edelgard. The heiress walked in pace with the rest of her class, wondering to herself why she had never been awoken for her shift on guard.

Did the professor not trust her? Was it the conversation they had had on the road back from the canyon? That seemed unlikely, as Professor Eisner didn’t seem like the type to allow someone to sleep in her tent if she worried they were some sort of murderer. But then what was it? She never quite got the courage to ask.

 

The Black Eagle’s made it to the monastery in one piece, if only just barely. The sun was barely above the tree-line, minutes away from setting when they managed to make it through the gates. A few student’s went to Manuela’s office to have their stitches checked while the rest went off towards their rooms, and Byleth set off alone to give her report to the Archbishop.

 

She sighed as she stood in front of Rhea and Seteth, both wearing extremely concerned looks on their faces like some sort of grim mask. She had just finished reporting what had happened over the course of the mission, and neither seemed very pleased.

“So you mean to tell me the entire battalion of knights was slaughtered by some common bandits?” Seteth asked, his tone coming out as accusatory as it was questioning.

“I wouldn’t know sir, I didn’t see the bodies. All I know is they weren’t there to assist my students during the battle, and the bandits they were supposed to contain carried weapons of the class I would expect knights to carry. But yes, that is what the bandit leader told us when they ambushed us.” Byleth explained.

“How could you not check? For all you knew there could be men dying in the canyon that you left behind!” Seteth accosted. Byleth felt a powerful urge to test how much of the man’s jaw she could break in a punch, thought better of it.

“Your knights, Sir, are not my concern. I am responsible for my students and my students alone. Half of my class barely limped out of that rivine alive, and I was more concerned with ensuring their safe return then I was seeing if any of your men were bleeding out in the sand.” Byleth replied, her monotonous tone making the story seem almost banal. Seteth looked as if she’d spit in his eye.

“Perhaps, miss Eisner, had you been anything resembling a proper instructor your students wouldn’t have been in such a perilous situation to begin with!” Seteth said, turning to Rhea. “Archbishop, I told you we can not trust this woman with the safety of our students. She’s nothing resembling a proper instructor.”

“Seteth, this is an unfortunate outcome for a first mission, to be certain, but the professor has shown no signs of being an ineffective instructor thus far.” Rhea said, trying to calm him as best she could. She set a hand on his shoulder, and Byleth saw the man take a deep breath. But there was still a clear disappointment in her eyes.

“My students survived, however injured, what your soldiers could not. If you wish to say I’m an unfit type to be a teacher by whatever worthless standards you hold, do as you will. Yes, I should have been more cautious walking them into the mission. But do not say my instruction put my students in danger. Had those same students been left to the direction of the type of faculty you seem to have training your knights, I'm certain you’d be preparing letters to their families and arranging funeral proceedings. If you feel I'm unfit to teach, then clearly you need to reassess many more members of your staff. I will not entrust these students to the kind of poor instruction those men received. They are some of the best fighters I’ve seen and I will not allow the same poor instruction you gave those knights cost them their lives. Those men’s deaths are on your head, not mine, and I will not allow my students to meet the same fate.” Byleth finished, her jaw clenched. The room was silent enough she swore she could hear the sound of Rhea and Seteth’s heartbeats. Finally, the green haired man let out a weary sigh.

“Fine. If the Archbishop deems it appropriate to continue with your status as an instructor, then so shall it be. But please know, Miss Eisner, I will be keeping a careful eye on you and your students.” Seteth said, distrust and disrespect dripping from the title of “miss” as he spoke it.

“Do whatever you wish, just ensure you don’t interrupt my student’s training.” Byleth retorted.

Seteth bowed to Rhea, and left the room. Once he had left, Rhea smiled and rested a hand on Byleth’s shoulder.

“Seteth is a good man, but he is protective, and it takes time to earn his trust. I believe you will be, and have been, a wonderful teacher to the students. I have high expectations for you, and I hope that you will support these students as best you can while they recover. The bandits were after the students, and while we may not know for what purpose, we must ensure they are safe. This world is changing, Miss Eisner, and the goddess has many enemies coming up from the bowels of Fodlan. They all must be brought to heel.” Rhea said, her grip getting rather tight on Byleth’s armoured shoulder. The professor felt a strange feeling creeping up from her stomach and into a headache, as if she were about to vomit.

A moment later Rhea’s eyes seemed to come back into focus and she smiled that same off putting smile before bidding Byleth adue. The professor left and walked back to her dormitory, limbs heavy with the strain the past few days had wrought on her.

She was so lost in her own thoughts that she completely missed Hubert, who held a pen and his notepad in hand and was furiously scribbling away from a spot hidden behind one of the stone pillars. Underneath his armwas a large manilla envelope, with Byleth’s name on it. Lady Edelgard would be quite interested to hear about this.

 

“Rhea seems to have only changed for the worse with this shift.” Sothis said, dazed in the back of Byleth’s mind. The professor went stock still, the light of the moon shining on her as she realised what she’d heard.

“Sothis?” Byleth asked.

“Of course, fool, who else are you speaking to in your mind?” The goddess chided, her voice slow like someone with a fever trying to ask for water.

“No one. That was the problem. Where have you been?” Byleth asked, starting to move back towards her room.

“I told you, I’ve been rather drained just in the day to day recently, and saving your tail from becoming a kabob only drained me further. I needed rest.” Sothis explained, mumbling slightly. “And it seems that I'm still not quite back to myself. But please, be careful young Byleth. Rhea is a devoted woman, and she cares not who she must crush to do what she thinks she must.”Sothis warned.

“What do you mean?….Sothis, answer me, what do you mean?….” And a dozen more times she asked and heard nothing.

Byleth sighed, making it to her room and sleeping for the night. Sadly it seemed that her dreams couldn’t be so peaceful as they had been when she’d slept in the dirt.

She seemed to almost fade into herself, and there she stood on the campus of a burning Garreg Mach. The ground beneath her feet was splattered in blood, and viscera clung to the fabric of the strange patterned tights that covered her legs. She was clutching that same monstrous sword. The grip was slick, along with both of her hands, with blood. She looked around at the red-clad corpses strewn about the ground around her, until her eyes rested on who she sought. A man, blonde, with his shoulders covered in a thick fur that fell down his back like a cloak. His voice was a horse, crawling thing that made Byleth shudder. The man in the fur was clutching a man clad in similar armor to that of the corpses on the ground by his throat, pinning him to a wall.

“...You are piling up corpses for ‘the people’, for your family. And I am doing the same for the salvation of the dead. After all is said and done, we are both murderers. Both stained. Both monsters.” The fur-clad man raved, Byleth only ever seeing his back. The man in his grasp gasped for air.

“You’re...wrong!” He protested, as best he could.

“Am I? I can smell the rotting flesh upon your hands even now, general.” The man in the fur said, almost as if he found it funny. The man in his grasp struggled to get loose, but this only made the mad man happier. “I won’t kill you right away, my fellow monster. Unless you object to seeing your friends die, one-by-one. If so, I will bid you a small mercy and remove the eyes from your skull so you may simply hear their screams!” The mad man continued.

Byleth felt herself moving, charging forward, and she felt such relief. She was going to end this monster, this beast in fur who seemed to think himself a man. She would put him down as the dog he was.

But that’s not what happened. Byleth watched the hands that were hers and yet at the same moment not bury the blade of her sword into the stomach of the man the beast was holding in his grasp. The poor general begged….someone, whether another god or a distant love or a sister Byleth didn’t know, for forgiveness, and went limp as he bled to death. The beast dropped the poor dead man to the ground and turned to her.

“What is the meaning of this!?” He asked. His face was covered in scars, and his left eye was concealed
with an eyepatch. Byleth thought underneath of all of that she could see something familiar, but she heard a voice that was hers and yet not speak before she could piece it together.

“I couldn’t bear to watch.” The voice said, clutching the sword harder. The beast broke out into laughter.

“A grievous error, Professor! If you do not approve of what I’ve become, then kill me. If you insist that you cannot, then I will continue, and use you and your friends until the flesh falls from your bones.” The beast said, stomping away. Byleth looked at the dead man, and she felt tears trickling down her cheeks. She fell to her knees and cried over the corpse of the poor man.

“I’m so sorry Randolph…I thought this time could be different...” The voice that wasn’t and yet was hers whimpered, wiping at the tears on her cheeks.

Byleth’s eyes shot open as she found herself awake, back in her own bed. She looked at the ground, seeing her iron gauntlets, still bloodied from the mission, on the ground besides the pairs of dirty pants. Actual pants. She took a deep breath, thankful that she was back in the real world, in her world. She saw no light in her window, and laid back in the spot she’d been lying before. She felt herself drift back into the groggy fog of sleep. Right as she was drifting, she dazedly noticed that the pillow was damp beneath her cheek.

 

Several days later Byleth stood in the Archbishop’s audience chambers yet again, thumb hooked into her belt right beside the hilt of her short sword as it usually was. The Archbishop always carried herself as a loving, tender soul, but Sothis’s warning had put Byleth on edge, or at least as close as she could get considering her stoic nature. Holding her hand there helped her to feel more certain. She sighed as Rhea entered, a tall and muscular blonde woman in armor walking beside her. Byleth recognized her as the woman who had greeted Alois when they were walking into the campus a little over two months ago. She was rather interesting, to say the least. Byleth hadn’t seen many women faculty in the Monastery besides herself that specialized in physical combat as opposed to magic or healing, and judging by the unwieldy sword across her back and the muscle that could be seen through the baggy clothes and armor that was this woman’s stock and trade. The two approached and Byleth bowed to Rhea as they took a spot at the end of the carpet. Byleth nodded to the tall woman.

“Byleth Eisner.” She said, holding out her hand. The blond took it in a firm grip, shaking it.

“Nice to finally properly be introduced, Professor. I’ve heard quite a bit about you from my men and Captain Jeralt. I’m Catherine, commander of one of the larger detachments of the Knights of Seiros. I look forward to getting the opportunity to work with you, however I do wish it were under better circumstances.” Catherine said, looking down and away a bit awkwardly.

“What is going on?” Byleth asked, unsure of what Cathering meant. She found herself rather distracted. Catherine’s grip was sure and her shake was strong. Rhea looked disheartened.

“Lorn Lonato of Faergus has rallied his troops against our most holy church. He’s declared war on the very goddess herself, and anyone who believes in her. We had received rumors some days ago, and we’ve just been given confirmation that they are in fact true. We will be sending you and your class with Catherine and her knights to overtake Lonato’s foolish deicidal coup.” Rhea explained. Byleth rested her free hand on her hip and nodded.

“Understood. When do we leave?” Byleth asked.

“My men’ll need three days. Lonato’s castle is in the midlands of Faergus, and will be a several hour-long hike from the Monastery, so we have to leave at dawn.“ Catherine said, her posture was relaxed and casual, a sharp contrast to the ominous tone of the conversation.

“Please know we intend for your class to remain in the rear guard for this mission. After last months ordeal we do not wish to force the students back into another horrifying warzone. But still, they must see the evils of this world, of those who wish harm to the Church and the Goddess. The students must understand what happens when fools attempt to raise their blades to a god.” Rhea said, something sharp crawling into her voice as she spoke. She paused for a moment, and Byleth saw her shoulders relax down into the same casual arch they’d been just moments ago. “Please, go prepare, professor. Your students will be anxious to hear about their assignment, I’m sure.” Byleth bowed and thanked Lady Rhea, before turning and leaving.

Catherine bowed and walked away as well. She jogged briskly until, shortly outside of the main building of the Monastery, she caught up to Byleth.

“Hey! Professor!” Catherine hollered. Byleth stopped and faced her. “I just wanted to check something I’d overheard. Your reputation precedes you.” Catherine said with a chuckle. She continued on with a cocky grin on her face and a hand on her hip. “A few of my guys said they saw you at the arena last week, training with gauntlets. Is that true?” Byleth was quiet for a moment, confused. Had she done something wrong? Perhaps those training dummies were only for the knights? She hadn’t heard anything of that sort before. But she nodded all the same, as it was in fact true. Catherine laughed, a deep booming thing that made Byleth’s chest vibrate a bit.

“You really are as hardworking as they say, then. From the sounds of it the damage you did to those dummies left a few of my men rather impressed.”

“Hmmmm, seems your men really are under-experienced then, if something so simple as my training has them so impressed.” Byleth said, crossing her arms. “Between that and the men at the canyon, I must wonder what your knights do in their spare time. From the looks of it, gawking at pretty women and drinking pints of cream seems as likely as anything resembling real training.” Byleth commented. The knights really had not impressed her, however much the woman in front of her did. Catherine seemed unfazed by Byleth’s comments, chuckling to herself and brushing some hair out of her face.

“Aww, you calling me pretty professor? Here I thought Manuela was the only flirt in the faculty who swung my way.” Catherine teased, however she stumbled a bit when Byleth didn’t respond and instead just looked at her with the same expressionless gaze. “Uh...come by the arena some time. I need some experience training in hand to hand, and I taught most of the knights so they're no good for anything beyond target practice. I’m usually there later in the evenings.” Catherine said as she walked off. Byleth shrugged and made a note to remember that, walking back to her classroom.

 

As she entered the classroom in question, she heard the chatter of several different students discussing everything from gossip to battle strategies. Byleth moved to sit at her desk at the front of the class, and began reading over the papers she’d had the class write involving combat against heavily-armored flying opponents. She looked up mid-way through Caspar’s, and she really must improve her lectures because his main point consisted of little more than ‘throw axes at them’, and saw her class was looking at her, almost all of the having gone completely silent. Byleth leaned back in her heavily padded chair and looked at her students. She figured they were as anxious to learn about the mission as the Archbishop had suggested.

“The Archbishop has given us our mission for this month. There’s an uprising against the Church, lead by Lord Lonato of Faergus.” Byleth explained. The room went so quiet you could hear a pin drop. The entire class seemed to be holding its breath as Ashe sputtered, mortified.

“N...No! That can’t be right! Lord Lonato is a good man, this has to be some kind of mistake…” Tears were streaming down Ashe’s cheeks as the young noble ran from the room. Leonie followed close behind yelling, begging the silver haired Eagle to stop and come back. Edelgard shot Byleth a glare and followed after them with Hubert in tow.

“Why would he do such a thing? Surely a nobleman like him would know this action would only end with his men slaughtered.” Ferdinand sighed, resting his head in his hand, his elbow propped on the desk.

“Hmmm, perhaps your nobles are not so noble as you’d like to believe Ferdy.” Dorothea said, venom so thick in her voice it might’ve rattled and bit at you if you came too close.

“He is to be making a martyr…He is a fool.” Petra muttered.

“What could someone hate so much they’d die without the slightest hope of victory? Lonato is famous for his devotion to the goddess, why turn his blade to the church?” Bernadetta wondereed. Edelgard and Hubert walked back into the class around that moment. Byleth took a deep breath and sat up a bit in her chair.

“Bernadetta...just remember that the church and the goddess are not one and the same.” Byleth said, Sothis’s warning still hanging heavy in the back of her mind. Hubert gave her a rather strange look, and were Byleth not keenly aware of the fact it was Hubert von Vestra, she’d have hazarded to say it was even a smile. Byleth continued on. “But no matter what, we have our orders, and we will follow them.The knights will be leaving at dawn at the start of this upcoming week, three days from now, and we will be joining them. Make sure you are packed appropriately and take these days to rest. You’re dismissed.” Byleth finished, resting her elbows on her desk as she returned to her work. The students began trickling out a few at a time, and in a matter of minutes she was alone in the class.

She read through her papers, marking the ones that had been lacking. The students would need more instruction and training if they wanted to survive in the world outside the Monastery. She knew she was pushing her class harder than the other professors. But at this point it was beyond her control. They needed to be stronger. She knew better than most that this world would chew them up and spit them out without a second thought if they weren’t properly prepared. She had no intention of letting her students fall to that.

“They’re stronger than you think.” Sothis siad, appearing on the table in front of Byleth, causing the professor to sigh and look up from the latest paper.

“Strong men die too, I’ve killed plenty of them.” Byleth muttered, marking a section of Petra’s paper that she thought would be good for a later lesson.

“True, truer than you know. But that’s not my point, it’s ok to worry but you can’t prepare them for everything.” Sothis was more than a tad annoyed at being ignored.

“They’re my responsibility and I will do what I must to ensure my job is done.” Byleth muttered. “Now, do you have anything useful to tell me? Or are you just here to taunt me more with comments about a past I don’t seem to remember and have no proof is not simply your own croc of nonsense?” Byleth asked, dropping her quill onto the table.

“Well, in fact” Sothis started, until the door to the classroom opened and Edelgard stepped in. Sothis vanished from sight before the door was even fully opened. The white haired girl walked towards the desk, her jacket had been replaced by a simple red coat over a white blouse.

“Professor? It’s nearly midnight, what are you still doing here?” Edelgard asked, her voice carrying hints of concern that were lost on Byleth, but not on Sothis. Byleth looked out the window at the other end of the room. The glass, which had been alight from the sun outside when Byleth had started grading, was now showing a rather lovely view of the moon.

“I suppose I got distracted and lost track of time.” Byleth muttered, her eyes suddenly feeling very very heavy. She rubbed them with her thumb and pointer finger. When she looked up, Edelgard was giving her a strange look. “What?” Byleth asked.

“That really was so unbelievably cruel, professor.” She muttered.

“Rubbing my eyes?”

“No, ugh, your announcement to the entire class that we were marching off to war with Lord Lonato, and without even the good graces to warn the man’s own son.” Edelgard chided. Byleth paused and realized perhaps she may have a point.

“I… I didn’t know it would have such an affect on him.“ Byleth said, being cut off before she could say more.

“Exactly! That boy does nothing short of singing his father's praise all day and yet you still have no idea that he may be hurt by being told he or one of his classmates may kill his father.” Edelgard let out a heavy sigh. “You still know nothing about us.“ she sounded more exhausted than angry. Byleth sat there for a moment, lost in thought.

“Well, how do you suggest I try to learn?“ Byleth asked. She knew that there was a large chunk of how most people saw the world that she just didn’t understand, but it wasn’t that she ignored it. It just seemed that everyone else was able to notice things that went right over her head. Edelgard looked rather shocked by the professor's response.

“Well, you could start by actually trying to spend some time with some of us. Outside of class I’ve only ever seen you at the training grounds, here, or on the way to one or the other. There’s a lot of things on this campus to do. Join us sometime….” Edelgard paused for a moment and sighed. “How about this, I have tea on Sundays. Why don’t you join me? We will be leaving on Monday so it won’t interfere with our mission.“ Edelgard offered, though she wasn’t quite sure what had possessed her to do so.

“...I think I could do that.“ Byleth said. Tea always seemed like one of those noble luxuries, all sugar and sweets that Byleth never really had access to as a child. She worried for a moment that she may burn more bridges than she would build with the heiress, but if today was any indication she couldn’t get much farther at burning than she already had.

“Good. You could join some of the others for food in the dining hall or I mean you could even try to train with someone besides a dummy if that was something you had to insist on doing.” Edelgard continued. Byleth figured she could take Catherine up on her offer.

“OK. Maybe I’ll join the class for dinner tomorrow.“

Edelgard smiled, actually smiled, but again she was not quite sure why.

“I’d like that.“ She said, “Now, I’m going to return to bed, I'd recommend you do the same.“ She said as she turned and left. Byleth was going to ask why she was awake to begin with when the door closed with a loud slam. Sothis giggled in the back of Byleth’s mind as the exhausted professor gathered her papers and left for her dorm.

 

Edelgard walked out of the classroom, and in the opposite direction of the dorms. She had to hurry. She’d already wasted too much time talking to the professor and needed to find Hubert.

She sighed to herself and pondered what in the world had possessed her to invite the woman to tea, when that was one of the few reprieves she had from her during the week. However she thought better than to dwell on it. It was done and couldn’t be undone. Or could it? Potentially she could just fake being ill, say she can’t do tea and then have a pot of it in her bedroom. The idea seemed appealing to her as Hubert came into view, sat on a bench overlooking the hills and a small graveyard below.

“Lady Edelgard.” He said as he handed her a manilla envelope and a small stack of papers that appeared to be torn from a notebook. Edelgard took the stack of paper, sat down, and began flipping through them.

“Hello, Hubert. Anything of interest?” She asked as she opened Professor Eisner’s staff file.

“Nothing much in her record. A birthday, the 17th of this month in fact, but no year.” Hubert said, pointing to the blank “year” slot in the date of birth. “Aside from that, the file is rather worthless. She’s a mercenary, and she specialises in hand to hand combat, nothing we didn’t already know. But, the notes will be of interest to you.” Hubert said, pointing to the papers attached to the front of the envelope. “I overheard the Professor giving her report to the Archbishop, and saw a rather new side of her.”

Edelgard read the notes and was shocked to read the diatribe the professor had gone on against The Archbishop and her lackey. She read the Professor’s praise of their class and, soon after reading the final notes, looked up at Hubert confused.

“What in the utter hell is this woman?” She asked, dumbfounded.

“An idiot, by the looks of it. To show such blatant antagonism to Lord Seteth must be akin to career, if not literal, suicide. But it was rather curious to hear such high praise from her.” Hubert said, looking over the ledge to the hills in the distance.

“It’s more than that, she’s so...defensive of us. She seems as enraged by the implication Seteth believes we failed as the implication he believes she failed. It’s just so strange for her.” Edelgard said, tossing the notes onto the bench between her and Hubert. She leaned down and rubbed her temples. This woman made her head hurt.

“I wouldn’t call it ‘enraged’. Even at its worst, her tone never rose above an elevated speaking voice. This is still Professor Eisner after all.” Hubert said, crossing his legs and resting his hands in his lap.

“Still. I will admit it shines a bit...friendlier of a light on her than I’ve seen her under these past weeks.” Edelgard said, a bit embarrassed, as she leaned back against the bench. She had just lambasted this woman as being a graceless, careless imbecile moments before and here she reads that woman risking her job to stand not just for her own achievements but those of her students. Perhaps this woman wasn’t so much uncaring as simply ungodly stupid. It was rather curious that their birthdays were so close together. “I do think it would serve us well to keep a close eye on the Professor. She is too strange to risk leaving unattended, and she may prove useful to the plan.”

“Do you think she may be...with them?” Hubert asked, his town implying clearly who he meant. Those Who Slither in the Dark.

“No. Their agents are much, much better at blending in with people. This woman is as graceful as a wyvern in a tea house. But someone so willing to antagonize the Archbishop to her face is someone that may prove beneficial to us.”

“Understood, Lady Edelgard. If there’s nothing else, I will bid you goodnight.” Hubert said as he stood.

“Wait, Hubert…” Edelgard said quickly. “I need you to get something for me.”

 

The next afternoon Byleth set out to try to find Ashe, hoping to be able to apologize for her less-than-stellar handling of yesterday’s announcement. However the poor kid proved rather difficult to locate. She’d been looking for hours and had done three entire laps around the main campus.

It must have been nearly 5 oclock when she passed by Catherine, who was sat on the bank of the fish pond and staring out at the water, for the third time. The knight waved her over, and Byleth moved towards her.

“Hey,professor.” Catherine said, loading a hook with bait. Byleth never would have thought of Catherine as the fishing type. “You out for a walk?” She asked as she tossed the hook into the water.

“No. I’m searching for one of my students. I handled an announcement...less than tactfully yesterday and I’d hoped to find him and apologize.” Byleth explained.

“Well, why don’t you take a load off for a minute then, teach?” Catherine said patting a spot on the ground beside her. Byleth shrugged and sat down on the sun-warmed stone, leaning back and bracing her arms against the ground. The sun felt nice. Catherine took a deep breath. “Let me guess, young mister Ubert didn’t take kindly to the mission.” Catherine mumbled as she stared a bit too intensely at the water.

“How’d you know?” Byleth asked.

“I thought it would present a problem. But I figured you’re his professor, you’d know how to break it to him better than I would. Besides, me and his family have a none too pleasant history.” Catherine said, chewing on her cheek.

“Well, it appears I've fallen short of your assessment then. I just hope this doesn’t become a trend. The poor boy seems to have been rather melancholy ever since he joined, and that isn’t helped by the situation in Faergus.” Byleth said. Catherine nodded as the corners of her lips curled into a frown.

“Oh that didn’t start with just you professor.” Catherine’s voice was rather soft, as if she wasn’t quite aware she was talking. “He’s been withdrawn for much longer than he’s even been here. His brother always talked about how he was becoming withdrawn and quiet, and Ashe only got worse after…” Catherine seemed to snap back to reality as she pulled back on the pole, yanking a large fish from the water. “But you’re right, Lonato’s actions will likely not help.”

“So, how do you know Ashe’s family?” Byleth asked. Catherine laughed and cast her pole back out into the pond.

“That’s a much longer story that I need to be much drunker to tell.”

“Well, maybe we can grab a drink some time. But I still need to find Ashe, so I should be off. The boy doesn’t seem to be anywhere on the grounds.” Byleth said as she stood from the spot on the bank of the pond,brushing dirt from her pants.

“Ashe is in the chapel at the north of the academy.” Catherine said, almost ashamed. “He’s sat in the pews praying. For a miracle most likely.” Byleth stood above her for a second, a bit surprised that the woman knew such specifics.

“How…” Byleth started, only to be cut off.

“I...I saw him earlier when I left Lady Rhea’s morning service.” Byleth could tell she was lying, but thought better than to press harder. She did note to make sure she did not leave Ashe alone with her however, just in case. She thanked Catherine and began heading towards the chapel. In all honesty she’d forgotten there was one on campus to begin with.

The path up the long stone walkway was pleasant enough. The view was rather breathtaking in the light of the late afternoon sun, and she could see students scattered around the walkway having their own conversations. Byleth reached the gates and waited as they were drawn up.

The inside of the chapel was grand, ornately furnished with large marble pillars and intricate tapestries depicting the saints and their various trials in service to the goddess. Her father had never been very religious, but the mercenaries were of many faiths and so she heard plenty of the stories of Seiros and the goddess.

Sure enough, there was Ashe, shoulders slumped and head bowed. The young noble’s cheeks were streaked with tears and Byleth sighed as she went to sit down close by.

“Hello Ashe, can i sit with you?” Byleth asked, pointing to the spot on the pew to Ashe’s right. Ashe looked up and nodded, wiping a tear away.

“G...go ahead, Professor. I didn’t know you came here…” Ashe mumbled as Byleth sat down.

“Well, I really don’t. But I wanted to talk to you, Ashe.” Byleth said, almost immediately being interrupted.

“Professor, I know what this is about.” Ashe blurted out, and continued to ramble. “I understand given my familial situation there may be concerns of my loyalty but please...” Clearly it’d been something the silver haired noble had been thinking about for a not insignificant moment. Byleth rested a hand on Ashe’s shoulder.

“Ashe, that’s not why I’m here. I wanted to apologize. I handled the mission briefing badly. I should have talked to you before I announced it to the class. I know….I know lord Lonato means a lot to you, and I hope you can forgive me.” Byleth had no idea if her words made any sense, but Ashe sniffled a bit less, and that seemed like a good start.

“I...thank you professor….” Ashe said, letting the silence hang. Byleth sat there for several minutes, hand still on the kid’s shoulder until she finally pulled it away and spoke again.

“I do hope you understand that your loyalty was never a concern regarding this mission. You have shown yourself to be an upstanding young man, but if you do want to sit this mission out, I will understand. No one would fault you for not wishing to fight your own family.” Ashe frowned, even during her praise, and looked down. Byleth was about to speak when Ashe’s head shook “no” and shot up.

“No. I have to go. Maybe there’s a chance I can talk some sense into Lonato. And if someone were to die because I wasn’t there to help…” Ashe shuddered.

“I admire your commitment to your comrades. It’s a sign of a good leader.” Byleth said, and she saw a hint of a smile on Ashe’s cheeks.

“Thank you…can, can I talk to you about something else, professor?”

“I don’t think I could stop you if I wanted to.” Byleth said.

“Well….I was just...I have been wanting to tell you for a little while but…I don’t know it just, y'know I can’t really….It’s hard to talk about without seeming crazy...” Ashe stumbled, seeming to fail to find the words. Ashe felt tears welling up, and after another moment just said the first words that came to mind. “You scare me!” Ashe blurted out. Byleth was unsure of how to reply, but before she even could Ashe stood and began walking away, mumbling about needing to leave and being sorry.

Byleth sighed and collapsed against the back of the pew. Teaching was ridiculous. Or perhaps it was just her.

 

About an hour later the classes were flocking together at their tables and Byleth could see her students chattering amongst themselves and a few students at neighboring tables as she walked in. Immediately upon her entrance several students went quiet while others chattered even louder. No one had seen her in the dining hall since her class’s victory at the mock battle, and she’d become a sort of urban legend among the more gossip-inclined students.

Byleth took a seat at the head of the table, which left her with Edelgard to her right and Leonie to her left.

“Well, it’s nice of you to join us, professor!” Caspar yelled from half-way across the table.

“Caspar, don’t be rude, you’re bothering my rest.” Linhardt muttered as he returned to resting his chin on his arm and sleeping at the table.

“Maybe you shouldn’t sleep at the dinner table then, Lindy.” Dorothea teased.

“Linhardt, it truly is unbecoming to sleep at a time like this. Come, join us in the world of the living and enjoy some time with our professor where she isn’t lecturing us or telling us to run more laps.” Ferdinand said, as if he were declaring some grand victory. Leonie laughed and reached over, knocking Linhardt’s arm out from under him and causing the young scholar to nearly hit his head on the table before sitting upright.

“Cmon, next time you fall asleep one of us is going to pour our water on your head.” Leonie chimed in as Linhardt glared at her. He sighed dejectedly and shrugged.

“If it really is so unavoidable, then fine.” Linhardt said, defeated. Edelgard sighed beside Byleth. The Professor looked over to the heiress.

“Are they always like this?” Byleth asked quietly, earning a small chuckle from Edelgard. She nodded ‘yes’.

“Honestly, I think they’re taming it down since you’re here. Most nights are usually much more chaotic by this point.” Edelgard whispered to her.

“Professor!” Petra chimed up from the other side of Dorothea, “It is good to be seeing you outside of the class! We were beginning to worry you might be becoming a reckless!”

“Uhm, I think you mean recluse, Petra.” Bernadetta said quietly.

“So, professor.” Leonie said, leaning a bit closer as dinner was being served. “Got any good stories about working with Jeralt?”

“Oh Leonie, I’m sure the professor doesn’t want to talk about something like that at the dinner table.” Ashe said, quietly picking at a plate of pasta.

“Come on! There’s gotta be tons of amazing stories. How could there not be? Come on professor!” She goaded. Byleth hesitated for a minute.

“I...think I'd rather keep my mind off of battle for tonight. Why don’t you tell me something about you, Leonie? A mercenary turned academy student? There must be a story there.” Byleth asked. Shoveling a fork full of pasta into her mouth.

“Well, there’s not much to say really. I started training as a warrior after your dad took me under his wing and made me his apprentice. When he left, I kept training, and managed to help my village enough that, well, they were able to gather enough gold to get me a spot here in the academy.” Leonie said, taking a moment to eat a bit.

“Wow, I never knew that about you Leonie, that’s really amazing. I’m sure you’ll make your village proud.” Ashe said, perking up a little bit. Leonie went a bit red, covering her mouth as she finished chewing her last bite.

“Thanks Ashe, and I hope so. Everyone back home sacrificed so much to get me here, I gotta make sure it’s worth it.” Leonie said, smacking her fist on the table for dramatic effect.

“I know how that can feel. I spent my younger years stealing food to try and make sure my family ate. I wouldn’t be here at the academy if it weren’t for…” Suddenly what little joy was in Ashe’s voice disappeared, simply leaving the sentence to end there. Leonie’s brow furrowed a bit, but she said nothing. Byleth went to shovel another bite into her mouth, but caught a disapproving glare from Edelgard.

She took a moment, setting her fork down on her plate and lifting it back up with less than half as much pasta as there was originally, and slowly popped it into her mouth. She had the strange feeling of being a trained dog, but seeing the slight smile of relief on Edelgards face was worth it. For once she seemed to not actively be earning the head-of-house’s ire.

The rest of the night passed in idle chit chat and Byleth trying her best to eat in a way that didn’t make her stand out like a sore thumb from the people around her, however Leonie’s dining gave Byleth a run for her money. Linhardt talked about his interest in crests, Dorothea told a story about an opera she was part of back before she came to the academy about a valiant knight being nursed to health, and Petra told them about some of the cooking customs in Brigid.

 

The next morning, Byleth was awoken by a knocking on her door. She fell out of bed, standing up quickly and throwing open the door to see Edelgard stood carrying a small box and a teapot.

“Still care to join me, professor?” She asked, holding up the teapot.

“If I’m still invited.” Byleth replied, leaning against the door frame.

“Well, I wouldn’t’ve gone through all the trouble of walking to your room and knocking if it was just to tell you you weren’t invited.” Edelgard said, her tone not quite distinguishable between joking and irritated.

“Fair point. I would like to join you, yes.” Byleth said, standing up from the door frame, Edelgard pointed to Byleth’s undershirt.

“Actual clothes would likely be a good idea, professor.” This time the joking was apparent.

“Another fair point. Give me just a moment.” Byleth said, slamming the door in the girls face and quickly replacing her night clothes with a clean outfit.

“Smooth. Very smooth.” Sothis teased. Byleth waved her off as she dressed. She thought better than to wear armor, and left her cloak behind as well, leaving her in just the tunic, pants, and boots. She finished dressing and walked out the door. She followed Edelgard to a small gazebo in one of the school gardens, and Edelgard sat down under it’s shade as she began to pour out two cups of tea from the pot in her hand. She slid one to Byleth before opening the box, revealing it to be full of various sweetbreads.

“Please, help yourself Professor.” Edelgard said, grabbing a large pasty that looked to be coated in powdered sugar and taking a large bite out of it. Byleth took a smaller pastry and popped it into her mouth. It was a strange texture and that was all Byleth could really tell about it. She didn’t notice much regarding the flavor between one food and the next. Food was fuel, not much more.

Edelgard reached over to her side and pulled something off of the ground, it was the small bag she had been carrying the saucers in. She set her cup down and opened the bag, rifling around in it for a second and pulling something out. It was a long black box. Edelgard set the box on the table and slid it over to Byleth, much like she had the tea cup. Byleth simply stared at it.

“It’s a birthday present. From all of us in the Black Eagles. We were talking after breakfast yesterday and realized your birthday was tomorrow. We were going to give it to you last night at dinner, but Hubert wasn’t able to pick it up before the shop closed.” Edelgard explained. Byleth grabbed the box and opened it. Inside of it was a small pendant on a red length of ribbon. The pendant was a rich coppery red, and inlaid in the metal was the visage of an eagle. Byleth pulled the charm out and slid it over her head. It rested just above her breast.

“Thank you, Edelgard.” Byleth said,looking up at the white-haired woman. Truth be told she had completely forgotten about her own birthday.

“It’s no problem, really.” Edelgard said with a shrug. She took a long drink from her tea and set her cup back on its small saucer. Byleth had been clutching her cup like one of her father’s tin mugs, with her fingers wrapped around the body of it and her thumb in the loop of the handle, but she thought better and sat her cup down on her own saucer as well.

“Still, it’s appreciated. What kind of tea is this?” Byleth asked, taking her cup as properly as she could figure and sipping at it. It reminded Byleth of the tea her father would make from planks of dried leaves for the fighters to keep them going on long marches.

“Bergamont. It’s my favorite tea. I make an effort to have some every sunday. It helps me unwind before the week ahead.” Edelgard said, taking a deep inhale of the steam wafting off the cup before taking a sip. She chuckled a bit. “It’s funny, we had no idea that your birthday was this week, you’d made so little fuss about it that had it not been for Hubert we’d have completely forgotten.”

“Well, it’s nothing of much importance.” Byleth said with a shrug.

“Ha, a very ‘you’ thing for you to say, Professor.” Edelgard pointed out. Sothis cackled within Byleth’s mind. “It’s curious however. My birthday is actually this next week, on the 22nd.”

“Well, I’m sure that’ll be a wonderful day for you then.” Byleth slid her sleeve up a bit and scratched at an itch on her right arm as she spoke. She was so used to wearing her armor she almost felt naked without her gauntlets.

Byleth rested the itchy limb on the table and took a sip of her tea again, trying to hold the cup properly, but finding it hard to grip. She finished her drink and set it down on the saucer, looking up to see a strange look on Edelgard’s face, and her eyes locked on the exposed segment of Byleth’s arm.

“Is something wrong?” Byleth asked as she pulled her arm back. Was resting a wrist on the table some grand disrespect? These noble’s were so very strange, so it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility.

“No no, my apologies. I just got a bit curious. Your arm is rather scarred.” Edelgard said, crossing her ;egs as she leaned back against her chair.

“Well, yes. I was a mercenary, remember? Even with all my armor, things manage to get through. That bearded beast with the axe gave me two of these alone.” Byleth said, pulling her sleeve up at the elbow, revealing several scars, each different lengths and faded to different degrees. She pulled her sleeve back into place and began pouring herself another cup of tea.

“I guess it does seem sensible. I just didn’t expect so many.”

“Well, a brawler tends to be in the thick of the fight, so damage is more likely than not. Besides, better someone like me take that hit and survive than a mage or archer take it and die.” Byleth said with another shrug.

“...You are quite strange, Professor, do you know that?”

“I’ve been told it more than once. But how do you mean?”

“Two months we’ve been training alongside you, and most of us know nearly nothing about you beyond that you are one of the most apathetic people any of us have ever met.” Edelgard explained.

“Well, there’s not much to tell, really.” Byleth replied, shrugging again. She took another sip of her tea.

“Oh, that must be a lie. There must be something of interest about you.” Edelgard prodded. She wasn’t quite sure why she was so curious about the professor, but she waved it off as trying to assess if she was someone Edelgard could trust.

Byleth thought for a moment. She wasn’t lying when she said there wasn’t much to tell, but it wasn’t that Byleth found her life uninteresting, or at least any more uninteresting than anything else. It was that for her much it was difficult to think of much anything concrete she could say that would be of much interest that wasn’t shrouded in her hazy memories. She thought for another moment, and finally managed to find something that might be of interest.

“I have no heart beat.” Byleth said, taking a sip from her now lukewarm cup of tea.

“...You can’t be serious, Professor. If you don’t want to tell me something, that’s fine, but do not treat me like a child.” Edelgard said, a bit aggravated.

“I’m telling the truth. I can prove it.” Byleth said, standing up from her chair. She moved the seat a bit closer and sat back down, looking over to Edelgard as she held out her hand.

Edelgard hesitantly held her own hand out, and Byleth guided it to the top of her sternum. Edelgard went a bit red at her hand being on Byleth’s chest. Thankfully not too low, but it was still a bit close. After finally gaining her composure again, she realised she wasn’t feeling anything. The was the fall and rise of her chest as Byleth breathed, but no actual sensation of a beating heart beneath the bone. Edelgard couldn’t believe it.

“But how?” She asked, looking up at the professor before looking back down at her hand. She realised her hand was still actively on her teacher’s chest and pulled it back quickly.

“No idea. It’s been that way for as long as I've been alive, according to Jeralt.” Byleth said, scooting her chair back to where it had been.

“Well...I guess that certainly is interesting.” Edelgard muttered, devouring another sweetbread. Byleth nodded and drank more of her tea.

“I’ll take that as a compliment.“ Byleth retorted before reaching to refill her tea cup, only to find the pot was empty. Byleth stood, pot in hand, and started towards the dining room.

“Professor, where are you going?” Edelgard asked. Byleth turned around and held up the pot.

“I was going to grab us more tea.” She said, a bit confused. Edelgard looked surprised.

“Oh, ok. Thank you.” Edelgard said, quietly trailing off at the end. She turned back and took a bite out of her sweet bread as Byleth walked off, leaving her alone.

She realised for a moment her cheeks were warm, and sighed as she tried to regain some kind of composure. It was simply new having someone besides Hubert to chat with over tea, and Byleth not even asking before going to refill the tea pot was a very strange mixture of kind and brash. That really seemed to be the best way she could think of describing the Professor. While Edelgard was now more assured than ever that Byleth was too strange to be some sort of agent for those who slithered in the dark, the lack of a heart beat only made things more confusing.

Byleth returned, teapot in hand steaming and wafting the air with the smell of fresh Bergamot. The two sat in the gazebo for another hour, maybe even two, sipping their tea and talking about trivial things. Byleth discussed an interesting point from a paper Bernadetta had written, the girl had almost entirely ignored the prompt in favor of telling some story about hiding from her classmates. Byleth had originally been disappointed, but at one point Bernadetta made several points about her tricks for hiding that Byleth thought could be useful for potential training in stealth tactics. Edelgard spoke on some drama that was brewing among a pair of nobles Hubert had told her about, something involving a stricken love triangle between a duchess, a priest and a guardsman. Byleth was not the gossiping type, but the time flew by and finally the two decided to end the afternoon.

“Thank you again, Edelgard.” Byleth said as the two stood from their chairs.

“It was nothing, professor. Thank you for joining me.” Edelgard replied as she grabbed the glasses and teapot, the sweets box was long past empty. Byleth nodded and turned to leave. Edelgard was going to let her walk off, but quickly spoke up. “P...professor, wait just a moment.” She blurted out, Byleth stopped and turned back. “I need some help carrying the dishes back to the kitchen.”

“Of course.” Byleth said as she walked back, taking the glasses and saucers from Edelgard as the two walked towards the dining hall, where they handed them off to one of the housekeepers that was busy cleaning and preparing the hall for dinner. The two walked towards the dorms, the shared destination meaning they walked alongside each other out of the dining hall, down the stairs, and past the fish pond. The late afternoon sun reflected off the water, casting the whole courtyard in a soft orange glow. As they drew closer to the dorms, and the point where they’d have to diverge paths, edelgard spoke.

“Would you like to join me again next week?” She asked, stopping her walk as they reached the crossing of the paths towards the noble dormitory and the commoners quarters.

“I would.” Byleth said, also pausing for a moment. The two stood there quietly, both looking at the soft colors dancing on the water of the pond. “Well, it’s getting late, so I’ll see you tomorrow. Don’t forget, front gate at dawn.”

“Don’t worry Professor, I’ll be there. Have a good night.”

“And you as well.” Byleth said. With that they parted ways, Byleth towards her dorm in the commoners quarters, and Edelgard towards her room in the noble’s dormitory. Byleth walked towards her bed, completely unaware that the corners of her mouth had bent up just a bit into an almost imperceptible smile.

Chapter Text

As the sun began to rise over Garreg Mach Monastery, Catherine found herself unbearably bored. She’d been awake for nearly three hours already, and had been waiting for the class meant to accompany her team for nearly a third that time. They weren’t late, or at least not that late, she just had a knack for being the first to rise on mission days. If anyone asked she tended to say it was because she loved a good fight, and just couldn’t wait. But in truth, she had trouble sleeping on good days, and when she had a battle she knew she was walking into it gave her a reason not to try and fall back asleep when she woke up at strange hours of the night.

She wasn’t quite sure how she was going to manage this mission. Not only was she marching to war with Lonato, but she was marching to war alongside his own ward, Ashe Duran. That seemed like rubbing salt into a wound you created, in the kindest light. How was she even going to manage interacting with Ashe?

Catherine had no idea if the kid knew it’d been her who turned in Cristophe. She knew the kid didn’t know why, not many people beyond her and Lady Rhea knew that, but still. What if Ashe turned on her? Joined Lonato and buried an axe in her back. Catherine couldn’t say she didn’t deserve it, but she still would rather not have it happen to begin with.

She thought of trying to talk to Ashe, explaining why she did what she did. Perhaps she could play the grieving friend, the lost soul who was only trying to make everything right and had done what she had to. She shook her head and leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees as she ran her hands through her hair. She couldn’t do that. She felt bad, that was certain, but she had known that she had a choice and she made the choice she made for her own reasons.

She felt guilt but she didn’t doubt her choice. She couldn’t. She’d spent the past years building on the foundation that choice had laid out for her, what would even become of her if she started doubting it?

“Hello, Sir Catherine.” Edelgard said, walking up to the knight’s side and startling her from her thoughts. Catherine had no idea how this kid had managed to sneak up on her, but she honestly appreciated the distraction.

“Hey, knock it out with the ‘Sir’ stuff. It’s Catherine, Thunder Catherine if you want to be dramatic.” Catherine said as she stood from her spot on the ground. Hubert joined the two women, bowing as he began to speak.

“Apologies for our tardiness. One of our classmates refused to leave her dormitory, and it took Petra, Dorothea, and the Professor to finally pry her loose. They should be here any moment now.”

“Thanks for the heads up. My men have already started on their way to Lord Lonato’s territory, so as soon as your classmates show up we’ll be leaving.” Catherine said, strapping her sheath into place over her shoulder.

“Has there been any word from the frontline group?” Edelgard asked.

“No. Nothing yet.” Catherine said nonchalantly as she ensured Thunderbrand was firmly in place. Edelgard looked at her, confused.

“Isn’t that concerning?” The heiress questioned further.

“Not really. My men are good fighters, but paperwork isn’t their strong suit. I’d be more concerned if they sent a message our way than if they didn’t. Besides, a good brawl is a lot more fun than writing a report, so can you really blame them?” Catherine asked with a cocky grin. Edelgard silently prayed for mercy. She had just barely gotten used to Professor Eisner, and now there’s a woman who seems to be even worse.

One was bad enough and now she was stuck with two. As the conversation wrapped up, Byleth and the rest of the Black Eagles finally made it to the front gate.

“Good morning. Apologies for the delay.” Byleth said, offering her hand. Catherine took her hand and pulled her in, slapping the professor on the shoulder and laughing. Byleth returned the gesture and the two pulled back.

“Not a problem, Professor. These two let me know what was going on.” Catherine said, gesturing to Edelgard and Hubert. “But we’ll need to move out, right away.”

“Lead the way, Sir Catherine.” Byleth said, gesturing to the gate.

“Hey, don’t you go starting that nonsense too. It’s Catherine.” The knight said pointedly. And with that, they were off for another mission.

 

The march was a much shorter distance than the previous trek had been, but the hilly nature of Faergus made it much more draining on the students. The group managed to catch up to the knights rather quickly, and the mass of armor and black uniforms began mingling together. Finally, after the first hour everyone seemed to have settled in rather nicely. Dorothea was chatting with a rather tall woman whose armor marked her as a knight of Serios, while Leonie and Caspar were arguing with another knight about the viability of snapping an enemies neck in combat. The front of the caravan was made up of Byleth, Catherine, Edelgard and Ashe. The knight, professor and heiress chatted amongst each other while Ashe seemed lost in thought and not quite interested in joining.

“It really does seem foolish...walking your own knights so surely into suicide. Not only raising your sword in rebellion against the Kingdom, but the Church Itself.” Edelgard pondered quietly. But not quietly enough.

“He must have some reason. Lord Lonato is a good man…..I just don’t know what it could be.” Ashe muttered, looking down at the ground and sighing.

“Good men are sometimes the most dangerous.” Catherine said. Her eyes were locked forward on the path, as if she were trying to look anywhere but at the people beside her. “Good men are willing to give their life for what they believe is right, and more often than not they do.” Catherine stopped talking, her teeth grit behind closed lips as she tried to push the thoughts from her head. Byleth rested her hand on Ashe’s shoulder. Even with her difficulty with emotion she could see the poor kid was trying not to cry. “Listen, Ashe, I’m sorry. I didn’t..”

“No. You’re right.” Ashe said, cutting her off. “Cristophe was the same way. Bullheaded till the bitter end.” Ashe pulled back from the professors touch and walked ahead of them, wiping away a tear. Catherine looked as if she were about to try and follow, but something in the pit of her gut held her back.

“Cristophe… I don’t remember that name. Is it someone they’ve talked about before and I just missed it?” Byleth asked, looking to Edelgard. The heiress shook her head no.

“No. He’s never mentioned a Cristophe before.” Edelgard said, hand on the grip of her axe at her hip. Catherine ran her hand through her hair, which had grown damp with sweat.

“It’s…. He’s his older brother. At least he was. It all goes back to Duscar.” Catherine said, almost mechanically. She sighed, taking in another deep breath of the thick, foggy air. “ Cristophe was found to be involved with the plot to kill the king of Faergus during his visit to Duscar. That’s why Lonato is doing this,princess, his son died on the Churches order, and he’s never forgiven Lady Rhea for it. He’s gone so far as to decry Rhea and the teachings of Seiros as false prophets and against the Goddess.” Catherine’s voice faded into something almost exhausted.

“Why would Lonato’s son want the King dead?” Byleth asked.

“Faergus wasn’t always so close to the central church. The northern regional church that exists now was much more independent of the central church little more than a few years ago. There were many people in the Holy Kingdom that worried the king’s moves to build stronger ties with the central church was going to destroy that and leave them all as subjects of the Church as opposed to their king. Of course, the assassination only made that a self-fullfilling prophecy. With no heir to the throne being of age, one of the king’s closest friends and allies took interem power over the kingdom and has grown extremely dependent on the Church to maintain order and peace.” Catherine explained.

“And the people of Duscar were all but massacred as retaliation.” Byleth said plainly. Catherine looked over and nodded.

“And yet whenever anyone discusses the tragedy of Duscar, it’s always the king’s death they emphasize.” Edelgard muttered, her hand clenching into a fist as she spoke.

“It’s not surprising.” Catherine said before Byleth could find the words. She continued as they began rounding a corner in the large path that they were following. “Hate for Duscan people was already pretty well normalized among the people of the Kingdom, and the pogroms that were carried out by the peasantry after the king’s death were unprecedented in their scale. So many people of Duscar fled or fell in battle that there was practically no one in the nation left when the Kingdom finally annexed it. There are so many Duscans in small communities spread across Fodlan. A scattered people have little voice to raise against the pain they’ve faced.”

“The only reason I know much of anything about it is because several women from Duscar worked with our brigade in the years following the horrors.” Byleth finished, looking aside towards the two women beside her. She looked back to the road, and went still as she saw two men stood a little ways down the path, one astride a horse with a lance in hand and another in heavy black armor clutching Ashe by the shirt collar. Ashe’s axe lay discarded on the ground, but still the silver haired student thrashed in the black armored man's grip.

“Ashe, please, stand down and I swear I will tell you everything once this is done.” The man on the horse said. His face was withered and wrinkled like aged leather, and his hair was even more white than Edelgard’s. The man turned to the mass of knights and students, raising his weapon to the air. “I am Lonato Gildes Gaspard! Lord of these lands and servant of the goddess! You are trespassers on my lands and servants of a vile beast who desecrates the good name of the Goddess! Lay down your arms and turn back, or you will be slaughtered!” The man declared. Catherine grit her teeth and clenched her hands around Thunderbrand’s handle as she heard the blasphemous slander this aged old bastard declared against Lady Rhea. Her men held their own weapons at the ready, but hesitation could be felt in the air.

“Lonato, Please, don’t do this! Whatever is going on we can find a way to solve it!” Ashe pleaded from the iron grip of the black armored soldier. Catherine stepped forward, sword at the ready.

“Let the boy go, Lonato. Immediately! Your empty threats will do nothing to sway the Knights of Seiros! Stand down and turn yourself over for judgement!” She screamed out.

“Like you turned over my son to the monster you call Archbishop!?” Lonato yelled back, venom in his voice. “You have a twisted sense of humor to demand I release Ashe, as if you cared. But I know you, Catherine! I know you have no soul to care at all! Cristophe saved your life, and how did you repay him? Throwing him to the wolves to be slaughtered to save your own name!” Lonato’s voice grew more and more wrathful, spit flying from his mouth as the final words were spoken. Ashe’s eyes were fixed on Catherine, fear and confusion burning as tears began trickling out of them. “Enough! I’ve had enough of this. You die, here and by my hand! I will send you to the Goddess and let her condemn you for the pain you’ve caused. Men! Charge!” Lonato said, kicking his spurs into the sides of his horse, dropping his lance down so the tip was aimed for Catherine’s heart.

As he galloped towards Catherine, from the woods all around them poured out men that charged with weapons at the ready. The forces, to everyone’s horror, weren’t simply knights but knights being bolstered by what appeared to be civilian militias, men weilding crude swords and with armor that appeared to be made from pig iron and repurposed metal plates. The lord’s forces and the church’s crashed against each other like a powerful wave on a stone cliff-face. Byleth pulled Edelgard out of the path of a malitiaman’s lance, smashing the man’s jaw with the back of her gauntlet. It was clear these men were untrained and inexperienced, but that didn’t mean they weren’t a threat.

Leonie wove her way through the writhing mass of death around her, dodging the blades of knight and militiamen alike as she kept her eyes locked on her target, the armored knight holding Ashe hostage. She moved out of the path of a charging lancer and ducked behind a brawling duo. Her lance and bow were both nearly useless in a mass like this, so freeing Ashe was the priority. Once she had her training partner back, they’d be unstoppable.

Leonie saw a chance and charged forward, managing to break through the wall of fighters. She landed shakily, falling and tumbling in the dirt, but she managed to make it back up to her feet quickly. She pulled her bow from its spot on her back and readied to fight.

Dorothea launched a fireball into a militiamen’s chest and ducked out of the way of an axe that looked to have been made out of an old hoe. The axe-wielder stepped forward for another swing, but an arrow buried itself into his unprotected throat. He fell back, gasping and sputtering for air as blood flooded his lungs. Dorothea saw another arrow dig into the side of a soldier's head a few feet away, and turned around to see Bernadetta and Petra running towards her, bows in hand. Bernadetta ran up and ensured she was ok as Petra replaced her bow with a short sword, standing at the ready to slash at anyone who moved towards them. Once she was proven to be completely fine, the three moved back into the action. Petra charged at the wall of men that had formed around them as the knights battled the soldiers, and her two compatriots covered her with spells and arrows as she made mincemeat of the flesh of her enemies.

Edelgard swung her axe down into the skull of a soldier, practically splitting it in two. An arrow whistled inches above her head, and she ducked down in hopes of becoming a less obvious target. As she moved through the crowd she felt a heavy mass slam into her side, and before she knew what hit her she was being lifted off of the ground and then slammed back down onto it by a bare-handed militiaman who was now readying to slam his fist into her skull. She moved her head to the side, barely avoiding the heavy limb before grabbing it by the crook of the elbow with both hands, pulling it to her chest, and thrusting her hips up, launching the brawler onto the ground beside her. She held tight to the limb, looking feverishly and quickly grabbing her axe off the ground. Without even thinking, she swung, over and over, into the mans chest. His armor bent after the first swing, after the fourth she’d broken clean through it, after the eigth she’d caved in his chest cavity, and by the time she was finished she’d practically cut clean through his spine. Edelgard felt her throat burning, and she realised this entire time she’d been screaming. She stood up, face and clothes splattered with the blood of her fallen assailant, and backed away slowly as she saw the damage she’d done.

Catherine dodged out of the way of the lord’s charge, lashing out with her blade but barely digging into the haunch of one of the steeds legs. She turned quickly as the lord looped around, readying for another attack. The horse however seemed to have seen better days, and took a long moment to finally start moving again. As the horse finally charged towards her, Catherine saw m Edelgard moving, backing away from something Catherine couldn’t see, directly into the path of Lonato’s old beast of a steed. Catherine screamed for her to move, but the girl either didn’t hear her or couldn’t comprehend.

Catherine muttered something rather unbecoming of a servant of the goddess under her breath and stepped forward, kicking the young heiress, quite literally in the ass and out of the way of the charging knight’s blade. However the lance did find a rather cozy home in Catherine's calf. The knight screamed as her muscle was torn open, and before she was even done she felt that same leg get crushed beneath the steed’s hoof. Catherine fell to the ground, her entire left leg a bloody mess, and she saw Edelgard, covered in blood, moving over towards her. The young woman held her axe in front of her, standing over Catherine and between her and Lonato. The lord screamed in rage, raising his lance, now red with Catherine’s blood, into the air.

“You’ll die for betraying my son, you vile bitch!” Tears began dripping down his grime smeared face. “My son dragged you out of that fire and saved your life! He was your comrade, and you betrayed him!” Lonato screamed, his voice cracking at the word ‘him’. He looked prepared to go on, but he was cut short.

“Lord Lonato, sir, help!” The knight in black armor yelled. Lonato turned and saw a woman with orange hair charging his second in command with a lance, while Ashe lay on the ground mere feet away. Lonato spurred his horse along, changing course and galloping towards the girl with his lance readied . He could not allow Ashe to fall into the clutches of the church, he’d already lost one child to them and he had no intention of losing another. He would not allow Ashe to be held for leverage to try and force him to step down. His reflexes however were not what they had once been, and when he finally came close to her with his lance she was able to swiftly move just out of the way.

“Step away from him you demonic whore!” Lonato demanded, looking to his left to see Ashe looking at him in horror.

“Lonato, please, stop this! They’re my friends!” Ashe begged. Lonato could only pray under his breath that Ashe would understand his decisions once everything was said and done. Lonato kicked his horse, and the aged old beast galloped towards the girl yet again.

Leonie saw the haggard animal moving towards her, and tried to think of what she could do. The beast, while clearly aged and slowing, was still massive. She had abandoned her bow earlier out of fear of hitting ashe as opposed to the soldier, but her lance could only do so much. Her time to think came to an end however, and finally she grit her teeth and went on instinct. She lobbed herself to the side, out of the path of the lord’s lance, and buried the handle of her own into the ground beneath her, pointing the tip up. The mount moved closer, the tip of the spear buried itself in its chest, and Leonie saw the handle of her lance bending unnaturally until it finally broke from the weight. One piece of the handle snapped out and smashed her across the cheek, breaking the skin and splattering her face with splinters, sending her to the ground.

Shortly after that, Lonato joined Leonie on the ground, his steed now dead with a half-foot of wooden handle sticking out of its chest. The heavy beast pinned Lonato’s leg, and it took him a moment to finally weasel loose. By the time he had and managed to stand and limp his way over to his lance, Leonie was finally starting to get to her feet herself.

“Stand and die, you vile heathen!” Lonato ordered as she limped towards Leonie.

“Lonato! Stop! Please!” Ashe screamed from a get feet to Lonato’s side, axe in hand. The young noble’s hands shook on the wooden handle, and Lonato could only stare as his own ward threatened him.

“Ashe, do not meddle in things you do not understand!” Lonato ordered, looking at the child he’d raised for more than half a decade.

“Then help me understand!” Ashe begged, cheek streaked in tears and dirt. Leonie looked at Ashe, having never seen her classmate so desperate. The two made eye contact, and Leonie worried Ashe might have a brain injury, the way the eyes she was looking into seemed to bounce over to the side before reconnecting with her own. Leonie looked over to where Ashe’s eyes kept bouncing and there, mere feet behind Lonato, was her bow. Leonie looked and saw Ashe nod, and she began crawling over to her weapon.

“...They took my son! Your brother! They said he was part of the plot to kill the king but there was no proof! That vile woman, Catherine, turned him in to distract attention away from herself and let him be slaughtered just to save herself! The Archbishop she serves is no servant of the goddess! She’s a monster! A beast!” Lonato raved.Trying to explain why he was doing what he had to do.

“Lonato, please, you’re not making any sense! Just tell your men to stand down, and let this be over with! Let us make peace and not destroy our home for petty revenge!” Ashe begged, as Leonie finally got her hands on her bow. Pulling an arrow from the quiver on her back.

“Peace!? There can never be peace with the demons, boy! Did you really care for Cristophe so little, to just roll over and try to make peace with the heathen swine that slaughtered him? I’ll raze the entire damned Monastery to the ground, and from the ashes we can build a better world, a church that believes in the good of man, not in it’s manipulation!” Lonato declared. Ashe looked down, past Lonato, and saw Leonie staring back, arrow at the ready. Her eyes made it clear she was waiting for something, and Ashe knew what it was.

“...Do it.” Ashe said, voice cracking at the disgusting taste of the words. Lonato looked at Ashe, confused, and he never felt the pain of the arrow burying itself into the base of his skull. He died instantly, his body falling to the ground in a limp pile of meat. Ashe’s knees buckled, and the silver-haired Eagle sobbed desperately, falling to the ground. Curling up onto the ground inches away from the man that’d only days ago called Ashe his son.

Leonie ran over to Ashe, tears on her own cheeks as she tried to lift her friend off of the ground, but to no avail. Ashe had gone completely limp, the only seeming movement coming from the sobs that rocked the body that Leonie was only just now realising seemed so very, very small. Had Ashe always been so small? Looked so young? So afraid?

She tried again, this time laying Ashe’s head on her lap, and the yet-again-orphaned student sobbed against her, fingers dug into the fabric of her skirt. Leonie had no idea what to do, but she knew she had to do something, right? She rested her hand on Ashe’s shoulder, rubbing gently and trying to say whatever reassuring things she could remember Dorothea saying to Bernadetta whenever she was freaking out.

 

It was several hours later before the mess was finally done with. The militiamen were either defeated or had fled into the woods, and the knights began collecting their injured and dead. Dorothea and Leonie were sat on the ground with Ashe, who had gone from grief-racked sobbing into a silent thousand-yard-stare.

Edelgard walked over to a small spot off of the main path where Catherine was sat up against a tree, the leg of her pants torn open and soaked in blood. A knight held a glowing green hand over her calf muscle, trying to mend it with healing magic. Catherine saw Edelgard approach, and chuckled weakly.

“What brings you over to my neck of the woods, princess?” Catherine asked, resting her elbow in the dirt and her head in her hand. Edelgard rolled her eyes.

“Please, do not call me that… I just wanted to thank you.” Edelgard said, hesitating in the middle of her sentence.

“What, for kicking your ass? My pleasure.” Catherine teased. Edelgard groaned, this woman really was just Byleth but worse.

“For protecting me from Lord Lonato’s lance. Must you really make this so difficult?” Edelgard asked, hands on her hips.

“Awe, cmon cut me some slack princess. I did lose a lot of blood.” Catherine said, gesturing to her calf.

“Actually ma’am, your wound is surprisingly…” The healing mage interjected.

“Shut up, Nicholae.” Catherine said under her breath. Edelgard sighed and shook her head.

“You’re right, even if you’re...not. Either way, thank you. I hope I can repay you one day.” Catherine looked at her, something strange coming over her eyes as she did.

“Just try not to get yourself killed. Live a long, happy life and stay the hell out of shit like this. That’s how you can repay me, princess.” Catherine said.

 

Edelgard walked out of the woods and joined the rest of the class, which Byleth had managed to gather together and walk to their comrades sat on the ground. Leonie gave Byleth a disheartened look, and Ashe remained quiet.

“I….” Bernadetta started, hesitating for a moment. “I can’t believe it...all of those people, sent out into a massacre like that.” She continued on.

“It was vile.” Ferdinand muttered through grit teeth. “A noble protects his people, he doesn’t march them to war like lambs to the slaughter.”

“I’m all for a fight against all odds, but those men didn’t have a chance.” Caspar said, disheartened.

“Oh quit being so full of yourselves, the lot of you.” Dorothea chastised, standing up and wiping dirt from her skirt. “You’re not some undefeatable masters because you grew up with money and a crest in your blood. Quit talking about those people like they were livestock butchered without difficulty. We’re lucky all of us survived, plenty of the knights didn’t.” Dorothea continued, at her whits end.

“These people weren’t helpless pawns, they cheered Lonato’s name when they fell.” Leonie pointed out. “They believed in his cause, and they knew what they were getting into. Don’t speak of them like children who didn’t know any better. It’s disgusting.”

“Goddess, can you all really not shut up for a moment?!” Ashe asked, not waiting for a response before standing and walking away, moving to the other side of the path. The entire class looked a bit embarrassed.

“Let him be.” Byleth ordered as Leonie was readying to stand and follow Ashe. “Now, let’s everyone back away from our comrade’s throats. I won’t have any infighting among you. What we saw today is the reality of war. It’s not just soldiers you will fight. War is changing, every day someone thinks of new tactics, new weapons, or some new spell. Our opponents were men driven by a feeling of justice, however misguided, and at the very least that earns respect. A war, no matter what it’s about is a battle of ideas made blood. It doesn’t matter who you face, whether a pauper, a lord, a bandit or the goddess herself, you can never lose sight of what you fight for. Whether that is your allies and comrades, or something grander is up to you, but you can never forget what you’re fighting for.” Byleth said. She sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose, completely missing the rather impressed look on Edelgard’s face as she turned to follow Ashe.

The professor sat down next to her student, not saying a word. She saw Catherine step out of the woods, and start limping towards her, but several students stopped her and pulled her over to the rest of the class. Byleth sat there for several minutes silently, and every once in a while Ashe would take a deep, shuddering breath. After a while the professor reached over and patted Ashe on the shoulder. Her student looked at her, face still red and cheeks slick.

“Professor...did I do the right thing?” Ashe asked, looking at lord Lonato’s body on the side of the road.

“That’s not something I can tell you ashe. That’s not something anyone can tell you except you.” She paused, unsure of how to continue, but she saw the way Ashe’s eyes clung to the body, trying to hold back tears. “No one is going to fault you for being sad he’s gone, Ashe. He means a lot to you, that’s not something that changes because you end up on opposite sides of the battlefield.”

“...he was going to hurt Leonie...he was going to hurt anyone he needed to. He was talking madness. I just had no other choice.” Ashe said, whimpering pitifully. “I don’t think I’m cut out for this, Professor.”

“I disagree.” Ashe looked at her, confused. “You made a call that very few people could, because you put the lives of your comrades above your own personal ties and feelings. You put yourself in Lonato's path even when you knew it was risky. I have seen plenty of men flee for far less.” Byleth explained.

“Thanks professor…” Ashe said after a long pause. “For everything.”

“Of course, Ashe.” She pat her student on the shoulder and stood up, offering a hand that Ashe shakily accepted. “Let’s go see what has your classmates so riled up.”

The two walked back to the rest of the class. Several students were reading over a large scroll, and when they approached Edelgard, who was holding the scroll, looked up with a rather shocked expression. Byleth had a sneaking suspicion life was not about to get any simpler for the Black Eagles.

“Professor….” Edelgard said holding out the scroll, “This letter is from the western church, it says that there’s an assassination plot against the Archbishop.”

Byleth despised being right. She took the message and read it through. The plans were clear.

She walked over to Catherine, who was sat on the ground quite a ways away, about as far away from the class as she could be.

“Are you ok?” Byleth asked, pointing to the knight’s bloodied pant leg.

“Yup, doc says i’m healthy as a horse, well, any horse but Lonato’s.” Catherine said with a chuckle, but it was weak. Dying about as quickly as it left her lips. “ So, you read the message?” Byleth nodded. “We’ll need to get this to Lady Rhea immediately. We can’t allow any harm to come to her.” Catherine said, standing up from the ground and grabbing her blade from its spot stabbed into the damp soil.

“Give my students a few more minutes, and we can leave. If we move swiftly we should make it back to the monastery by dark.” Byleth said as she gave Catherine the scroll. The knight stepped forward and took the message, only to wince in pain as she rested weight on her bloodied leg. Byleth furrowed her brow. “Are you going to be able to walk?”

“Oh yeah,” Catherine said through grit teeth. “I’ll be fine. Don’t worry ‘bout me professor.” Byleth shook her head, but wasn’t going to offer help where it wasn’t wanted. “Let’s roll out at noon. That’ll give you about half an hour to ready your kids.”

 

Even with the decline of the path back to the monastery, the several injured knights made for a much longer walk then they’d expected. As the sun began to set, Catherine finally accepted help from one of her knights, and walked alongside Byleth and Edelgard at the back of the caravan. Ashe stayed towards the front of the group, alongside Leonie and Dorothea, for the majority of the walk, but about an hour after nightfall the orphaned student suddenly turned around, walking through the group until finally reaching Catherine.

“What did Lonato mean that you betrayed Cristophe?” Ashe asked, voice hanging somewhere between begging, rage, and holding back tears. Catherine looked at Ashe, grasping for words before finally sighing and looking down, defeated.

“Let….Give me just a second.” Catherine said, before yelling at her men and telling them to stop and make camp on the trail where they stood. Byleth took the queue and gave the same order to the Black Eagles. Catherine let go of the knight who had been helping her walk, and gestured for ashe to follow her. She went to walk off of the path, but the moment she rested weight on her leg the knee gave out and she went down. Byleth reached out and managed to help her keep herself upright, much to the knight’s embarrassment. “Hey professor, you uh….mind helping me out here? Looks like it’s a bit stiffer than I thought.” Byleth nodded and helped Catherine support her weight as the three of them moved over to the edge of the tree line. Catherine sat on the ground, resting her leg and waving for them to join her. Byleth sat, but Ashe stayed standing.

“What did he mean, Sir Catherine?” Ashe demanded. Catherine rubbed the back of her neck and sighed. She really wasn’t in the mood to have this conversation, but she figured the kid was owed it.

“When….When I was a student at the academy, I was in the Blue Lion house. Cristophe was one of my classmates.” Catherine explained. Ashe looked ready to interject but Catherine held up her hand. “Please, just...let me explain. When we were in school together, we became close. Cristophe was a good friend of mine, even after graduation.” Catherine took a deep, shaking sigh and looked down. She couldn’t look Ashe in the eye for this. “But he was foolish. Too trusting for his own good. He was a good man, with all the faults that entails. He...He was pulled into a plot by the Western Church targeting Lady Rhea. He was told what they wanted him to do would be in service to the goddess, and so he didn’t question it. When he was discovered...he came to my home. There was a manhunt throughout the Kingdom, and I...I sent a letter to Lady Rhea informing her where Cristophe was.” Catherine said, looking up at Ashe.

“You….you turned my brother in?” Ashe asked, voice cracking. Catherine nodded, and bit her tongue as she felt something trickling down her cheek. She grit her teeth. She couldn’t let this break her, she’d spent years building her life up from that awful day, she wouldn’t let it fall out from underneath her.

“I did. Lady Rhea saved me when I was in the Academy. I owe that woman my life...and Cristophe intended to kill her. I did what I had to do to protect the people I love.” Catherine tried to justify herself, but whether it was to Ashe or herself no one quite knew.

“And what of Cristophe!?” Ashe asked, tears once again pouring out. The salt stung the raw and red flesh of Ashe’s cheeks. “Lonato said he saved you as well. Why did you not afford him that same love!? He saw you as someone so close he could trust you with his life, he came to you in his most dire moment!”

“Ashe, I have no idea what Lonato meant by that.” Catherine said. She, for all her attempts, couldn’t remember a time Cristophe had saved her.

“Well maybe you ought to find out. Lonato may have been a spiteful man, but he was never a dishonest one.” Ashe said, storming back off. Catherine looked over to Byleth, and the professor could just sit there looking back blankly. Goddess, this day had become a cluster.

Chapter Text

Catherine and Byleth stood in the grand light of the Audience Chamber, Seteth holding the scroll they had found on Lonato’s corpse. They’d reported the threat to the Archbishop the moment their battle-wearied mass of knights and students had reached the Monastery that morning.

“This is very distressing, to be certain.” Seteth said as he read over the message. Rhea looked nonplussed at Catherine, who was leaning on Byleth for support. “We will need to maximize security. We can not allow these would-be assassins to come anywhere near the Archbishop. Catherine, I hope your men will be able to increase their numbers on Guard this upcoming month?”

“Well, yes, but with the men we lost in this last attack, alongside the amount of people who will be coming and going for the Rite, I’m unsure if my unit alone will be enough to maintain security. We can cover the entrances and the main pathways, and I can guard Lady Rhea as I always do, but we would need help watching the rest of the event if we wanted to ensure Lady Rhea’s security. Perhaps the Professor here and her class could assist us?” Catherine said, gesturing to Byleth. Seteth’s expression made his displeasure at the idea plain to see.

“Hmmm, I’m unsure given the professors... let's call it checkered, mission history if it’s be wise to entrust her with such a vital mission. ” the green haired Lord said, hand on his chin.

“Professor Eisner’s class didn’t show anything in the field yesterday that would make me doubt their ability for this type of task. Also, they’ve already worked with my men, so they would trust them more than they would the Lions or Deer. We were leaning on them in more ways than one when Lonato attacked.” The Archbishop looked rather pleased at Catherine’s comments, which made the knight’s stomach tie into a rather tight knot. Lady Rhea’s smile always did.

“I think that is a wonderful idea. I can tell your student’s have grown greatly, thanks to your skilled instruction. I did hear that they were less than ecstatic to face peasant fighters, but use this as an opportunity to teach them that no matter who dares to raise their fists against the goddess’s love, peasant, civilian, knight or noble alike, all must be vanquished the same to protect the peace and righteousness of Fodlan.” Seteth went a bit white at the Archbishops comments, and Byleth felt something between rage and disappointment burning in the back of her mind, likely the product of Sothis’s emotions melding with what little of her own existed. “We must make this no different, while I know these vile, blasphemous traitors of the western church pose no threat to me we can not allow such herrisey to go unpunished. I hope we can count on you both?” Byleth and Catherine both nodded. “Wonderful. Professor Eisner, why don’t you help Catherine to Manuela’s office and see about that leg.” Rhea was walking away before she even finished her sentence.

“Wait, Lady Rhea, I need to ask you…” But the Archbishop and Seteth were gone. “Figures. Ok let’s get this over with.” Catherine said, and Byleth helped her hobble to Manuela’s office.

 

“Well, what a wonderful surprise.” Manuela teased from the edge of her doorway as they limped closer. “Usually I prefer to take my company one at a time, but I’m sure I can make an exception for the two of you.” The dress-clad Professor shit the two a wink. Catherine wore a shit eating grin, still gritting her teeth from the pain of walking, but she managed a laugh.

“Not tonight, sweetheart. A girl’s gotta look her best for a night out with such a pretty lady. I’m not even wearing clean pants.” Byleth grunted a bit and helped the knight lay down on a cot by the wall.

“Her leg was injured in battle, cut to ribbons and then smashed by a horse’s hoof. She was triaged, but needs more in-depth repair.” Byleth explained to Manuela before turning to the knight in front of her. “I’ll see you when the ceremony is upon us, Sir Catherine. Please try to avoid getting into too much trouble.” Manuela ‘hmph’ed from beside her.

“Awe, don’t be a stranger Professor. The offer is still open to join me for training. I’m sure Manuela here’ll have me fit as a fiddle by morning. Also, knock it off with the formalities.” Catherine said, waving her away. Byleth took the queue and left quickly. As she left, a blue-haired woman wearing a green jacket and with a bow slung over her back walked past, going in the direction of Manuela’s office.

 

“They aren’t targeting Rhea.” Sothis said, startling Byleth from her thoughts.

“How could you know that?” She wondered.

“I am able to remember some things from the previous times we’ve taken this road. As strange as things are this time, that piece has never changed. They’re targeting the catacombs beneath the Monastery, because they’re only ever open during the Rite.” Sothis explained. Byleth had no reason to doubt her, but still was concerned. She decided she’d speak to her students and see what they thought, and headed towards her classroom.

 

“Professor!”

Byleth stepped out of the staircase leading down from the upper offices. She turned towards the sound to see Edelgard running up the path from the classroom with Hubert close behind.

“Professor! We got word of this month’s mission from Lord Seteth. I need to talk to you about something.” Edelgard looked around quickly and continued in a hushed whisper. “I don’t think the Western Church is targeting Rhea at all, I think..” Byleth cut her off.

“It’s a distraction. They’re going to be going for the catacombs beneath the monastery and want us focused on the Archbishop so even if we were to figure it out it’d be too late.” Byleth said. Both student’s looked at her, rather shocked.

“Oh, well, yes. In fact that’s exactly what I was going to say.” Edelgard said. She was confounded, how had the professor figured it out already?

“Dammit you idiot! Please try to have some subtlety. You are going to draw suspicion by saying things like that so matter of factly to your students. You might even implicate yourself as being party to the conspiracy.”

Byleth felt the world shatter and lurch around her, and when it finally stopped she was back at the foot of the stairs, and a familiar voice rang out.

“Professor!” Byleth turned and saw her students once again running up the path from the classroom. “Professor! We got word of this month’s mission from Lord Seteth. I need to talk to you about something, I don’t think the Western Church is targeting Rhea, I don’t think our enemy is after Lady Rhea at all!” Edelgard said breathless, whispering as she looked around nervously.

“Hm.” Byleth said, trying to buy time as she thought of a good reply. “It would make for a good distraction, and it would explain why the message was so sloppily encoded.” Edelgard beamed at her, cheeks going a bit red as she nodded.

“Precisely! I think they are after something else, and they want us distracted protecting Rhea.” Edelgard whispered.

“Lady Edelgard, we should continue this conversation elsewhere.” Hubert whispered.

The three of them moved quickly out from the stairway, towards a large sitting area overlooking the hills and valleys surrounding the Monastery. Hubert continued speaking once they were suitably alone.

“I’ve been speaking to the other students, and they had several ideas about potential other targets.”

“I have been thinking on that myself.” Byleth said, sat on one of the benches. “I think they’re going to target the catacombs underground. If they’re only open for the Rite, then that would make sense why they chose them to strike. If their target where something else they could strike at any time, so why wait Until the Rite?” Edelgard and hubert looked at each other for a moment and nodded, it did make sense.

“So how do we proceed?” Edelgard asked.

“The Rite isn’t for another several weeks. We have no choice but to bide our time and train. We’ll continue as usual, and when the day comes we’ll put guards on the door and trap our opponents when they’ve backed themselves into a corner.”

“Hmmmm.” Hubert hummed. “That is certainly one of the better plans I’ve heard from you, Professor. Should we collect our classmates for training tonight?”

“No. Rest is important, and training the night we’ve just made it back would only risk burning them out like an over-lit candle. We will take the day to rest, and let training resume tomorrow. Go, the both of you. Enjoy your day and I expect to see you bright and early.” Hubert bowed and walked away, but Edelgard hesitated for a moment, and scratched at her arm nervously.

“Professor...I was thinking of having some tea, would you care to join me?”

Byleth thought for a moment, and could find no reason not to.

“I would.” She said standing up. “Lead the way.” the Professor gestured towards the path towards the courtyard. Edelgard walked on and Byleth followed close behind her.

 

Leonie picked at her dinner later that same night, lost in thought. The Professor was sitting at the end of the table, chatting with the other students about some matter related to the next day’s training, but Leonie couldn’t seem to focus on it. Every time she would look up and try to focus her eyes would be more drawn to the empty space where Ashe usually sat. She hadn’t seen anything of her classmate since they’d arrived that morning, and she was starting to worry.

“Should I go look for him?” She thought to herself. “I doubt he’d want to see me, anyway. What should I even say? ‘Hey ashe, thanks again for giving me the go-ahead to shoot your father figure in the back of the head. Anyway nice weather huh?’ isn’t exactly a good opening line. But he shouldn’t be alone at a time like this….the entire walk back he was just so quiet.” Leonie sighed and poked at a chunk of beef with her fork. She likely would’ve spent the entire night sat there thinking had Byleth not spoken up.

“Leonie. Leonie!” Byleth said, louder the second time as the orange-haired girl snapped back to reality.

“Y...Yes, Professor?”

“Why don’t you go take Ashe a plate from the kitchen. He shouldn’t miss a meal with the training we’ve got lined up for tomorrow.” Byleth instructed. Leonie nodded weakly.

“Yes, Professor. Will do.” Leonie mumbled as she stood and walked towards the front of the dining hall. She requested another plate, and when the food was brought out she headed towards the dormitories.

It took her a while to finally make it to the door of Ashe’s quarters, the stairs proving quite difficult while holding a large plate loaded with food. Once she did reach the door, she tried to wedge the plate between her arm and chest to have a hand free to knock, but thought better when the plate almost fell out of her grasp. She took hold with both hands and sighed, wheeling her foot back and kicking the bottom of the door with her boot, knocking much too hard. There was a long silence, and she kicked again. Finally a voice rang out.

“Just...Just a minute.” Leonie heard Ashe say, and after several minutes of rustling the door finally opened. Ashe stood in the doorway, wearing a clearly hastily thrown on uniform. The jacket was sloppily buttoned, and Leonie could see a floral patterned collar beneath it. It looked very nice. “H...Hey Leonie. Did you need something?” Ashe asked, eyes and cheeks clearly still red and raw, however they looked dry. Leonie wanted to reach out and hug her poor friend, but the plate was rather inhibiting to that.

“No..I um...I just wanted to bring you some dinner. Professor Eisner said we’re in for a hell of a day tomorrow, and we wanted to make sure you had some food…” Ashe blushed a bit as Leonie held out the plate before taking it from her.

“Oh...thanks, Leonie. That means a lot….” The young noble’s reply was barely more than a muttered whisper, There was a long, awkward silence. Leonie toyed with her own fingers until she finally couldn’t take it any more.

“H..how are you doing?” Leonie asked, rather desperate to keep the conversation going. Ashe sighed and set the plate aside.

“It’s...it’s hard. I honestly don’t know how to feel about everything. It’s just all such a mess in my head still…”

Leonie felt her eyes sting as she finally got the courage to ask what she’d been too afraid to since they’d left Faergus.

“Do you hate me...for what I did?” Leonie asked, embarrassed at the way her voice cracked when she asked, and the way her face was starting to feel wet. Ashe looked horrified.

“N..no! Of course not!” Ashe stepped closer, resting a hand on her shoulder. “Leonie you were only there in the first place to save me…I just...it’s just not fair. First Cristophe, and now Lonato...and now it’s just me and my brother and sister again…” the young nobel’s voice trailed off.

Leonie pulled her classmate, her friend, into a tight hug and all attempts at holding back tears on either side were given up.

After a minute or two Ashe pulled back. “I….I think I need to go to sleep. Thanks for coming by, Leonie.” Ashe said, awkwardly. Leonie blushed a bit and rubbed at the back of her head.

“Of course! Just….take care of yourself Ashe, you’re a good guy. I’ll um...see you tommorow?” Ashe sighed and nodded, refusing to look her in the eye.

“Yeah, I’ll see you in class tomorrow. Good night, Leonie.”

“Good night Ashe. Oh, and I like your shirt. The flowers are very pretty.” Ashe went beat red as Leonie pointed to the exposed fabric.

“Oh, um, thanks. Good bye!” And like that Ashe slammed the door.

Leonie started walking back to the dining hall, wondering to herself what in the hell had just happened. Was Ashe uncomfortable about liking flowers or something? Granted, Ashe wasn’t the most ‘manly’ but with students like Lorenz on the campus was that really much of a concern? Her mind was bogged down with these thoughts as she sat down and began eating.

Back in Ashe’s bedroom, the plate of food was left uneaten. Ashe had collapsed onto the ground, leaning back against the door. “What did I do?!” Ashe wondered out loud. “She’s probably thinking i’m angry at her or something. I can’t believe I lost my cool like that! Goddess….I need to be more careful next time.” Ashe said, changing out of the hastily put on uniform.

As the jacket was discarded, the ‘shirt’ underneath was revealed to in fact have no sleeves, simply a light lace that wrapped around the shoulders. When the uniform pants joined the discarded jacket, the mass of thin fabric that had been tucked into the waist fell loose, ending just below Ashe’s knees. She sighed and looked down at the floral nightgown. Ashe moved to look in the mirror and smiled weakly as she saw herself, for just a brief moment.

She’d needed to dress quickly when Leonie was at the door, and had hoped that the jacket and pants would be enough to cover it, but it seemed she’d mis-buttoned the collar and left the neckline exposed. It had been a stupid mistake, but thankfully it didn’t seem like one that would result in much.

Ashe didn’t quite know why she was the way she was, and hadn’t ever met anyone else like her. To be quite honest she didn’t even know if there was anyone else like her. Perhaps she was just some strange, isolated case. It was tiring, and confusing.

She didn’t mind how she looked, even if there were some aspects of herself she had less than ideal relationships with. She did, however, hate the uniform she was forced to wear. Not the pants themselves, they were fine. She actually liked the way they looked, what bothered her was that they ensured no matter who she interacted with she’d be condemned to a conversation full of ‘sir’s, ‘lord’s, and ‘young man’s. She hated it. Even hearing Leonie redder to her as a ‘good guy’ made her taste bile in the back of her throat.

She knew it was meant to be praise. But it didn’t matter, it didn’t help. No matter whether it was being called a good guy, or handsome, or an “upstanding young man”. It was simply infuriating to be forced to remember that the person everyone around her saw when they looked at her and the person she saw in the mirror seemed to be completely different people.

She’d thought about talking to her classmates, or even just Leonie, about what she was going through. Maybe one of them had heard of others like her and could point somewhere to learn more. But how could she talk about something when she barely had any idea how to describe what she was going through? .

She felt so very tired. Whether it was of mourning her father, or of pondering the mess that was her life in general she wasn’t quite sure. She sighed and blew out her only remaining lit candle, deciding it was time to sleep. She moved over to her bed and collapsed back into the spot she’d been laying when Leonie had woken her up.

 

The next few days passed by in a blur of intense training followed by intense study. Byleth was even more brutal in her training regimine than she had been the weeks prior, driving her students harder and harder each day. The first few days were difficult as the students were adjusting to an even more intense workload, but soon enough they fell into the brutal training as a simple matter of routine. Ashe remained quiet throughout the week, only ever really occasionally chatting with Leonie, or responding if spoken to by a classmate or Byleth directly.

At the end of the first week, Byleth spent her Sunday resting and reading through some of her student’s work from their days in the classroom until Edelgard knocked and invited her to tea.
“Ok, just give me one minute.” Byleth said, closing the door and going over to her desk. She pulled something from one of her drawers, stuffing it into her pocket as she stood and walked out the door and off to the gazeebo alongside the princess. They sat down at their same spot, and Edelgard began preparing the tea.

As the princess finished her pour, Byleth pulled a small box from her pocket, setting it on the table Edelgard looked confused as Byleth slid her the box.

“Happy birthday, Edelgard.” She said, taking her hand away. The princess looked back at her, expression a bit dumbstruck as she picked up the box

“Professor, you didn’t have to.”

“But, I did.” Byleth said in her usual monotone, taking a sip from her cup. Edelgard opened the box, and inside was a brown vial, sealed at the top with a cork. She looked confused, pulling the cork out with a ‘pop’ and holding the vial a little closer. She thought she might be going insane, as all she could smell was the tea, but it was so much more powerful. Edelgards eyes went wide as she realized what it was.

“It’s bergamot oil.” Byleth said, stating the obvious. “You seemed to enjoy smelling your tea last time, so I thought perhaps it’d be something pleasant for the road, when tea isn’t much of an option.” Edelgard smiled, and Byleth enjoyed the sight.

“Thank you, Professor.” She said, clutching the bottle.

“It’s not a problem, really.” Byleth assured her student.

“Still, thank you.”

After that the two returned to drinking their now lukewarm tea. As the afternoon dragged on, the conversation bounced from topic to topic. It started as a causal conversation about the Rite of Rebirth, and then about some apparent drama between Hidla of the Golden Deer and a girl from the Blue Lions. Byleth really wasn’t one for gossip? But Edelgard seemed to enjoy talking about it and it didn’t bother the professor. After a while the conversation turned to Edelgard discussing the empire’s history, which somehow turned into trying to explain the rather strange dynamic of Imperial lineage.

“So wait, I thought only the emperor’s wife could have an actual heir to the throne?” Byleth asked, confused.

“Well, in the Kingdom that’s the case, but the Adrestian Empire is different. Family is defined much more fluidly. The regent can have many consorts, and as long as there is a direct blood link they can have a claim to the throne. My own mother was one of many partners my father has had in his reign.” Edelgard said sipping at her tea.

“So, how does your mother feel about that kind of thing?” Edelgard was silent, staring at the tea in her cup with eyes that seemed almost glazed over. “Edelgard?” Byleth asked leaning forward and resting her hand on Edelgards, trying to get the princesses attention. The Hresvelg pulled her hand back, violently, her eyes snapping to focus in an instant.

“I...apologies professor. I seem to have forgotten I had an appointment with Professor Manuela. I’ll need to be leaving.” She said, standing up and walking away quickly.

“....” Byleth sat there, confused. As she looked down at her cup of still-steaming tea. She didn’t feel much like drinking anymore now, which confused her a bit. She picked up her dishes and took them to the kitchen. “That...that was odd, yes?” Byleth asked, under her breath.

“Yes, I would certainly say so. That’s not even something I can blame on you. As much fun as it is being able to do so. But, you humans do seem so obsessed with punctuality.”

“Well, we can’t all be gods with power over time.” Byleth muttered.

“You say that as if you are, in fact, not someone who has access to my abilities.” Sothis teased.

“The point stands. Now, with that strange turn of events, I have some time to fill.”

“You could use it to finally get some actual sleep.”

“Unlikely.”

“Oh, for goodness sake, you do actually need to sleep sometimes you know? Your little cat-naps aren’t going to be able to keep you going forever.”

“It’s not my fault sleep eludes me. Whenever I do try to sleep, I find my mind haunted.”

“The girl in the hat was right, you are rather dramatic for someone with no emotion.” Byleth roller her eyes, wandering the grounds aimlessly. “If you’re going to insist on doing something besides the thing your body vitally needs, might I recommend training? You’re pushing your students, but the increased paperwork has led to you losing quite a bit of practice.” Byleth nodded for a second, that wasn’t actually a half bad idea. She started making her way towards the training Arena as the mid-afternoon sun shone down on her.

 

She pulled open one of the large wooden doors and felt a wave of warm air rush out. It felt rather nice in the cool wind blowing in from the east. Byleth walked in and heard the clang of metal on metal, and she had a sneaking suspicion about who it might be practicing this late.

Sure enough, there was Catherine alongside two rather haggard-looking knights. Byleth leaned against a stone pillar and watched the woman at work.

One of the knights swung at her with a blunted axe, the heavy blade coming straight down towards her shoulder until she threw her own blade into its path, knocking it aside before slamming her sword handle into the man's chest, knocking him back and the wind from his lungs. While he staggered back, his compatriot charged forward with a lance. The short blunted blade at it’s tip was aimed directly for her chest plate, and it might have landed had she not swung her still-raised blade down onto the wooden pole that supported it, snapping the blade off before it even had a chance to touch her. She kicked the man's legs out from under him and held the blunted training swords tip to his throat. The blonde woman chuckled and tossed her training sword aside, reaching out her hand and helping the man up onto his feet.

“Good job, Thomas. Your charge is still weak, your speed however has improved greatly. Keep it up and you may actually land a blow on me before I die of old age.” Catherine said, jostling the young man's shoulder before turning to pick up her sword. That was when she noticed Byleth, leaned against the pillar with her arms crossed. A wicked grin grew across Catherine’s cheeks.

She turned to the two knights, or perhaps they were knights in training, and told them they were relieved, turning to Byleth as she made a dramatic bow.

“I do hope you enjoyed the show, Professor.”

“I’m glad to see you seem to have been healed fully, Catherine. You certainly have theatrics down.” Byleth commented as she stood from the pillar and moved closer. “But if that flailing is what you call fighting with a blade, I am curious to see if you have any control at all in your hand to hand. I’ve seen brawlers with a more restrained neck snap than that little display of yours.” Byleth finally stopped, now stood about 3 feet from the knight, looking up slightly to meet the blonde’s gaze.

“Well, that’s why I was hoping you’d take me up on my offer. I gotta get my brand new leg some more exercise, and I need more experienced brawlers to help me improve. Who better to teach me than a professor?” Catherine’s smirk never left her face. It did indeed make sense.

“You’re more sensible than I thought.” Byleth’s comment seemed to make Catherine amused.

“I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“You should. Being a commander in the Knights of Seiros, I assumed you were rather sensible. So, how would you like to train?” Byleth asked.

“I should be the one asking you, Professor.” Byleth could admit it had been silly to ask.

“Fine. Take off your armor then.” Byleth said, reaching up and beginning to undo her cloak.

“Oh my, Professor perhaps you misunderstood me when I asked for advice on hand to hand.” Byleth rolled her eyes at the knight’s teasing.

“You intend for me to throw a barehanded punch against you knowing you’re half covered in hardened steel plate? Or do you intend for me to do such in a full set of brawling gauntlets? Either way one of us is being sent to Manuela’s office. Clothing remains on, armor however should be removed.” Byleth instructed, removing her armor piece by piece. She remained in her tunic and pants, but she removed her boots.

“Yes ma’am.” Catherine said as she removed her half-cape,breastplate, bracers, and her few scattered pieces of leg armor.

Byleth walked the blonde to the middle of the arena and dropped down into her fighting stance, her knees bent, hips wide, with her arms raised and her fists in front of her face.

“No punching in the throat, kidneys, between the legs, or the back of the head, understood?” Catherine nodded and the two lunged out at each other.

Byleth landed a restrained jab to Catherine’s ribs right off the bat, knocking the wind from her lungs. She went in for a follow up cross, but Catherine managed to block that and launch a cross of her own.

Byleth felt the fist smash into her shoulder, but thankfully the knight seemed to not have her full strength behind it. Whether that was consideration or being winded Byleth didn’t know. She blocked Catherine’s jab and grabbed her arm, launching an elbow out that seemed to do nothing at all when it connected with Catherine’s abdomen. The knight landed a few solid punches to Byleth’s side, and the professor responded with a knee to her side.

 

It was about an hour until dinner when Edelgard left her dorm. She had managed to calm down a bit, and wanted to try and find the professor to apologize for her running off in the middle of tea for an appointment that didn’t exist. She knocked on Professor Eisner’s door at the commoner’s quarters and heard nothing. She knocked again, and again nothing. She sighed and figured the Professor must be in her office, and walked towards the classrooms.

The air had cooled considerably in the past hour or so, and the sky was starting to turn grey with the threat of rain. Edelgard enjoyed the rain, but it made her joints ache. She figured that was likely a byproduct of the strain the experiments she had endured had put on her body. It was that same strain that had turned her once chestnut-brown hair into the pale limp shock of white that she wore now.

The rain had been a reprieve to her back then, locked away in the cold stone beneath the Adrestian Imperial Palace. The rain was a comforting sound. She could hear it thudding the earth above her head, and for a few brief hours she could listen to that as opposed to her sibling’s agonized screams. It didn’t hurt that when it rained, the rats also tended to stay away.

She clenched her fist. Now was not the time to think of the past. She had better things to worry about. However that was hard to say when she was walking around aimlessly searching for her professor. She still wasn’t quite sure why she cared so much about apologising, but she did. Perhaps it was out of a feeling of obligation. The gift she’d given had been rather nice. That had to be it.

The classroom, sadly, was also empty. Edelgard figured that left only one spot, and made her way towards the arena.

 

The sparring carried on for what felt like years. Punches, elbows, knees and kicks flew back and forth with no end in sight. Byleth was breathing harder than she had since at least the ravine. She managed to get ahold of the knight’s arm, catching it after dodging a shoddy elbow, and used the leverage to throw the woman over her shoulder onto the ground. Catherine landed with a loud thud, and Byleth pressed her knee to the knights chest, pinning her down. Catherine panted for a moment, and Byleth was preparing to call the round.

She didn’t realize what was going on until the pain registered. The knight bit into her forearm, and used the chance to pull her own arm back, rolling out from under the professor’s knee.The professor tried to turn and face the knight but before she could Catherine was jumping up, grabbing her by the back of her neck, and pinning her against the floor.

“You never said biting was off limits.” Catherine muttered into Byleth’s ear, panting heavily and chuckling at her own joke. Her breath tickled against Byleth’s neck, making the professor’s skin break into goosebumps as a shiver ran down her spine.

”That’s because it isn’t.” Byleth shot back, finding it suddenly more difficult to breathe even though Catherine was putting no weight on her chest. She felt a familiar feeling, almost ap sort of hunger that seemed to be crawling it’s way up her body from the pit of her stomach as her fingers dug into the stone.

Catherine made a rather drawn out “hmmm” sound, this time her mouth even closer to Byleth’s ear, and the professor felt her breath yet again, and again it was followed by a shiver and the hunger grew stronger.

“Is that so? My oh my, Professor.” Catherine flipped her over, still pinning the professor against the ground. At least now the two were facing each other, both sweating and still panting from the fight. “Seems like you have quite a thing for the rough stuff.” She said, her grin made it seem like she was joking, but the whisper she said it and the look in her eye made it clear that it was anything but.

Byleth grit her teeth, both of her arms pinned above her head by one of Catherine’s hands.She knew it’d be easy to free herself, the way Catherine was positioned it seemed to be intentional, but at that moment her mind was more focused on other things.

“You talk too much.” Byleth said, her voice shifted from it’s usual monotony to something that almost sounded like pleading.

“Is that so? And what would you rather I do?” Catherine lowered her head, her mouth centimeters from Byleth’s ear, until the professor felt a sharp pain and shivered as the knight nibbled on her earlobe. Catherine pulled her head back, and the professor leaned forward until there was barely any gap between them, but she just swallowed as she tried to calm the hunger she felt.

Catherine let out a quiet “hm” from the back of her throat, grabbing a fist full of Byleth’s tunic and ripping her arm back, closing the gap between them and smashing their lips together. The professor groaned and returned the kiss hungrily.

Catherine’s hand moved from their spots on Byleth’s wrists to her hips, and the professor buried her hands in the knight’s sweat-slicked hair, pulling her deeper into the kiss. The knight groaned into Byleth’s mouth as she felt her hair being pulled, taking the opportunity and sliding knee between the legs of the woman below her. her hands moved lower, about to cup Byleth’s ass, but she hesitated. The professor felt her move her head back, breaking the kiss.

“Are...Is this...?” Catherine asked between pants. Byleth answered in her own way, by tangling her fingers back in the knight’s hair and pulling her back into the kiss. She seemed to get the message and Byleth felt Catherine’s fingers dig into her ass.

The knight found it funny just how soft the professor's rear end was, when she could feel the taught muscle of the woman’s stomach shifting underneath her, and the strength in her arms when she was pulling her into another kiss.

Catherine grasped Byleth by her hips, pulling her closer by pressing her thigh between the professor’s legs, drawing out a loud moan, muffled slightly by Catherine’s own mouth being in the way.

Before Byleth even knew what she was doing she was tearing at Catherine’s shirt, trying to pull it off. The knight took the queue and helped undo the ties holding it in place, a second later Catherine’s top was thrown aside, and the undershirt with it leaving the woman in the tight grey sports bra underneath

Next, it was Catherine’s turn. She pulled Byleth up, lifting her tunic over her head and throwing it aside. The black fabric hit the ground, leaving her in just a tight undershirt beneath it. The knight’s fingers brushed against her scalp, and as soon as a hearty chunk of hair was between each finger the knight closed her hand into a fist and pulled away from her, pulling Byleth’s head back and to the side. Catherine buried her teeth into her neck, right where it sloped down towards her clavicle. Byleth bit back a moan as her nails dug into the skin of the knight’s back with one hand while the other remained tangled in her hair, drawing something between a grunt of pain and a moan from the blonde’s lips.

Catherine’s head was still against her shoulder, kissing more than biting, when the knight began all but tearing off her undershirt, not nearly fast enough for the brawler’s tastes. Once the cotton garment was tossed aside, The professor felt Catherine’s head quickly move down to her chest, while the leg between her own moved away, only to be replaced with a hand. She groaned as at the teasing, light brushing of the knight’s fingers against her clit through the fabric of her pants, and tightened her grip on the thick mass of blonde hair as the knight traced the tip of her tongue around the edges of Byleth’s breasts, kissing along those same lines slowly a moment later.

She felt the professor writhe underneath her, hips rocking against her hand. She wrapped her lips around one of Byleth’s nipples, and her clearly well-practiced tongue lapped against the sensitive skin as she sucked gently.

Byleth moaned, one hand digging her short nails into Catherine’s back while the other was tangled in the mess of blonde hair. A few seconds later, the knight’s mouth was on her other nipple.

Catherine dug the thumb into the muscle right where Byleth’s hip met her pelvis, exploiting the sensitive pressure point and drawing a sharp gasp from the professor.

Not long after that Byleth felt two fingers hooking into the waist of her pants. She reached down and helped undo the tie holding them in place and a moment later Catherine was tossing the black-and-pink garment aside, followed shortly by the plain black underwear that’d been underneath.

Catherine pulled back, and Byleth saw a familiar hunger reflected back the knight’s eyes as she looked down at her. The knight moved, kissing and biting at Byleth’s skin just below her breasts, then at the top of her stomach, then down her stomach to her hip, and then Byleth let out a strained moan as she felt Catherine’s tongue brushed against her thigh, before she dug her teeth into the same spot, just inches from the spot the professor would much rather have her tongue. Byleth suddenly felt an absence of teeth biting into her leg, and looked down to Catherine staring back up at her from between her legs.

“May I?” She asked, her voice barely a whisper. Byleth nodded.

She felt Catherine’s tongue brush against her clit slowly, and her hands found their way back into the knight’s disheveled blonde hair. She continued her teasing little flicks of her tongue that Byleth swore we’re going to drive her mad, , barely touching her tongue to Byleth until finally Catherine brushed her clit just barely with her teeth before licking it desperately. Byleth’s breathing grew faster and faster, and both women were long past trying to remain quiet as Byleth’s thighs slowly tightened around Catherine’s head, every teasing nip with her teeth or slow, drawn out lick making the professor shudder just a bit harder, while her legs clenched around the knight’s head like a vice. She shuddered as she felt a gust of cold air brush against her sweat-covered skin, and Catherine heard a loud pop.

The knight assumed it was the sound of either the professor's hip or her own jaw popping. The second seemed more likely, as she felt her jaw aching from the pressure around it. Byleth’s legs seemed to clench especially tight when she licked a specific spot, and as much as Catherine was enjoying herself she thought it best to end things before they were discovered. She gripped the professor's thighs, fingers digging into the firm muscle and rough, scarred skin as she repeated the same motion with her tongue faster and faster.

Byleth’s legs tightened to the point that, were the professor in her right mind, she might worry about cracking the poor knight's skull. But she finally felt the pressure that had been building inside her for what felt like decade release, and her moans echoed off the stone walls

Catherine felt the pressure trying to crush her skull finally relax as the professor laid back on cold stone, having at some point started arching her back without realizing it.

Byleth took a moment and caught her own breath. She heard a chuckle as the knight collapsed onto the ground beside her, massaging her jaw with one hand. After a while, Byleth sat up, stretching out her spine.

Catherine remained lounging on the ground, not ashamed to be eyeing the blue-haired professors backside. There were several rather impressive scars in view as well, and Catherine wasn’t quite sure which she found more interesting, the scars or what they were on. She felt the urge to trace one of the long faded marks with her finger, even reaching out to touch one before pulling it back.

“Do all your trainees end up with their heads between your legs, Professor?” Catherine jokes, hastily trying to distract herself. Her cocky grin only accentuated by the wet glisten the entire lower third of her face had in the torchlight.

“No. They don’t. And don’t you go expecting this to count as extra credit.” Byleth said. Catherine looked at her a moment wide eyed and laughed, her arms clutching at her own sides.

“Is that a joke, Professor?! Dear goddess, I actually got the stone-faced Byleth Eisner to crack a joke!” Catherine said, as if she’d achieved some grand victory.

“Oh quit your ego stroking. Goddess knows how long has passed. I need to get ready for dinner.” Byleth said as she went to stand, her knees still weak underneath her. She felt them give out on her first attempt, thankfully Catherine managed to catch her. However that only encouraged the woman’s taunting.

“Aww, I’d offer to join you, but I just ate.” She helped Byleth get to her feet and let go. “I'm quite surprised, I never expected an Eisner to be the “love ‘em and leave ‘em” type.” Catherine teased.

“We both know that was nothing close to “love”, Sir Catherine. I’ve met plenty of women like yourself, and they were no different.” Byleth said, waving the knight off as she began pulling her pants on.

“Oh, you wound me, dearest Byleth.” Catherine said, dramatically draping herself over the stone floor and feigning sorrow until the mercenary’s stoic gaze finally made her laugh. “Oh fine, you got me. There’s nothing wrong with blowing off a lil steam, right? It’s common enough among the knights when we’re out on a mission. So I can imagine a traveling mercenary is no different.”

“You wouldn’t be wrong.” Byleth said with a shrug. Byleth had, once she was leading smaller missions on her own, being involved in one or two dalliances with her comrades. She tied her pants in place as Catherine started pulling her robes and armor on. “But I will be honest, you’re the first person to be timid about starting it. Your hesitation before grabbing my behind seemed rather unlike you.” Byleth commented as she slid on her tunic.

“ Well...I just wanted to make sure that I wasn’t misinterpreting anything, or making you feel like you had to.” Catherine said quietly, rubbing at the back of her neck. “But I mean you gave a pretty loud ‘yes’. I’m pretty sure my scalp is gonna be sore for days. Don’t even get me started on my back.” Byleth rolled her eyes.

“If you take such light aches so deeply to heart I must wonder how you’ve survived so long as a knight.” Byleth said, poking Catherine in the chest as she spoke, earning her a laugh in response.

“Ah, well perhaps we can do this again sometime and you can help me develop some thicker skin?”

“Perhaps. But I do think you’ll need some actual training as well. Your footwork was sloppy and your form was atrocious.”

“Ha, well I eagerly await your dutiful instruction, Professor.” Catherine said as she finished dressing. Byleth was done a moment later and the two started moving towards the door.

“Well, don’t hold your breath Sir Catherine. My actual students take up a large amount of my time, and they’re my priority. But you’re welcome to join us on drill days if you’d like.” Byleth offered, opening the heavy wooden door, a click sounding through the room as the doors latch disengaged.

“I told you, it’s just Catherine. I’m not too into being called ‘Sir’. ‘Ma’am’ maybe, but not sir.” Byleth got the feeling there was a joke she was missing. “But I’d love to join in for training some time. I’ll try popping in the next time I'm on the campus. Tomorrow Lady Rhea has me leaving for a few days to deal with a scuffle among some feuding lords up north.”

“Just be safe. I can’t train you if you’re dead.”

“Well, that just seems like a shortcoming in your skills as an educator more than anything.” Catherine teased. Byleth looked unamused. Was it unamused? Catherine couldn’t read this woman worth a damn and it was starting to bug her. “Fine, I’ll try to be safe. Good night, professor.”

“Good night, Catherine, and if you’re going to insist I drop the formalities then please practice what you preach. It’s Byleth.”

“Well then, good night Byleth.” Catherine said as she left, walking towards the knight’s quarters.

 

Edelgard leaned against the inside of the door to her room, hand over her mouth as she tried to unsee what she had just witnessed.

There had been a ruckus behind the door when she’d gone to enter the arena in search of Byleth, so she’d been certain that was where the professor was. But when she had opened the door all she saw was Catherine, naked and with her head between the professors legs! She’d swung the door shut as soon as she had her senses about her, but it had been like a train crash, she couldn’t look away. She could still hear the professors moaning and the captain of the Knights hoarse whisper, even there sitting in her dormitory.

What in the name of the goddess had the Professor been thinking? Doing something like that somewhere so public?! Who does something like that in a training ground!? What was she even thinking, doing something like that with a woman like Catherine?

Something began bubbling up in Edelgard’s chest, making her stomach tight and uneasy. She was angry, but in a strange way that stung her eyes. Maybe Catherine was the perfect woman for Professor Eisner. They were both insufferable, rude fools. Clearly they were a match made in heaven for each other.

Edelgard collapsed onto her bed, thinking it best if she skipped dinner tonight. She suddenly was not feeling very hungry, and she was rather sure she didn’t feel like apologizing anymore either.

Chapter Text

Anyone from a mile around could see how Catherine beamed as she walked up the packed dirt of the road leading to the Monastery, the tall stone buildings growing closer every step she took. The mission she’d been stuck on throughout the past week had drained her, but she knew things would look up as soon as she led her men through the gates of Garreg Mach. Even with her muscles still aching from having to battle the hired sellswords of two different lords, she was excited.

“The hell’s got you so chipper, Catherine? You thinkin bout the Archbishop again?” One of her knights taunted, shoving her shoulder. Catherine wheeled around, feigning a punch to his stomach. The knight, a scrawny twig of an archer with bright red hair, flinched and Catherine pulled her fist back.

“Watch it, Fredrique. I won’t hesitate to cut your ass down for blasphemy. But no, I was actually thinking about my dinner date with your girlfriend next week. Got any recommendations?” Catherine mocked, actually punching him in the arm. Fredrique rubbed the sore limb and laughed.

“Oh go to hell, Catherine.”

“I spent the past week downwind from your sweaty unwashed ass, hell has nothing new to throw at me.” Catherine slapped him on the shoulder and pulled him into a hug from the side.

“Seriously Catherine, what’s got you so chummy?” he asked, bow slung over his shoulders.

“Can’t a girl just be happy to be home?”

“Fine, you dick, don’t wanna tell me? I’ll back off.” he said with a wide grin. “I’m just glad to see you actually with a smile after your grouchy ass was all mopey these past few weeks. That horse must have stomped your head as well as your leg, took out the only parts of your brain with any personality.”

“Oh bite me.” Catherine said, waving him off as they finally crossed onto the grounds of the academy, the office building clearly visible.

“No thanks, I like living.” Fredrique mumbled back.

“Well, why don’t you all go live it up then. Grab some chow and meet back here at 6. I’ll give report to the Archbishop and then we can go hit the tavern in town. Drinks are on me!” Catherine declared. Her men gave her a cheer and wandered off to the dining hall. “You dumbasses.” she muttered to herself as she went to fulfill her report.

 

Catherine knocked on the heavy door just off to the side from the Audience Chamber, and she heard Lady Rhea’s voice call from the other side telling her to enter in that same soft voice that always made Catherine’s heart beat faster. She stepped inside, seeing Lady Rhea at her desk with a quill in hand. The office was large compared to the others in the administrative building of the Monastery, and rather grand alongside that. The Archbishop looked up and gave that same warm smile she’d given her every day, and Catherine couldn’t help but smile back as she bowed.

“Good evening, Lady Rhea. I came to give you the report on my team’s actions in south-eastern Faergus.” Catherine said before standing from her bow. Lady Rhea stood and walked over to Catherine, laying her hand on the knight’s shoulder. The Knight felt her heart speed up at the touch, and prayed that Rhea didn’t notice.

“Well, come sit for a moment and give me your report then, Sir Catherine. I’m sure you had quite the long journey home.” The knight didn’t hesitate to do as she was told, her pulse pounding at how close she was to the woman of her dreams. She had loved Lady Rhea from the first moment she’d seen her, all those years ago.

She’d been out on what was meant to be her final mission as a student of the Academy, when her team had come under fire from a pack of wild bandits. In the commotion she had been knocked unconscious, and when she woke there was Rhea, hands engulfed in magic as she healed the many wounds on Catherine’s bloodied body. It turned out she had helped drag the Knight-to-be from the flames, and had been nursing her back to health for days at that point. Ever since that day she had been a devout servant to the Archbishop, and every little touch or contact with her made her heart race faster than the time before.

But, she knew the Archbishop was bound by her duty to remain unwed, and while Catherine may be open to ‘friendly’ situations with other women, her attraction to Rhea was beyond physical. She wanted to only serve the woman however she may do that, save for her one rule.

No matter what, Catherine would never die for Rhea.

She sat down at the chair in front of the Archbishop’s desk, her heart starting to ache as the woman’s touch left her. Lady Rhea sat in her chair and Catherine gave her report, describing the sell-swords organization and the lords involved, the conflicts, where they occurred, how many casualties, and other various details. Finally, Rhea finished writing the report and spoke up.

“Thank you, Sir Catherine. Your work has been invaluable these past few months. I’m glad to see that rather terrible mistake of yours a few weeks ago, receiving such a damaging injury at the hands of Lord Lonato didn’t stop you from being a productive and responsible leader for my Knights.” Rhea said, her hand touching Catherine’s cheek and giving her that same thumping heartbeat.

“Of course, Lady Rhea. I’m always happy to serve as a blade to the Goddess.” The knight said, bowing her head.

“I know you are dear, you’ve made that abundantly clear. Now, would you be willing to do me one small favor before you go and enjoy the rest of your evening?” Rhea asked. Catherine nodded without question. “Wonderful! Go track down Professor Eisner, and inform her that I will be needing to see her and her head-of-house tomorrow afternoon. I need to discuss their plans for the Rite later this month. Seteth has been rather ornery as of late complaining that they seem to be doing quite little actual investigation.” Catherine nodded her head and left quickly.

Catherine was rather lost in her thoughts as she searched the grounds for Byleth, eventually finding the woman in her classroom hunched over the table reading a book on what appeared to be axe combat.

“Professor Eisner.” Catherine said as she stepped inside the room. Byleth looked up and, once seeing it was Catherine, set the book down. Her voice had sounded different for some reason. Of course she hadn’t seen the woman in a week. Perhaps Byleth was simply mistaken. “Lady Rhea sent me to inform you that she’s hoping to see you and your head of house tomorrow afternoon to discuss plans for the Rite of Return.” Catherine told her. Byleth nodded and wrote a note on a piece of parchment nearby.

“Thank you Sir Catherine. I’ll ensure Edelgard and myself are there.” Byleth said. Catherine shook her head before chuckling a bit, her eyes focusing back in on the professor.

“Awe, Byleth, Don’t go getting too formal on me again.” The knight said, walking forward and sitting on the edge of the desk. “How’ve you been since I left? Bored out of your mind, I’m sure.” She asked, her same cocksure grin present on her face. Byleth leaned back in her chair, resting her arms behind her head and resting her boots on the table.

“Fine enough. The students have been training intensely this past week in preparation for their next mission, so I’ve been rather bogged down with their academic work.” Byleth said. Catherine laughed and knocked the professors boots back off of the table.

“Now now, Byleth. Set a good example for the students. Can’t start teaching them it’s OK to put your feet on the table. Hanneman will have a damned heart attack if he sees that in the dining room.” Catherine teased. Byleth rolled her eyes. “But it’s good to hear you’re keeping them on their toes. Most of the professors seem a bit lax on physical training in favor of academics and magic.”

“I try to keep a fair balance. The students have a day-on day-off schedule. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday are for academics and magic, while Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday are for physical education.” Byleth explained.

“Well, sounds like I got here just in time then. Is the invitation still open to join your class for some training?” Catherine asked, her eyes dropping a little as she bit her lip. “Or would you prefer to keep our training more…’one on one’?”

“You’re more than welcomed to join the class for exercises tomorrow, Catherine. But I do ask that you keep discussions about “last week” away from my students.” Byleth said bluntly. Catherine chuckled.

“You think so low of me that I’d boast about something like that to a bunch of students? I am offended! I do have some class you…” Her defense was cut off by the ringing of the bell indications another hour passed. Catherine listened and heard 7 bells, her eyes going wide. She was over an hour late to meet with her team. “Shit, I have to go. I’ll see you tomorrow Byleth!” Catherine yelled, running out the door.

Byleth stared at the still-ajar door for a moment before walking over and closing. She returned to her desk and to her work.

“You certainly have strange tastes, but at least that’s keeping this a bit interesting.” Sothis muttered boredly.

“She’s a fine ally. She proved herself as much in Faergus,” Byleth muttered under her breath.

“Oh certainly, but those were not the tastes I was referring to. Between her and the Hresvelg you just have an interesting record with women.” Sothis said, giggling to herself as she felt Byleth’s mind pique with confusion.

“What do you mean, ‘between her and the Hresvelg?” Byleth asked. Sothis only began to laugh harder.

“Oh nothing, you’ll understand later. Or at least hopefully you will. Speaking of which, the empress has been rather distant these past few days, hasn’t she?”

“She is likely just tired from the increased workload of the past weeks training. All of the students are.”

“True, but all of the students didn’t storm off from you in a huff after you asked about their mother’s opinions on polyamory.” The goddess pointed out.

“She did not “storm off in a huff”, she simply had an appointment.” Byleth said, and Sothis could swear the woman had some defensiveness in her voice.

“Then why hasn’t she spoken more than a few words at a time to you since then?”

“It’s not like we’re exactly talkative in our day to day work. She is no different than her usual.”

“Maybe her usual from a month and a half ago, but she’s acting very different from how she was the past few weeks, wouldn’t you agree?”

“Yes, but again, this past week we increased our workload so it’s likely just the increased stress.”

“Would you please quit being so damned stubborn! Is it really smart to argue with the time-bending deity that has saved your sorry behind twice now?” Sothis lamented. Byleth sighed deeply, she did have a point.

“Three times.”

”What?” Sothis asked, confused.

“You’ve saved me three times now. Once, from the bandit in the woods, the second time from the same bandit in the ravine, and the third time is tonight. For you seemed absolutely determined to save me from the horror of getting any of my work done.” Sothis chuckled, bitterly to be sure but she did chuckle. Her eyes settled back onto the blue haired nuisance of a woman and let her glare do all the work. After a few minutes, Byleth shook her head and raised her hands in defeat. “Ok, fine. I’ll ask her over tea. the day after tomorrow, will that suffice?”

“It will do. I suppose.”

“Fantastic. Now can I please return to my work?”

“Fine, go back to your papers, you bore.”

 

Catherine walked up to the Black Eagle’s training grounds a bit after dawn that next morning, her armor and weapon left behind in favor of her usual cream colored pants and a loose tank top over her bra. There, already running laps, were the Black Eagles, with Byleth jogging alongside the students as she barked orders to pick up the pace. Catherine took a second to appreciate the professor’s backside bouncing in her shorts and jersey, both of which matched those worn by the students, clearly in the color of the flag of the Black Eagles, with a large eagle emblazoned across the back. She finished appreciating the view and began walking down to meet the rest of the class.

Byleth saw her coming down the small hill, and told the students to keep running as she jogged off of the path they had been following, which seemed to have been carved into the grass by little more than their repeated running. She came over to Catherine, and the knight had to look away, pretending to be rather interested in a passing bird for fear of staring at the professor's chest.

“Good morning, Catherine. I see you finally made it.” Byleth wiped some sweat from her brow as she greeted the blonde woman.

“Yup, seems I’m a bit late though.” Catherine said, crossing her arms.

“Well then move it. Come on and join the warm up.” Byleth said jogging back to the trail and jumping back in with the class. Catherine smiled to herself as she joined into the mass of jogging students.

She found her pace with the people around her and ended up situated between two students. One of them was that Berglieze kid with the spiky blue hair. Caspar! That was his name. The other was the Hresvelg heir. She was wearing a slightly different outfit, with a long red undershirt and red tights underneath her shorts, as well as those same gloves Catherine always saw on her. The knight tried to make conversation as the laps ticked by.

“So, what are y’all studying? Bows? Magic? Mounted combat?” She asked, panting a bit.

“I’m specializing in axe combat and brawling!” Caspar said, boldly pumping his fist in the air.

“And what about you?” Catherine asked, looking over to Edelgard.

“Much like Caspar, I’m an axe fighter.” the Hresvelg said, stoically. Catherine thought her face seemed like a rather good impression of the professor.

“Oh, Edelgard’s also specializing in aerial combat.” Caspar said, laughing between gasps for air. “She has been trying to learn to stay on a wyvern for weeks! Last week, she got thrown off so hard she..”

“Shut up, Caspar.” Edelgard ordered, picking up her pace and jogging ahead. Catherine looked over to the boy who just shrugged.

“She was like that with Professor Eisner too. I think she just doesn’t like new people.” Caspar whispered as they continued jogging. After a few more laps, Byleth whistled and signaled for everyone to rally in a circle.

“Allright. Everyone pair off and start sparing. We’ll do ten minutes, and then rotate partners. Training weapons are available on the carts over in the corner.” Byleth said the last piece to Catherine, pointing to the cart of wooden weapons off to one side. The knight nodded and followed the class over to retrieve a pair of wooden training gauntlets, not having used them since she was in the academy herself. The Brigian woman, Petra, walked up holding a wooden training sword and waving at her.

“Hello, Sir Catherine! Would you like to be training with me first?” she asked, grinning. Catherine shrugged.

“Why not? Let's go.” Catherine said. The two walked over to an unoccupied segment of field and got into their ready stances. Byleth whistled again a few minutes later and Petra leapt forward, slashing her blade at Catherine’s knee, and the knight dropped down, blocking the blade with one gauntlet while aiming the other for the girl’s stomach. She dodged out of the way and aimed another swipe for Catherine’s shoulder, but the knight tumbled forward out of the way before jumping up off the ground and turning, her fist swinging around with her as she connected with the girls forearm, knocking the sword out of her hands. Catherine chuckled and dropped her fists.

“Good job, kid, you really..” The girl kneed her in the stomach, knocking the air from her lungs before she could finish her sentence. She heard a chuckle from the group besides them, seeing a young man with greenish-black hair and a shit eating grin on his face.

“Sparring goes until the whistle, weapons or not.” Hubert said, dropping out of the way of Caspar’s training axe. Catherine shook her head and stood up from her position leaning over with her hands on her knees. That woman kicked like a mule.

“Would’ve been...nice to be told...that up front…” Catherine said between gasps for air.

“I had assuming you knew!” Petra said, a little bit pleased with herself.

“Fine, then, rally up princess.” Catherine said, pulling her fists up and throwing a jab at the girl, who dodged out of the way easily and swept her leg out from underneath her. Catherine hit the ground with a thud, and sighed as she stared at the sky. Why did she get the strange feeling she had been hustled?

After a while, Catherine seemed to be able to keep up pretty well with Petra, and the two traded blow for blow pretty evenly. By the time Catherine was actually starting to come out on top however, Byleth whistled for the groups to rotate.

“Thank you for a wonderful sparring, Sir Catherine!” Petra said. “I am looking forward to working with you again!”

“You too Petra, and it’s Catherine, just Catherine.”

“OK! Thank you for a wonderful sparring Just Catherine!” Petra said walking away. Catherine groaned and shook her head. Caspar walked up, axe in hand, and grinned.

“Hey, Thunder Catherine! Ready to meet your match?” He asked, hefting his axe proudly.

“Hell yeah I am! Why, you hiding someone behind your back?” Catherine asked, grinning as the guys smirk visibly dropped.

“No! I mean me!” Caspar said readying his weapon. Byleth whistled again and Caspar charged, screaming at the top of his lungs. Catherine stepped aside and kicked his feet out from under him, sending him to the ground.

He got up and charged again, and she ducked his swing, punching him in the gut, sending him to the ground again. He stood again, running at her and swinging for her legs. She jumped the blade and kicked his own legs out from under him, again.

This repeated over a dozen times, he’d charge and scream, she’d knock him down, he’d get back up. After nearly twenty times, Catherine panted heavily as she looked at the kid slowly getting up off the ground.

“Man….what in the hell is wrong with you...this is ridiculous.” She asked between pants.

“Come on! I got you on the ropes and you know it!” Caspar said, equally winded. Catherine sighed and shook her head.

“Caspar, just, for the love of the Goddess try not screaming, OK? Just try that.” Caspar paused for a moment, and finally nodded, charging at her again.

She blocked his strike, but smiled. “There! See? When you don’t broadcast exactly where you are by screaming, you actually have the energy to swing faster than molasses.” Catherine shoved his axe back and punched him in the arm, and the two began actual sincere sparing.

 

The rest of the morning went about like that, the only two Catherine never ended up sparing with were Edelgard and Ashe. Catherine was rather happy about the last one however. She still wasn’t quite sure how or if she should even talk to Ashe. She still hadn’t asked Lady Rhea about what Lonato had meant by what he’d said, but she thought she should. For Ashe’s sake if not her own.

After several long hours, the day’s sparring was done. Right about noon, Byleth whistled to get everyone’s attention, and told them to go clean up and call it a day. Byleth also called Edelgard and Catherine to stay.

The two walked over and Byleth addressed Edelgard first.

“The Archbishop wishes to speak with us in a little bit, clean up and meet me at the audience chamber, understood?” Edelgard nodded. “Good. You’re free to go.” Edelgard nodded again and left. Catherine grinned as Byleth turned to her. “How’d you enjoy your first session with the class?”

“Oh it was wonderful. I haven’t trained this hard since my first year in the knights. You’ve got some first class students, Professor.” Catherine said the last word teasingly.

“Well, I’m glad. It seems many of my students enjoyed having a slightly more experienced opponent that wasn’t myself. You’re welcome to join us tuesday as well.”

“It’d be my pleasure.” Catherine said, giving a wink. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to clean up.” Catherine turned to leave, but was stopped when Byleth grabbed her arm. “Yes?”

“I actually have need of you later this evening. My desk is rather heavy, I’d appreciate your help in moving it. Consider it your way of making up for being late.” Byleth said. Catherine couldn’t quite tell if she was supposed to be reading as much into that request as she was. The professor’s blank tone made her rather hard to flirt with, but she figured it was worth the risk.

“I’d be happy to. How about tonight after dinner?” Catherine asked cheekily.

“Does that imply you’ll be dining with the Eagles tonight then?” The Professor quirked her brow, and Catherine pondered for a moment before shrugging.

“To hell with it, why not?” She said, waving as she backed away. “See you tonight, Byleth.”

 

Edelgard rolled her eyes as she walked away from the training field and towards her dorm. That was absolutely ridiculous. Not only does she sleep with that woman in a public training ground, but then drags her along to one of their training sessions. The Professor had clearly lost whatever semblance of sense Edelgard had managed to knock into her skull over the past few weeks.

The heiress had been unable to purge that damned scene from her mind in the days since she’d walked in on those two. It bounced around her mind like a feral cat trying to escape a trash bin. She could barely even look at the professor anymore without her face getting hot, with rage of course.

“Lady Edelgard.” Hubert said, appearing from around the corner of the dormitory.

“Ah! Hubert, you startled me.” Edelgard said, having been lost in her thoughts.

“I can see that rather plainly, Lady Edelgard. Are you feeling well?” Hubert asked, his own type of concern edging into his voice. Edelgard looked at him, confused.

“Of course, I’m fine. Whatever would make you think otherwise?” Edelgard asked, irritation evident.

“Well, to begin, I was able to sneak up on you. Also, you’ve been visibly irritated for several days now. Is there something that needs addressing?” Hubert asked, wondering if someone needed disposing of.

“It’s nothing, Hubert.” Edelgard said as she passed him, going up the stairs towards the upper floor of the dormitory. He followed close behind.

“You understand that by saying ‘it is nothing’, you are implying there is in fact an ‘it’ to be referred to, yes? So your attempts at bypassing my question gave me your answer without even intending to.” Edelgard groaned and paused on a middle step, looking up and down to see that no one was there. She pulled Hubert into her room, closing the door and rubbing her temples. “Do you intend to tell me what is troubling you, Lady Edelgard?”

“Yes, just give me a moment. I don’t exactly enjoy thinking about this.”

“Does it involve Professor Eisner?” Hubert asked. The red rush to Edelgard's face gave him all the answers he needed. “What has that woman done now? May I finally dispose of her?”

“No, you may not. As much as that does sound preferable she may still prove useful. Besides, it would be too suspicious.” Edelgard said, grumbling the latter two sentences.

“Well what did she do then?” Hubert asked, quite curious. He had noticed Lady Edelgard growing rather close with the Professor the past several weeks, to the point he had not taken tea with her for nearly a month, so he was interested to find what could aggravate her so quickly and yet leave her still wanting the woman alive.

“Do you remember last week? When I refrained from joining the rest of the class for dinner?”

“I do. You said you had caught ill and needed the night to rest when I asked why the next morning.” Hubert said, crossing his arms. “Wait, did that damned woman attempt to poison you on your own birthday?” Hubert asked, rage seeping into his voice.

“No, Hubert. It’s nothing like that. I was certainly sick, but perhaps ill was an exaggeration.” Edelgard admitted. “When I took my tea with the professor, she gave me a bottle of Bergamot oil as a present.” Hubert looked at her, confused.

“And that is why you’re angry with her? While I’ll admit it’s a rather crude present to give someone of your stature...”

“No, just let me explain. We continued our conversation after that and...I began talking about my family, about my mother. I didn’t even realize I was doing it until the professor asked me a question about how my mother had felt about the way she and my father lived, and I realized….I didn’t know the answer.” Edelgard sat on the edge of her bed and looked down at the floorboards, worn smooth by years of footsteps. “And I never will.”

“I see…” Hubert said, solemnly. Edelgard’s mother had always been a sore spot for the woman, and Hubert wouldn’t admit how curious he was that she’d begun talking about her with the Professor without even realizing it. Could….no. It couldn’t be. “So that is why you’re upset at her? She tore open a wound she wasn’t aware of?” She shook her head no.

“No, it isn’t that, the reason I mention it is because after she asked, I made an excuse to leave about missing an appointment at the infirmary, and ran off. Later that night I went to find her and apologize. She wasn’t in her room, or in the classroom.” Edelgard’s face was creeping back towards the red shade.

“Well, was she at the training grounds? She doesn’t frequently go much anywhere else.”

“My thoughts exactly. And she was. I went to the training arena and heard quite a commotion behind the doors, so I didn’t even think to hesitate. I opened the door and, we’ll…”

“Well?” Hubert asked, beyond curious of what could make Lady Edelgard so hesitant.

“I caught the professor with Catherine’s head between her legs.” Edelgard said, flopping back into the bed and obscuring much of her form in the heavy down comforter. Hubert was quiet for a moment, and chose his words carefully.

“And...that’s why you’re upset with her?” Hubert asked.

“Yes!” Edelgard replied, as if it were such an obvious answer. Hubert sighed and rubbed his chin, arms crossed in front of him. This presented a problem. Not the professor’s actions, clearly, but the fact that they seemed to bother Lady Edelgard so readily. Was there something...heavens no. There couldn’t possibly be.

“Lady Edelgard, while that conduct is rather abominable, it’s not something that comes as too surprising given the professor’s conduct. Why is this bothering you so?” The red that creeped into her highness’s face gave Hubert all the answers he needed.

“I, I am just concerned, that is all.” Edelgard said, rushing for an answer.

“Concerned that…”

“I’m concerned that her getting closer to a Knight of Seiros, especially one so devoted as Catherine, may throw a brick in the way of attempts to recruit the professor in our fight against the Church.” Edelgard said, a bit more assured. Hubert however was well versed in reading her highness, and could see she had been as much trying to convince herself as him. However he decided better than to address it. Perhaps with any luck, if it was left alone, whatever it was that was causing her irritation at the situation in actuality would simply fade away. He certainly hoped so.

“Well, that does present some rather interesting roadblocks. However I would say no to put too much stock into it. From what I have heard, Sir Catherine is known for her occasional dalliance with her allies.” Hubert said, readying to leave. “I do hope the shock of all that leaves you quickly, Lady Edelgard. It can’t be too long before others notice your change in demeanor, as I have.” He opened the door, turning and bowing to her highness. “ I bid you a good day, Lady Edelgard. Alert me if there is anything you need.”

“Thank you, Hubert. I shall, and a good day to you as well.” Edelgard said. The door latched shut and she sighed to herself, collapsing onto her bed again as she looked up at the ceiling. Perhaps she was overreacting. But she couldn’t make herself understand why.

She sighed again, remembering her appointment with the Archbishop in a short while and that she’d have to leave the comfortable bed beneath her. She stood and walked to the bathing room, grabbing a bundle of clothes and readying to clean the muck of the day off of her.

 

After their meeting with the Archbishop, Byleth and Edelgard walked toward the dining hall. Their reassurance to the Archbishop that they’d been properly investigating and preparing for the events to come took a while longer than had originally been expected, and they were readying to serve dinner. All of the Eagles were gathered around the table, and every single one of them was looking at Catherine.

“Come on, Catherine! You can’t really expect us to believe that.” Leonie said, staring at the woman.

“There’s no way on earth you took on twenty bandits at once.” Ferdinand echoed, arms crossed and head shaking in disbelief.

“Well, you can ask one of my men. But let me finish the story you brats. So there I am, in the middle of some little bandit squat on the outskirts of the territory of house Frauldarious, half my men are unconscious and the other half are chasing some deserters into the woods, and that leaves me stuck with the entire rest of the camp all on my own. Now, a few of them were stupid and tried to charge me one on one while their boys were still getting their heads in order, so I was able to thin the heard a bit before the real melee happened, but right as i chopped one big bearded bastards head off, I hear one of them scream ‘charge the bitch’ at the top of his lungs, and they’re all on me at once. I felt like the only virgin in a whore house. So I end up seeing there's two scraggly archers holding some short swords, and I figure they probably don’t know how to use them. Probably just pulled them off of one of their buddies corpses, right? Well, I charge right at them, screaming at the top of my lungs, and immediately they drop their blades and run. So now that I have a gap in their wall, I take advantage and jump through it, turn around and use Thunderbrand’s special attack to slice down five of the bastards at once.” Catherine gestured to the blade, which glowed faintly red on her back. Ashe was looking at the woman, and Byleth couldn’t quite read what was going on behind the somber student’s eyes. It looked almost like jealousy, or perhaps longing? “So I jump out of the way of one guys arrow, and just smash another guy head in with the handle of old Thunderbrand. Dude goes down and his buddies are shaking in their boots. I just keep coming at them, and by the time one guy thinks to cut shit and run, he’s the last one standing and I am already on him. My boys come back from the woods, and see then entire camp was done for, and I swear that was the first and only time Fredrique didn’t give me shit on the walk back from a mission.” Catherine smiled at Byleth as the professor took her seat at the head of the table and Edelgard took her usual spot beside the professor.

“How’d the meeting go?” Ashe asked, looking away from Catherine.

“Well enough. Lord Seteth has finally come to terms with the fact we are in fact somewhat competent, and are investigating and preparing for the Rite of Rebirth properly.” Edelgard said. Those were the first words she had said since they’d left the audience chamber, nearly 15 minutes prior.

“There you go, now you’re starting to actually pay attention.” Sothis praised, however sarcastically from the back of Byleth’s mind. The servers started bringing out the plates from the main kitchen, and the class began devouring them.

Catherine though dining with the Eagles was, all-in-all, pretty pleasant. She told a few more stories about her adventures, with only a bit of embellishment on her part. After the meal was over and as the students filtered out of the dining room, Catherine stood to leave.

“Hey, Catherine, are you gonna be joining us next session too?” Caspar asked, a bright grin on his face.

“I should be, as long as I don’t go pissing off your professor.” Catherine said, earning a hearty laugh from Caspar and a few scattered chuckles from the likes of Linhardt and Ferdinand.

“If you managed to actually make the professor angry, i’d pay to see it.” Ferdinand piped in. “I don’t think I've ever seen Professor Eisner’s face change expression in all these months.”

“That’s not true, Ferdinand.” Hubert said, a smirk on his face. “She has a wide range of emotions, she has stoic, non-expressive, aloof, passionless, apathetic, the list goes on and on.” That managed to get the table erupting, even drawing a restrained giggle from Edelgard.

“Heh, I didn’t know Vestras were capable of humor. Glad to see you can relax a little, Hubert.” Catherine said, patting the young man on the shoulder turning his smirk into a scowl. That drew even stronger laughs from the table as Catherine walked out of the hall.

“Oh, you sure have her fooled Hubie.” Dorothea said, giggling. Hubert rolled his eyes and stood to drop off his dishes. Byleth did the same soon after, leaving the dining hall. She walked to her classroom and saw the lights already lit from the windows. She opened the door to see Catherine, leaned back in the chair behind Byleth’s desk, grinning smugly.

“So, where do you want to move the desk?” Catherine asked, her smirk nearly splitting her face. Byleth closed the door behind her, locking it with one hand and walking towards the knight. She shoved the desk aside, as if it were made of nothing but plywood, and straddled Catherine’s lap as she remained, slightly wide eyed, in the chair. Byleth grabbed her by her collar and pulled the woman into a kiss.

Catherine had been reading into the professor’s request exactly as much as she was meant to.

 

The next morning, Byleth crawled out of bed, bright and early. She walked to the public bathing hall, which was tucked away in the same building as the sauna, and bathed quickly to help sooth her aching muscles. Between the training the day before, and her more rigorous activities after dinner, her body was sore and bruised.

Once she had cleaned herself off, she dressed in her usual Sunday attire, her same tunic and pants but without her armor. There was however one difference.

She’d gone so far as to have grabbed a pair of plain black leather boots from one of the market stalls between training and her meeting with the archbishop yesterday. She had been feeling rather awkward, stomping around in heavy steel boots only to go sit and drink tea.

“Hmmmm, new shoes? My oh my you really are dressing to the nines. Nice to see you putting a bit of effort into your appearance for once. Maybe next you can try taming that mess of a head of hair you have.” Sothis said, appearing before Byleth as the professor finished sliding the boots on.

“I’m simply trying to make sure my armored boots last longer by not wearing them when they aren’t necessary.” Byleth retorted, looking at herself in the mirror and thinking she looked rather good.

“Mhmmmm, and why had you not thought to do that before?” Sothis asked,

“It simply wasn’t necessary. I spent much less time outside of combat.” Byleth shot back.

“Hmmmmmm, perhaps.” Sothis giggled to herself. This woman was utterly useless.

Byleth rolled her eyes and sat at the desk in her room, looking at the small, barely legible list of lecture topics she had been continually adding to over the weeks, trying to decide what to prepare for tomorrow. She settled on stealth combat, and began preparing some notes. After a while she began digging through the stacks of papers looking for Bernadetta’s essay on the topic. She dug and dug and dug, and finally found it.

It was right around that time that she heard the bell toll 3 pm. Byleth looked up from her notes, and saw the mid-afternoon sun. That was odd, Edelgard had always been there by at the latest noon to go for tea. She put down the stack of paper she’d been rifling through, and felt a strange ache in the pit of her stomach.

“Ok...maybe something is going on.” Byleth said, more to herself than to Sothis but the goddess heard it nonetheless.

“Finally, you stubborn ass. I’ve been waiting for you to get it through your head.” Sothis was clearly rather pleased with herself.

“Well, fine, now what?” Byleth asked.

“Hmmmmm, well why don’t you try going to her? Perhaps she was tired of being the one to come to you. Or she could think she was imposing on you? Try grabbing a pot of tea and going to see if she wants some.”

“Do you think that will work?” Byleth asked.

“Well, I'm not omniscient, but you know what is the great thing about this situation?” Sothis asked.

“What?”

“If it doesn’t work, I can simply turn back time!” Sothis yelled into Byleth’s mind, giving her a headache.

“Fine, I’ll go get a pot of tea.” Byleth muttered, storming out her door. This child in her mind was going to be the death of her one day, she could swear it.

She went to the kitchen, and walked to one of the men standing in the kitchen behind the counter. It was an older man, and Byleth recognized him as the same cook she’d been grabbing tea from for nearly a month now.

“Good afternoon, Nikita. Can I get the usual?” Byleth requested, lost in her own thoughts.

“Morning, professor. Will do. Just the tea or will you be needing sweets?” He asked, walking over to the sink and filling a kettle before placing it on the stove.

“Raspberry tarts if you have them.” Byleth said, leaning forward and resting her elbows on the counter as she waited. Those seemed to be Edelgard’s favorite, at the very least they were the ones that always went the quickest when they took their tea together. As she stood there, hunched over, a familiar clicking of heels grew closer from behind her.

“Well, hello Professor. Waiting for something?” Manuela asked, walking to Byleth’s side, resting her backside against the counter and crossing her arms. “Or have you just taken to bending over random countertops as a new form of flirting?” Manuela’s grin grew devilish, and Byleth couldn’t help but roll her eyes. She stood and mirrored Mauela’s pose.

“Just waiting for a pot of tea.” Byleth said. Manuela sniffed the air and smiled.

“Ah, a refill for you and miss Hresvelg?” Manuela asked, recognizing the scent of fresh Bergamot. It wasn’t to her taste, but it was well known that the empress-to-be always took Bergamot on Sundays. If what Dorothea had been telling her was true, the professor had become a regular attendee of her Sunday tea as well.

“Not a refill, first pot of the day.” Nikita said, a knowing smile on his face as he looked over at the buxom professor.

“Oh, why such a late start?” Manuela asked, praying for something juicy to discuss at her next session with Dorothea.

“Your guess is as good as mine.” Byleth shrugged.

“Oh? Some trouble between you and the princess?” Manuela pried.

“Not sure. She has seemed distant this past week, and she ended up leaving our meeting last week to try to make it to her appointment with you. Sorry about that by the way.” Byleth said. Maneula looked at her, confusion evident on her face even to Byleth. “Manuela?”

“Edelgard didn’t have an appointment with me last Sunday. I haven’t seen the girl at all this year. I’ve been meaning to speak to her about that.” Byleth furrowed her brow, and Manuela could swear that was the first expression she’d ever seen the professor make.

“That....is rather concerning than.” Byleth said. Nikita sat a small box of pastries and a pot of tea in front of the professors.

“Saucers and cups’r in the box Professor. Have a happy Sunday.” He said.

“Thank you, and you as well.” Byleth said, grabbing the two things and walking off to the dorms. Manuela followed the professor with her eyes, and smiled.

“She really does have a nice ass.” Manuela mumbled to herself.

“Can i help you ma’am?” Nikita asked, coldly. Manuela laughed awkwardly and shook her head, muttering a weak “no, but thank you” as she left.

 

Edelgard heard a heavy knock on the door to her room, and moved from her desk to answer it. She took a quick moment to cover the rather messy sketchbook she had been focused on, and opened the door.

“Can I help...oh, hello professor.” Edelgard's expression started as bored, and when she saw the professor standing there, tea pot in hand, she looked a bit embarrassed.

“Care to join me for tea?” Byleth asked, holding out the teapot on two of her fingers. Edelgard sighed and crossed her arms.

“I suppose.” She said, seeing as she wasn’t sure she’d be able to make up a good enough excuse to say no. Byleth handed her the box, which she took politely and the two walked down to their usual spot. Byleth grabbed one chair and pulled it out, gesturing for Edelgard to take it. She did so, and set the box on the table. Byleth set the teapot down and took a seat across from her.

“The cups and saucers are..”

“In the box, yes I know.” Edelgard said, cutting Byleth off as she opened the box. She went quiet as she saw the small pile of red tarts next to the drinkware. “Oh...you got…”

“Raspberry.” Byleth said, finally being the one who got to cut someone else off for once. “I figured from the way they disappear when we have our tea, they must be a favorite.” Byleth said, reaching over and grabbing the cups and tiny plates. She was beyond caring if she was being unmannerly by reaching across the table. She set the dishes down and began pouring out two cups of tea, sliding one to her student.

“That’s very kind of you, professor.” Edelgard mumbled, looking at her tea and refusing to meet Byleth’s eyes.

“You sound surprised by that.” Byleth remarked, taking a sip of her tea, clutching the mug in her hand like she had the first time they’d taken their tea together. She was shocked when she heard no comment from the heiress about her manners.

“I didn’t mean to say it like that, I just meant I didn’t realize you were paying that much attention.” Edelgard said tersely, taking a sip from her own cup.

“What do I always say in lecture?” Byleth asked, leaning forward and resting her elbows on the table, again no comment from the princess. Edelgard just sighed.

“Read every situation as if your life may depend on its smallest detail, because many times it will.” Edelgard muttered. Byleth nodded, she set her cup onto the table, right beside the saucer however not on top of it.

“Exactly.” Byleth said. The heiress chewed her cheek for a moment and finally snapped.

“Are you really so uncultured that after all this time you’ve forgotten how to use your damned saucer?!” The Hresvelg asked, gesturing at Byleth’s cup as she looked up from her own and stared the professor down. Byleth looked right back, blue eyes meeting lilac and holding solid. Byleth was almost certain that was the first time she’d seen Edelgard’s eyes directly in a whole week. The professor let out a quick burst of air from her nose that almost sounded like a chuckle.

“Perhaps, however my lack of ‘culture’ aside, I'm not an idiot.”

“That’s yet to be seen.” Edelgard shot back.

“Edelgard, why have you been avoiding me?” Byleth asked

“I….”

“Don’t deny it. I haven’t heard more than a sentence at a time from you in a week, you have refused to hold eye contact, and you ignored two ‘mannerly’ failures that a week ago would’ve earned me at the very least a comment. You ran off from last week's tea for an appointment that didn’t exist, and then this? Something is bothering you.” Byleth said plainly.

Edelgard sat back in her chair, crossing her legs and resting her hands in her lap as she pondered how to respond. The Professor just sat there, looking at her with that same piercing gaze as she drank her tea. It was so strange to see someone looking at her who was both plainly able to read her but impossible to be read herself. She was used to prying nobles who could not proclaim their ulterior motives louder if they wrote them across their face, and yet Byleth seemed to either have none or be very good at hiding them. Edelgard wasn’t sure which was scarier. She sighed and figured there was no point in lying.

“I saw you and Catherine last week, in the arena.” Edelgard said, looking at the Professor over the rim of her tea cup as she took a sip. Byleth looked at her for a moment and shrugged making a small ‘hm’ sound in the back of her throat.

“ Well, that would explain a bit of it.. My apologies that what you saw bothered you so much. I do hope you knowing that I’m a lesbian doesn’t hurt your view of me too terribly. ” Byleth gestured with her cup as she apologized. She took another drink and sighed, thinking over her words carefully. “If you’d like to discontinue our tea sessions from this point on, I’d fully respect that. But I’d appreciate actually being informed of that, as opposed to simply being ignored and avoided.” Byleth said, setting her cup on the saucer and pouring another. Edelgard was shocked by the lack of reaction, and blushed a bit, embarresed at the comments about not wanting to take tea with her for being a lesbian.

“No, professor, it’s nothing to do with who you were...involved with, I didn’t mean to imply any sort of it was just a matter of….are you really just so casual about hearing that?” Edelgard asked.

“Why would I not be?” Byleth asked. The sincerity of the question shocked Edelgard.

“I walked in on you and Catherine in the middle of you making love, in a public training ground!? Does that not seem like a rather personal affair? A violation of privacy?” Edelgard asked, not understanding how the Professor could be so cavalier.

“Edelgard, that was not ‘making love’.” The princess looked even more confused, as if Byleth had begun speaking Dagdan. “Perhaps it’s simply just a difference in how we were both raised. It doesn’t bother me because what that was was not loving, or even very personal. Yes, we had sex, and it’s true a more private location may have been better, but the reason I’m not bothered is that all that was was Catherine and I...‘releasing steam’ for lack of better term. Knights,mercenaries, even officers, lead lives that don’t give much space for romance. As such, casual affairs such as that aren’t exactly uncommon. Walking in on them is also not uncommon. I had my fair share of accidental interruptions of my comrades when I traveled with the Brigade. But don’t worry about my ‘privacy’. There’s less and less of that the more time you spend with a unit.” Byleth set her cup down. “But, that doesn’t answer the other part of my question.” She said, pouring Edelgard a second cup.

“Which is?” Edelgard asked, nodding in thanks as she took another sip.

“Why did you run off last week? Manuela said she hasn’t had an appointment with you at all year so far.” Byleth said, not accusatory, but concerned.

“I…” Edelgard went quiet, but a very different type of quiet to how she had been before.

“Was it something I did?” Byleth asked.

“No...it just...well, it may be somewhat, I guess?” Edelgard floundered for her words. “I just...my mother is a sore topic of conversation for me, and last week I ended up getting so wrapped up in our conversation that I didn’t even realize I'd been talking about her. Then when you asked about her opinion on life in the empire, I realized….I don’t know. I never got to know how she felt about her life. I don’t know much of anything about her, and truth be told I never will.” Edelgard said, looking at the tea in her cup as her eyes felt that familiar sting. She rubbed her cheek, and Byleth could just sit there.

“Don’t just sit there! Do something you idiot! ” Sothis chided.

Byleth scooted her chair closer, resting a hand on Edelgard's shoulder. She opened her mouth to speak, but hesitated as she tried to think of what to say.

“I...I never really knew my mom either. Jeralt always told me she died in combat a while after I was born. I don’t know if that’s true, but she was dead by the time I was old enough to ask.” Byleth said, weakly praying that was at least somewhat helpful. “I’m sorry my question dug at an old wound.” Byleth finished. Edelgard was silent, breathing as calmly as she could, her cheeks slick.

They stayed there for a minute, Edelgard just crying as Byleth tried her best to support her while having no idea what she was doing or what her student was going through. After a long while, Edelgard finally took a deep breath, coughed a bit and then began speaking.

“I….thank you professor.”

“No thanks necessary, Edelgard.” Byleth said, patting her shoulder as she scooted her chair away and back to its original place. After a while of sitting, sipping their tea quietly, they began their usual chatting over random nonsense from the week. At first, transitioning from that rather somber moment to casual conversation was a bit awkward, but soon enough they were back to the same old routine. Edelgard devoured the pastries ravenously, and soon enough they were discussing everything from training strategies to debating over whether an axe or a gauntlet was better for fighting a lance-wielder, to discussing the latest gossip out of the empire. As the sun began to set, Byleth and Edelgard began packing away the remnants of their tea and pastrieS and carried it all back to the kitchen. They proceeded on their way to the dorms.

“So does that mean you’d like to continue our Sunday tea?” Byleth asked. Edelgard nodded.

“Yes, I would like that. I just...will admit it was a bit difficult trying to talk to you after all of that, but I will also say that it’s preferable to not speaking to you at all.” Edelgard said, a peaceful smile cresting her lips as she bid the professor goodbye.

Chapter Text

Chapter 9

A few weeks later and the night of the Rite had finally arrived. Byleth was sat in one of the pews of the Cathedral with her head bowed. She wasn’t praying however as both of her eyes were open and staring at the entrance to the hallway leading to the catacombs. Edelgard was in the same faux-worship pose, sat next to Byleth so they could communicate freely and plan until it was time to move.

Byleth and the Hresvelg had returned to their usual routine over the past two weeks. Edelgard had quit avoiding the professor like she was the plague, their Sunday tea returned to its usual time, and she had thankfully returned to being engaged in the lessons since their conversation.

Byleth sighed and shook her head gently, she needed to focus on the task at hand. However that was hard with the constant droning on of Rhea’s voice as she delivered the Rite at the head of the Cathedral. Byleth had been fading in and out of listening to it for the past hour they’d been sat there, and it just seemed to go on even longer. She would occasionally look up and catch a glimpse of Catherine, stood in her full armor with her sword held out in front of her, tip pressed to the ground and both hands on the grip as she watched over Rhea from beside the entrance to the hallway that led into the Catacombs below. Byleth did feel her boredom ease a bit as she saw the blonde woman.

Catherine adjusted her shoulders slightly, the weight of her armor and the position of her arms making the joints feel rather strained. She wasn’t complaining however as she listened attentively to the Rite being delivered. No matter how many years she worked with Lady Rhea she still couldn’t help but be entranced by her beauty. However this time was different. The questions she still had yet to ask clouded it ever so slightly. She’d been trying to find a time to speak to Lady Rhea about what Ashe’s father had said, but the time never came up. Or perhaps it would be better said that when it did pop up Catherine never managed to find the courage to ask.

“...And the goddess put upon Seiros the most divine of quests. That she may build in this world a holy union, a world of peace and harmony built on not greed or willful disobedience but on unity of all of the people who would listen to the goddess’s kind words. Seiros was set upon the chaotic, hedonistic mess that was the world as the goddess knew that that is all the world would ever be under man’s will alone. Seiros took the Holy Word of the Goddess, and with it she brought the people of Fodlan together under her watchful gaze…”

Byleth returned to ignoring the sermon as she saw Petra run up the hallway she and Edelgard had been watching. Almost in unison the entirety of the Black Eagle class, which had been scattered amongst the other people observing Rhea from the pews, stood and moved towards the hallway.

Catherine held her position, cracking a smile and nodding to Byleth as she walked by. Caspar walked past, sneaking a quick “low-five” from the knight. Catherine couldn't help but smile even wider. She whispered a quick “Kick their asses” to Petra as she passed as well, earning a grin from the woman, as well as the girls standing on either side of her. Catherine was never the best with names, but she thought she remembered those two were Bernadetta and Dorothea. The rest of the students walked past her a moment later and she noticed the Hresvelg girl go a bit red, but actually nod and acknowledge her. She almost chuckled, as she was rather certain she knew why the empress was blushing, Byleth having told her about the heiress walking in on their ‘little indiscretion’ and all.

The students ran down the hallway, pulling their weapons from slings and sheaths as Byleth stormed towards the heavy wooden double doors.

“Professor, the intruder locked the doors from their inside!” Petra let Byleth know.

She nodded, and let out a deep grunt as she stopped and smashed the heel of her boot right between the large ornate handles of the double doors, smashing her way inside. The doors flung open and the class followed their instructor deeper into the catacombs. They poured out of the stairwell, weapons at the ready.

The Catacombs were carved out of the very stone, with ornately etched pillars that reached up into the tall ceiling. There was a long, wide open foyer that was lined on either side by two parallel rows of coffins, leading up to a larger raised area where several far more ornate coffins stood proudly. At the exact opposite end of the chamber stood a sarcophagus grander than all others near it. Several men in dark robes and strange, twisted bird-like masks stood around it trying to pry it open.

Most foreboding however was the figure in the dead center of the room. Directly in the way of the Eagle’s path to those robed intruders sat a man in black armor with a helmet in the effigy of a skull. He sat astride a black horse, and in his left hand he held a long scythe. All around him, among the coffins and pillars that made up the dusty and cobwebbed catacombs, stood more men in long ornate robes.

“And so, you have arrived.” The man said in a long, metallic groan more than an actual spoken sentence. “Step forward and die if you so wish, or turn back and escape with your life. It matters not to me.” The grim figure said, raising his scythe.

“Professor, those men are tampering with the Tomb of Seiros, we must stop them at once!” Edelgard said, stepping forward. Byleth held her arm out, blocking the girl's path. “Professor this is no time to…”

“Edelgard, be quiet.” Byleth said, taking her short sword from her belt and stabbing down where Edelgard’s foot had meant to step. The blade was a loud clang of metal smashing against metal, and suddenly a large metallic bear trap was clearly visible wrapped around the professor's blade. Edelgard went a bit red.

“Oh…”

“Walk softly and move in groups.” Byleth ordered. “Edelgard, Leonie, Ashe, follow me. Everyone else, watch after each other and avoid the knight as best as you can. You need help, call for it. Go!” And like that the Eagles took off. Byleth led her small group to charge the right side of the room, and the rest charged around the left. The reaper didn’t move towards either group, and for that Byleth was grateful. Even she could feel the strange energy wafting off of that armor.

Byleth’s group made quick work of clearing the first section of the Catacombs. While Ashe and Leonie went to take on a pair of archers, she ran at the nearest monk and plowed her fist into the side of his head. The bone could be felt as it cracked and shifted under her knuckles, sending the monk sprawling on top of one of the larger stone graves. Blood started to trickle down the side, dribbling onto the floor where it began to pool.

She turned in time to see Edelgard drop out of the way of a Thoron blast, the bright white beam of light passing over her head by centimeters. She leapt back up and charged at the monk who’d launched the spell. She swung her axe from below, and the blade cut through his robes with ease. A weak gasp could be heard as the axe head slashed through muscle and tendon, seeming to go under the ribs, perhaps smashing through one or two before finally lodging in the mans lung.

As Edelgard struggled with pulling her axe from the chest of the dead monk, Leonie and Ashe both ran back to them with their weapons dripping in fresh blood.

“Professor, their numbers are already dwindling, and the man in the armor seems to be remaining where he is.” Ashe reported quickly. Byleth nodded.

“Good. Let’s make this quick then, and try to take on the knight all against one.” Byleth ordered. They ran towards the next pack of mages, while on the other side of the room, Ferdinand slashed at a monk with his sabre, leaving a long gash across the chest of the quickly blood-soaked robes. Hubert sent a fire blast after the same mage, sending him careened back. As he lay there, twitching on the floor, Hubert went to attack another monk, who was standing off in the distance. He had just pulled his arm back to cast the flames forward when he felt something grab his shirt collar and pull him back. Suddenly the bright beam of a Thoron blast passed by, less than two feet in front of him. Hubert turned to see Ferdinand with a fist full of his collar.

“For someone who prides themselves in being tactful you sure aren’t very perceptive.” Ferdinand joked, letting go of Hubert's shirt.

“Well, perhaps if I didn’t have to try and discern between an enemy fire blast and the unruly mess you call a haircut it would be easier to dodge them.” Hubert shot back. Ferdinand smiled.

“Why would you ever want to dodge my haircut?” Hubert groaned, launching a wind spell at an enemy monk and abandoning the conversation.

Petra sent an arrow into the chest of an approaching monk, which was followed by another arrow from Bernadetta’s bow. Finally a large spike of dark energy pierced through the monks body, sending him to the grave. Dorothea and Bernadetta smiled to each other as Petra knocked another arrow. The three women stood besides eachother, Petra and Berny with their bows, while Dorothea held a dagger in her hand, just in case anyone got too close. Petra turned to face the other two.

“That was great team working! Now let’s move and make it certain that the professor has assistance if needed.” They both nodded, and the trio moved towards the last few mages remaining.

It was moments after that when Dorothea saw, almost in slow motion, as Edelgard charged towards a mage to the north while another one to the east sent a large miasma blast directly towards the princess.

“Edie! Look out!” Dorothea said, but it was already too late. The pulsing green ball of energy smashed into the side of Edelgard’s head, bursting into a cloud of purple gas. The poor girl fell to the ground, and whether she was unconscious or dead no one could tell just by looking.

That same mage was already preparing another blast, and if the first spell hadn’t killed the princess then this one absolutely would. Dorothea looked around, panicked as the two women beside her both took aim and fired at the monk, but both of her allies' arrows missed their marks. Her magic wouldn’t reach that far, Dorothea was certain, and she had no weaponry beyond her single dagger. She tried to think of something, anything.

After a moment she found a memory of the Mock Battle popping to mind, and it was as if a candle was lit above her head. Dorothea flipped her grip on the knife, now holding it with her fingertips on the flat sides of the blade, and whipped her arm back as she focused her energy towards a wind spell. She prayed silently for this to work, and lobbed the knife forward. A mighty wind took off behind the blade and sent it flying, or more accurately spinning, at the mage.

It didn’t go exactly as planned, but the handle of the dagger smashed into the invaders forehead and left him dazed for just a moment. But that moment was all they needed. By the time he’d been able to regain his senses, Professor Eisner was upon him. The behemoth of a woman tackled him to the ground and began smashing his head between the cold stone floor and her iron fist.

By the time the professor had finished him off, his head was more akin to a pile of gore than any kind of ‘skull’. The other mages were quickly dealt with by the unoccupied students, except for the one who was at this very moment fiddling with the casket. Byleth approached as a loud crack resonated throughout the chamber. The monk threw open the tomb and pulled out a large sword, one that to many of the student’s horror seemed as if it were crafted from bone, monstrous and misshapen bone.

Byleth felt a sharp crack of pain through her mind, and reached up to cradle her head in her hands. Her iron clad fingers clutched at the sides of her head. She didn’t know how long she stood like that, but she felt a blade digging into her arm and pulled back, both to reality and away from the pain. She swatted out at the now-bloodied blade, knocking it away, out of the mages hands and onto the ground. The blade seemed to glow a subtle red along previously unseen seems in the blade, but this was lost on everyone in the room besides the man sat atop the horse in the middle of the chamber.

Byleth charged forward, grabbing the mage by his collar and hefting him up into the air. The man’s feet dangled limply off the ground as she walked forward and slammed him down at the edge of the tomb, smacking his head against the base. She grabbed the lid of the tomb and began hefting it up before letting go and dropping it onto the dazed man's head. The crunch of bone beneath stone rang throughout the echoing stone chamber.

Byleth turned, fists at the ready to face off against the armored knight, but she hesitated as she heard an echoey, metallic sound that she could swear was a laugh.

“So, the Sword of the Creator has a taste for your blood. Then we have something in common.” He went silent, and after a flash of red light he was gone. Byleth looked around quickly, worried he was intent to teleport somewhere behind her, but it appeared he had well and truly vanished.

Byleth let her arms drop as she went to Edelgard, who was still motionless on the ground. The professor quickly began checking to make sure if there was any serious injury to her neck or signs of fracture in her skull. Both parts, however, seemed intact. She pressed a finger to the girl's wrist and felt the thump of blood traveling through her veins. She rolled Edelgard onto her back, and could not see the girl’s chest rise. She pressed her ear to Edelgard’s rib cage, and heard a slow but present thumping sound, along with the occasional whoosh of air in and out of her longs. She was breathing. The breaths were slow and shallow, certainly, but she was still breathing.

“Um, Professor, what are you doing to Edie?” Dorothea asked as she approached with the rest of the class.

“Dorothea, quit being weird. The professor’s just trying to make sure she’s ok.” Leonie said as she walked over, carrying the large and bloody bone blade that had been pulled from the tomb moments before. The glow had long since faded from the blade before any of them had any opportunity to see it. “Professor,I grabbed this off the ground.” she said, handing over the sword. Byleth took it and put it into her belt. She had little need for blades, and her short sword took up much less space, so there was little about it that interested her beyond it’s morbid design. Byleth went back to the fallen student and reached down. She knelt down and lifted Edelgard’s head slightly, sliding one arm under her shoulders and using her elbow to brace the girls neck. She hooked her other arm underneath the crook of Her student’s knees, and began to pick her up.

“Professor, I would very much advise you…” Hubert began, his voice coming out much more aggravated then he had intended.

“Hubert, I’m really not very interested in your advice right now. ” Byleth said bluntly, lifting Edelgard into her arms with ease. As she adjusted the young woman, a small army of knights poured into the catacombs through the same stairwell they had exited not much earlier. Alois led the charge and, seeing the bloodbath that surrounded the rather relaxed looking Eagle’s, grew a rather horrified expression.

“You… are you all ok?” He asked, surveying the bloody mess that had been made of one of the churches most holy sites.

“Is anyone else injured?” Byleth asked as she turned to face her students. They all made some gesture of ‘no’. Ferdinand simply shook his head no, Caspar held a thumb up, Petra patter herself down for a moment, as if looking for some missed wound, and Hubert glared at her with such utter contempt she figured he must be his usual self. “We’re fine, Alois. All but one of us that is. I'm taking my student to Manuela’s infirmary. Please inform the Archbishop that if she wants her report tonight I’ll be giving it there. If not, then I’ll report to the Audience Chambers in the morning.” Byleth said.

“OK?” Alois muttered as he gave her a rather shocked expression, but raised no protest. Byleth nodded and again looked to her students.

“You did well today, all of you. Take tomorrow off to rest, and you’re free to go.” Several students smiled, except for Hubert and Dorothea. As the other students moved to leave, the songstress hung back for just a moment, looking at the unconscious woman in Byleth’s arms with concern evident on her face.

“Just… please be careful with her, Professor.” Dorothea said before walking away. , Byleth began making her way towards the stairwell, and Hubert remained with her as she walked out of the catacombs, through the now empty church, and towards campus. About halfway across the bridge to the main office, Byleth finally spoke up.

“If you’re going to insist on following me, at the very least stand here with me and don’t trail behind like a common mugger, Hubert. It’s beneath you.” The Vestra let out a displeased chuckle.

“You really are insufferable, Professor. Are you aware of that?” He said as he walked a bit closer. Byleth sighed and paused her walking.

“I’ve been told similar before, yes.” She said, as if commenting on the weather.

“Yet you insist on remaining so infuriatingly stubborn.” Hubert chastised. The weight of the Hresvelg in her arms was causing a cramp in her shoulder, so Byleth hefted Edelgard a bit higher, adjusting her weight as she listened to Hubert’s diatribe.

“Hubert, I’m just trying to get her to the infirmary. How about, for one goddess forsaken moment, you give me the slightest bit of understanding as opposed to simply scowling at me like some displeased child. Once I'm not carrying a future emperor you can chastise me to your heart's content. Can you at least agree to that?” Byleth asked, exasperated. Hubert gave a short ‘hmph’ in reply, but his scowl smoothed out into something more expressionless, and Byleth figured it was something.

 

Edelgard felt herself bobbing up and down slowly, occasionally jostling a bit to one side or the other as the sensation continued. She felt warm, as if she were laying atop a furnace. The heat sunk into her aching muscles and bones. It made her feel comfortable. She adjusted herself without even thinking, pressing herself a bit harder against the warm mass around her. As she breathed, slowly in and out, she caught the scent of something familiar, Lavender mixed with soil and salt. It was strange, but it made her feel safe, at least for a moment.

That moment ended as she realized there was something behind her back and underneath her legs, something dense and long...arms, there were arms underneath her. She was being carried.
Edelgard’s eye opened immediately and her fist swung out. She didn’t know nor did she care who or what was carrying her, but she felt her knuckle meet the side of something’s jaw, then the arms beneath her drop away.

She managed to land on her feet, and broke into a dead sprint in the opposite direction. She heard footsteps and yelling behind her, so she ran even faster. The world passed by her in a blur as she began rounding around one corner, and then another, and then another. She was not so much taking in her surroundings, as she was just looking for anything resembling a gap or turn she could jump through, escape through, turn down, or use to try and find her way out. She had to find her way out.

 

 

As soon as Byleth had taken her students into the Catacombs, Catherine began actively preparing for the moment Lady Rhea had completed her Rite. When she did, Catherine walked towards her and began leading Rhea to the door. Her job was to guard the Archbishop, and it was a job she was more than happy to fulfill.

The two moved quickly down the bridge, up the stairs, and to Lady Rhea’s main office where several other knights stood guard. While Byleth and her students dealt with the intruders, the knight’s would hold this location like a fortress within a fortress to protect the Archbishop. Catherine led Lady Rhea into the office, and the knights sealed the doors closed behind them, leaving them alone. Catherine made sure Lady Rhea was comfortable seated before dropping herself into a chair of her own with a heavy thud and a sigh.

“Now we just wait to be retrieved by Lord Seteth, My Archbishop..” Catherine said, looking towards the door and back to the Archbishop. The seafoam-green haired woman pat the knight’s hand gently as she spoke.

“Thank you, Catherine. You and your knights have done well.” Rhea said with a soft smile. Catherine felt her heart skip a beat, and a grin of her own grew on her lips. The Archbishop pulled her hand away, and as time passed that grin faded into a dull frown. Rhea looked at her, concerned. “Is something the matter, Sir Catherine?”

“....No...well….I need to ask you something. It’s about Cristophe.” The knight said, her voice clearly a bit nervous. Lady Rhea held her same smile, but Catherine felt like something had left it. What had once felt warm and welcoming now felt cold, isolating. She was certain however she was merely seeing something where there was nothing and losing herself to nerves.

“Whatever could you need to know about Cristophe, dear Catherine?” Rhea asked, pulling her hand up and resting it on the knight’s shoulder. Catherine sighed, and wondered if she should drop the subject. Cristophe was long dead, so it was beyond unimportant, what was the bother? But then she thought of Ashe, and knew eventually she’d need to answer the kid’s questions.

“I want to ask you about something Lonato said during his insurrection. He blathered on about Cristophe having saved my life, but I have no memory of anything like that. I know it was likely just him lost in his own delusions, but I thought maybe if anyone might know anything for certain, it would be you.” Catherine rambled on, her words finally trailing off.

“Well, Lonato was indeed a man long lost from the path of sense. But he was not entirely wrong in this case. Cristophe was indeed involved with helping to pull you from the flames of that awful fire you were trapped in after that abysmal failure of a mission all those years ago. However to characterize that as ‘saving your life’ seems beyond foolish. Cristophe was a good man, however sadly it was that those filthy heathens of the Western Church had mislead him in hopes of overturning the Goddess’s will.” Rhea said.

“He, he what?!” Catherine asked, standing up.

“Yes, don’t you remember?” Rhea asked, lifting her hand to Catherine’s cheek. Catherine felt warmth in the touch, and for just a moment the wonder of that touch helped distract her from the memories of that day. It was nice, feeling Rhea’s touch like this. She felt her heart pining for more but knew she had to hold herself back.

“I...I don’t remember anything about that...I just remember the battle...falling to the ground...and the next thing I remember is waking up to you healing me in the infirmary.” Catherine said weakly.

“Oh dear girl, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. You were so horribly defeated by the bandits, it is not uncommon to have issues with memory after such humiliating loss as that. But try, try to remember” Rhea said, and Catherine felt a pang of guilt through her.

She tried, picking at the bits and pieces she remembers, looking at the shard to try and understand the larger picture. But it had always been such a fractured picture ever since it happened.

She had been just barely an adult back then, a student of the Blue Lion house. It had been their final mission, one last hurrah before their graduation. Catherine had, through her prowess in combat, earned herself an offer of a position as a recruit in the Holy Guard of the king of Faergus. She remembered Cristophe had just recently accepted a position within the Adrestian Empire’s military as well. The two of them had been chattering away, about what she couldn’t remember, and suddenly their group had been attacked by the very same bandits they’d been sent to hunt. The lamp Catherine had been carrying fell when she was attacked, and she was left injured, unconscious, and surrounded by flames.

That used to be where the fragments ended, but as she tried to pry open the memory, to remember anything else she could she started seeing flickers of a memory. What Rhea had said seemed to have sparked something in her. She saw Cristophe through barely opened eyelids as he was dragging her from the flames. She remembered the feeling of hobbling on a likely broken leg as he helped to carry her the long march back to Garreg Mach. Then everything else was the same. She woke up in Lady Rhea’s office, with the Archbishop’s hands engulfed in the green glow of healing magic. She remembered that first moment she saw Rhea’s face, the way her heart beat through her chest as she fell, head over heels in love with the archbishop from the moment she laid eyes on her.

“I...He….He saved me….”Catherine collapsed in her seat, bent over and barely propped up by her elbows on her knees, her hands running through her hair. Rhea rested her hand back on Catherine’s shoulder. The knight’s head hurt and tears streamed down her cheeks.

“Cristophe was a good man. It’s important to remember that even good men can be turned into monsters by those who wish to threaten the Goddess. Just please know, my dearest Catherine, no one blames you for your weakness, your failure. I'm sure there are plenty of people who would’ve made the same awful, awful mistakes. Do not let it haunt you. Make those who lost their lives not have died in vain, but allow them to help to keep on your holy path. Allow them to aid you as you fight all who would wish the Goddess harm, and you will see forgiveness in the Goddess’s love.” Rhea cooed. Catherine nodded, tears flowing down her cheek, illuminated by the dim light of a single candle.

“Y...Yes ma’am.” She said, voice cracking.

“Good girl.” Rhea said, petting Catherine’s hair. She was right. She’d come too far from that day, done too much, given too much. She couldn’t let this shake her resolve, she had to keep going. She allowed herself to bask in the warmth of Rhea’s touch as it seemed to flow through her and flood her entire body. For just a moment she felt at peace.

 

Edelgard panted weakly as she fled for her life. She had to keep going, she wouldn’t go back. No. Never. Never. Not to those cells, not to those damned cells they carried her back to after every single day of their sick experimentation. She would never go back. She’d die before she went back. She’d claw their eyes out. She’d tear their throats out with her teeth. She’d do whatever she had to do to take as many of them to hell with her as she could.

They weren’t going to carry her back to that hell on earth, never again. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never.

Edelgard was torn from her thoughts when she felt herself being pinned against something cold. She screamed and swung out, clawing and hitting at whatever was holding her. She heard something far off in the distance, and slowly the cold sunk into her bones, pulling her mind to come back into focus as the world around her became less familiar, and yet at the same time more.

It was dark, nearly pitch black except for a light coming in from her right. She recognized the door. It wasn’t from the palace, it wasn’t from the dungeon, where was it from? Where had those damned monsters taken her this time?! It took her a moment to realize…It was the door to the classroom.

She started to focus in better, and turned her head to see that the thing pinning her against what she now realized was a wooden support beam was a very sweaty, clearly injured, and quite out of breath Byleth Eisner.

“Edelgard…?” Byleth asked softly, as if testing to see if it were really her or some impostor.

“Pr..professor….what’s going on?” Edelgard asked nervously, her feet felt terrible, and when she looked down she realized her shoes were gone, nowhere to be found.

“You were injured while we were on a mission here on campus. You took a hard hit to the head, and when I was taking you to see Manuela you punched me in the jaw and ran away. You’ve been running me ragged around the campus for hours.” Byleth explained slowly. Edelgard blushed deep red as she realized what had happened. She saw that Byleth had a rather large bruise starting to form along the ridge of their jawline and creeping up her cheek. Beside that were several long scratches, one going over her left eye and several around her cheeks and along her neck.

“But...But I was...I...What….how….but….I...I’m so sorry, Professor.” Edelgard said, realizing her eyes were wet and her cheeks felt raw. How long had she been crying?

“There’s nothing to be sorry for, Edelgard.” Byleth said, tentatively leaning back a bit, hands still on the student’s shoulders. “Are you ok for me to let you go?” She asked tentatively. This wasn’t the first time she’d finally managed to stop Edelgard only for the girl to manage to quite literally claw, or one or twice bite, her way out. However this was by far the most lucid she had been any of those times. The Hresvelg nodded, and Byleth pulled her hands back, stepping away and giving her some space. The heiress sat on the edge of one of the desks, pulling herself up to rest her sore feet. Byleth moved over to a similar spot on the next desk over, turning to face her student. “Edelgard, what’s going on?” She asked, sounding both physically and mentally exhausted for the first time the princess could ever really remember. Edelgard bit her lower lip, playing with her fingers as she tried to think of what to say. She decided it was one of those rare occasions where it would be best to go with the truth.

“I…. You remember what I told you after the Ravine… about my family?”

“Of course. How could I not?” Byleth’s voice was quiet, barely above a hushed whisper, bracing her elbows on her knees and her boots on the seat of the desk.

“Well, I think you should know more. My brothers and sisters and I were dragged beneath the palace after the insurrection of the seven, the coup that turned my father into the weak puppet he is today.” Byleth’s fist clenched, and a loud pop came from a joint in her hand. “There we… we were tortured. Cut open and sewn back together, poked, and prodded. They poured blood and who knows what else from different people, creatures, anything. We were experimented on, all for the sake of trying to imbue us with a major crest above the minor crests many of us already held. The nobility demanded a major crest for the throne of the Empire, and they destroyed not just mine and my siblings but countless innocent people’s lives in their experiments until finally I… I displayed the Crest of Flames, the same crest as that of Nemesis, King of Liberation from all those centuries ago. With that, they ended the experiments, at least on us. But the price was too high. My brothers and sisters are either dead, dying, or in the throws of madness they will never escape.” Edelgard grit her teeth against the tears she felt welling back up in her stinging eyes. “The day I saw the sun for the first time in all those years, I swore I’d burn away the oppressive, destructive system that had forced this pain upon us and so many more of its people in the name of crest and class. I vowed that I would use my reign as Emperor to make this world one where all people have a life worth living, and may determine their own destiny. Where all may stand together as one, united as equals to build a better world.” Edelgard looked at byleth, who sat there, elbows propped on her knees as blank faced as she ever was.

“Who did it?” Byleth asked bluntly.

“Who…?” Edelgard looked a bit confused.

“Who gave the order? Who started the torture?” Byleth asked, and Edelgard saw something passing over her professor’s eyes, as if it were a fog. She could see the muscle in Byleth’s jaw clenched tight.

“The prime minister, and the leading nobles.” Edelgard said. She wasn’t lying, they were the ones who demanded the crest, but she was still not sure if she should test her luck by talking about the others involved in that ordeal.

“Ferdinand’s father?!” Byleth asked, her voice raising as she stood. Edelgard simply nodded.

“Ferdinand doesn’t know, I have made sure. He is not to blame for his father’s crimes.” Byleth sighed at the princess’s words and rested her hand on the handle of her short sword, the other blade at her waist still acting quite cumbersome. She walked away, and Edelgard worried for just a moment that she intended to walk away completely, to leave her in this classroom. It was foolish, but she couldn’t resist the fear.

Byleth walked back and forth however, pacing as she seemed to be having a debate with herself, mouthing words in a whisper far too quiet to be heard. After a while, the Professor turned and knelt down, looking Edelgard in the eye.

“That’s why you hated me when I first came here, isn’t it? You didn’t like me mocking the nobility for an easy life because….”

“Because my life was not easy, nor was my siblings. That was part of it, yes.” Edelgard said, her voice sharp, but her cheeks grew a bit red as she thought about just how much had changed in such a short period. .

“Well...I’m sorry.” Edelgard fealt a tired, weak smile form along her lips. It felt like such a strange sensation to smile while crying.

“There’s nothing to be sorry for, Professor.” Edelgard mumbled. It seemed like such a petty gripe she’d had, now that she looked back at those first few weeks she’d known this strange, emotionless woman.

“I want to help.” Whatever expression was on Edelgard’s face was wiped away, quickly replaced by shock.

“H..help?”

“With your goal. Your fight.” Byleth said, her expression blank as it ever was and her eyes back that unreadable gaze Edelgard found so familiar. “I want to help you make this world better.” Byleth said, offering out her hand.

“And in return?” Edelgard’s suspicion was clear in her voice.

“Nothing. Nothing except that you be willing to accept my help, and the help of your classmates as well.” Byleth said, hand still outstretched.

Edelgard stared for a good long while at the hand, which was bare of any gloves or gauntlets. It was a scarred, calloused hand, much like her own. Was it really any wonder then that it was one of the kindest she could remember having been offered in years? It reminded her of the day Hubert joined her in her crusade all those years ago when they were still barely more than children.

Edelgard sighed, and finally took her professor's hand. Her grip was firm, but it surprised Edelgard how nice the rough skin felt against her own, only separated by the thin silk of her gloves. Edelgard went to stand, and a searing pain stabbed into her feet. Looking down she saw a not-insubstantial pool of blood below where her feet had been dangling while she’d sat on the desk. Byleth helped her stay standing, and to sit back down, but it was clearly more walking wasn’t an option.

“As much as you may hate it, I think you either need to let me carry you to Manuela, or sit here until I can bring her to you.” Byleth said, as she was helping her sit back down. Edelgard thought for a moment, but it wasn’t a hard decision. The dark was not a place she wanted to be alone at this moment.

“...I...you’re still willing to after…” She gestured to Byleth’s jaw.

“What, this? Don’t worry about it. But, my compliments. You throw a hell of a cross. You ought to consider brawling as an area of study.” Byleth said, grabbing under Edelgard's knees and shoulders, just as she had before. Edelgard was bright right as Byleth began lifting her up with ease, but whether that was with embarrassment from being carried or from her recollection of how the professors last ‘brawling lessons’ went was to be seen. Byleth however seemed to have completely missed the potential implications of her comment, but she was rather curious as to what had Sothis laughing so loudly.

It was shocking to Edelgard how little effort Byleth seemed to put into carrying her out of the classroom. She could feel the muscles shifting in her professor's arms and chest beneath her as she was carried to the infirmary. It felt like she was laying on top of taught steel cables, but it was strangely comfortable. Edelgard sighed, and when she breathed in she smelled that same salty lavender and soil scent she’d noticed before. So that really was the professor’s scent on that sleeping bag all those weeks ago. It had been strange to her that first time, but it was actually rather nice as she was exposed to it more. It seemed fitting, but Edelgard struggled to think of why.

“Thank you, Professor.” Edelgard muttered under her breath. She felt so very tired all of a sudden as the adrenaline that she’d been running on started to fade from her veins.

“It’s not a problem. Just don’t crack my jaw this time.” Byleth said back.

“You’re such an ass.” Edelgard mumbled, falling asleep in Byleth’s arms. Byleth looked down once the insults had stopped, and saw the peaceful look on Edelgard's sleeping face. It made her feel strangely warm in a way she didn’t quite recognize. She hadn’t ever noticed just how small the princess actually was.

 

By the time she finally made it to Manuela’s office Seteth and Rhea were already there, standing outside the doors waiting for her. Seteth looked livid.

“Eisner! What is the meaning of this?! Demanding Sir Alois waste his time to ferry some message to us only for it to be a childish demand that we come to you for a report? Then you have the sheer audacity to arrive hours late!” The green haired man ranted.

“Shut up and move.” Byleth muttered as she pushed him out of her way with her shoulder, knocking him aside and softly kicking the bottom of the door behind him, swinging it in slowly.

“Manuela?” Byleth said in what could only be called a loud whisper. The dress-clad professor stood from a desk at the end of the room and began walking towards her. “Shhhh, she took a hit to the head, and ended up having some sort of panic. She spent hours running me ragged around the campus trying to stop her. Her feet are badly torn, likely from the cobblestone. I’m worried if she wakes up and I’m still carrying her I may get another shiner.” Byleth arched her neck, showing the bruise. Manuela gestured towards a cot nearby.

“Lay her there. I’ll tend to her in just a moment.” Manuela whispered back.

“Thank you Professor.” Byleth said, laying Edelgard carefully onto the cot. She nodded to Manuela and left, walking out to greet an even more enraged Seteth and a concerned looking Rhea.

“Miss Eisner I am absolutely livid!” Seteth fumed.

“Really? I couldn’t tell.” Byleth shot back, stepping so close she couldn’t be more than an inch from Seteth’s face. She stood just a few centimeters shorter than him, but that gap meant little when Byleth had at least thirty pounds on the man, if not more. “I had an injured student on my hands and you, rather than make yourself of any use, stood in my path and shouted at me. If you don’t want to be pushed aside then learn to do something or get out of my way.” Byleth whispered, her face blank except for the crease in her forehead and the furrow in her brow. “Now, if it’s really been such a damned inconvenience, here’s your report. We won, the intruders lost, every one of them is dead, every one of our people is alive. Oh, and here, take your damned antique back. That’s what they were after. Now leave! I will not have your banshee shriek waking my student in the middle of their treatment.” Byleth practically growled, pulling the blade from her belt and shoving it into the lords hands. Byleth began walking to the stairs.But Seteth and Rhea followed close behind, stopping her in the hall in front of the audience chamber.

“Professor Eisner!” Rhea called after her as they entered the chamber. “Are aware of what this is?” She asked, holding the sword.

“An old sword made of bone? I’d say it’s a relic. Looks a lot like Catherine’s Thunderbrand. But, whatever it is, the people who broke in here for it are dead. Mission accomplished as per instruction.” Byleth replied bluntly. Rhea looked at the Professor, eyes full of concern and disappointment. Seteth was agog.

“That is the Sword of the Creator! A gift from the goddess herself and you toss it around like a training blade!” Seteth scowled as if Byleth had slapped his mother.

“Well, considering I and my students saved it and the rest of the tombs from that pack of monks and their grim reaper friend, maybe you ought to extend some courtesy regarding my ignorance.” Byleth shot back.

“Please, Seteth calm yourself.” Rhea said after resting a hand on his shoulder, and just like that, he took a breath and rubbed the bridge of his nose, his shoulders visibly relaxing.

“Apologies, Archbishop. I lost my temper. Miss Eisner, be more specific. What did the people trying to steal the sword wear?” Seteth inquired.

“It was a group of monks with dark robes and strange bird masks. They also had some man in a skull helmet standing by on a horse, but he never attacked and when all the monks were dead, he disappeared.” Rhea looked even more concerned.

“That sounds like the uniform the Western Church uses for its men, but the skull knight is most unusual, and quite disturbing. Did anything else of interest happen?” Rhea asked, a creep of desperation in her voice as she heard the woman’s grip on the blade tighten. Byleth thought for a moment and shook her head.

“Nothing that comes to mind, ma’am. One of the monks managed to blindside one of my students with a miasma blast and knocked her unconscious, but she’s being attended to by Professor Maneuala.” Rhea looked even more disappointed. Byleth had no idea why. They'd won, hadn’t they?

“Thank you, professor. You’re relieved for the night. Go look after yourself and your students, and rest.” She said, holding the blade in her hands, looking almost forlorn. Byleth bowed to Rhea and began walking away. She had a campus to search.

Chapter Text

Edelgard felt her fingers tangled in Byleth’s short, choppy hair as she held a tight grip on the back of her head. She stood over the woman’s mostly-naked form, herself only wearing her red tights and shorts, while her unbuttoned blouse hung loosely on her shoulders. She could hear the blue haired woman’s desperate panting even with the mattress she was currently having her face shoved into muffling the sound.

The professor’s nude backside was dangled over the side of the bed, and the long, jagged scars that covered her bared skin were not ignored, as Edelgard pressed her lips against the jagged, uneven skin slowly. All the while, she could feel her fingers as they slid in and out of her professor’s wet slit. A loud moan escaped the thick downy bedding pressed to Byleth’s mouth as her fingers continued their motions.In and out, in and out, and in and out over and over again. The moans were almost taunts to the Empress as she tightened her grip on her instructor’s scalp.

Byleth gripped at the bedsheets below her as Edelgard slid her fingers out, drawing a noise that could only be called a whimper from her lips. The noise however was cut off when the grip on her hair wrenched back, and the blue haired woman felt her face being pulled from the mattress. She was left staring at the ceiling as she could feel the woman’s breath on the back of her neck, tickling against her ear.

“Begging already? So unbecoming of you, Professor.” Edelgard whispered as she teased her entrance with her fingers. The grip on the woman’s scalp tightened, and the Empress nipped at the older woman's earlobe before continuing on with her taunting. “But don’t be so restrained, if you want something, beg for it properly.” Her voice made it clear. That was not a suggestion, but an order, and it was one Byleth was very enthusiastic to obey.

“Please...Edelgard please. I need you...” Byleth begged, the humiliation of the entire situation much less important to her than the ache between her thighs.

“Mmmm, louder. Beg me to let you orgasm.” Edelgard ordered again, teasing Byleth’s clitorus with the tip of her finger, still slick with her own wetness. The professor did as she was told, practically screaming.

“Please! I’ll do whatever you want, just stop teasing me!” Byleth begged, and soon enough she felt her student’s fingers slide within her, pausing for just a moment before curling against her walls and pressing firmly against the tight bundle of nerves nestled behind her pubic bone. She felt the fingers press and relax over and over, and before long the grip on her hair was released. She felt herself drop limply onto the bed and proceeded to lay there, her knees shuddering.

Edelgard’s fingers continued curling as she toyed with her professor’s most sensitive spot, and couldn’t help but bite her lip and smile as she heard the muffled moans escaping the woman’s lips. She grabbed the back of Byleth’s neck, holding her in place yet again as the professor clenched around her fingers, and her thighs weakly tried to clamp around her hand. A moment later, and the professor was panting weakly on the bed, legs still dangled over the sides as she felt edelgard’s fingers slip out of her once again. This time, however, she was too exhausted to whimper.

Edelgard straightened out her spine, having been bent over rather awkwardly to manage that position. Once she had finished her little stretch, she took a moment to button one or two of her blouse buttons and then laid herself onto the bed beside the exhausted instructor. She took a moment and cleaned off her fingers with her tongue, smiling a bit as she looked over to see the professor smiling weakly, watching her.

She looked away, and soon after heard some rustling around. Moments later, Byleth’s head was resting on her chest and the professor’s arm was draped over her stomach.

“You’re such a tease.” Byleth grumbled under her breath, moving her hand up and down as she slowly traced the still uncovered portions of Edelgards sternum. The empress could only chuckle weakly, her eyelids growing heavier with every passing second.

“Mmmm, dear Byleth it’s not my fault I find your whimpering cute. Besides, I’m not completely evil. I did actually finish what I started.” Edelgard said, trying to defend herself while she only seemed to grow more tired. Slowly she closed her eyes and took a deep breath, squeezing the blue haired woman’s shoulder with one arm with what little strength she could muster.

“True. That’s not why you’re evil.” Byleth acknowledged, and Edegard felt the fingers tracing her sternum pressing harder, the nail suddenly feeling much sharper. “You’re evil because even through all of this, you still plan to betray me for the sake of some petty revenge.” Byleth’s voice lost all emotion as she spoke, becoming something dead and hollow. Edelgard felt the finger on her chest go stiff and cold, and could only look over, dazidly, to look at Byleth. The woman she’d just been speaking too sat covered in blood beside her, her eyes seeming to have been hollowed out, as all that could be seen was empty black darkness. “Why……..Why El?”

 

Her eyes opened like a bolt of lighting had struck her, and she realized she was nowhere near that strange room, nor that monstrous Professor. She was on a cot, a rather generously worn one at that. So, that had all been a dream. The fact that that hollow-eyed creature was gone was reassuring to Edelgard, but that comfort was quickly supplanted by confusion. Why in the name of the goddess was she dreaming about something like that!? Even without the monster, it was disturbing to her that she was thinking in such a manner about her own professor. She shook her head and tried to reorient herself to the rest of the room around her. Her body felt sore, and the memories of the battle in the Catacombs the night before trickled back into her mind, followed closely by the memories of what happened between the catacombs and where she was now.

She tried to clear her head before leaning down and checking the soles of her feet, only to find they were both fully healed. Looking around the room she saw that it was Professor Manuela’s infirmary. She turned and sat on the edge of the cot, startled by what she saw.

There, laid out on the other side of the room, was Professor Eisner asleep under her cloak just like she had been in the woods. A massive tuft of her wild mess of blue hair stuck out of one side while the other was occupied by her boots, which were still on for some ungodly reason. Edelgard blushed as the site of the Professor brought right back to the forefront of her mind what she’d just been trying to forget. She did smile a bit as she saw her there, but was admittedly confused as to exactly why. She looked around and saw professor Manuela sitting at her desk on the far end of the room, the morning sun shining through the window behind her. Edelgard stood and began walking towards her.

“Hello Miss Hresvelg. How are you feeling?” Manuela asked as she looked up from what appeared to be a romance novel in her hands, if the two figures pressed together in what seemed like a rather uncomfortable position was any indication.

“I feel well,Professor, thank you so very much.” Edelgard said. “Um, would it be any imposition if I were to ask you a question?”

“Go right ahead, my dear.” Manuela said, putting the book aside.

“Why is Professor Eisner here? Was she injured last night as well?” Edelgard asked nervously. She remembered the scratches that had been on the professor’s face, but if the professor had been seriously injured and had to delay her treatment because of her ‘episode’ last night, or worse yet if Edelgard had been the cause, she’d feel absolutely terrible. Professor Manuela gave her an odd look she didn’t quite understand, as if she were a child asking a silly question with an obvious answer. But that look faded into a gentle smile.

“No dear, she wasn’t injured beyond a few bruises and scratches. She came back a little while after she dropped you off to drop off your shoes. Before she could leave she fell asleep there, right in the middle of our conversation I might add. Quite rude.” Manuela said the last bit in a huff, making the student laugh.

“Sounds appropriate for her. Well, unless you have need of us, I can wake her and we’ll quit bothering you.”

“Thank you, dear.” Manuela said, picking her book back up and flipping through it eagerly. Edelgard could read the title now, ‘Contact and Deception’. “Oh and Lady Edelgard!” The heiress turned back and the professor had a rather accusatory grin. “You may want to come see me some time, about your sleep mumbling that is. It’s rather unbecoming of a young lady of your stature and I'm sure I could find something to help.” Her eyes flickered over towards Edelgard’s professor and then back to her. “And I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but that woman is not very good at taking orders. Don’t go and get your hopes up. Have a nice day!” Manuela flashed a coy smile and went back to her book. Edelgard, whose face was now resembling a beat, chose not to respond and instead returned to walking over to her professor’s cot. Once her face was slightly less warm, she prepared to reach out and wake the woman when a floorboard creaked under her foot. Byleth shot up like an arrow, head turning to the door. It took her a moment to realize there was nothing there and that Edelgard was standing in front of her, now rather wide-eyed.

“Oh! Um, good morning, Professor.” Edelgard said tentatively, seeing the remnants of the marks that had been left on her instructor’s face.

“Good to see you up, Edelgard. You feeling ok?” Byleth asked, shifting her weight over and sitting up on the edge of her cot, taking a moment to check the fastenings on her boots.

“I’m fine. Professor Manuela is good at her job.” Edelgard said, looking at the cot she’d been sat at. At the foot of the cot were her boots, tossed onto the floor haphazardly, however that didn’t come as a shock. It was the professor who’d brought them after all. How had the woman known she kept an old set of spare boots in her room? How had she even gotten access to her room?

Byleth stood and Edelgard heard several popping sounds as the professor’s bones settled into place from their positions on the cot. She popped her neck to either side and pulled her coat over her tunic, her armor having been left at her dorm when she went to retrieve Edelgard’s shoes. The student turned to her professor,curiosity plain on her face.

“Why are you here, Professor?” Edelgard asked. She didn’t hear it, but Manuela had put down her book, and was now watching the two, absolutely enthralled.

Byleth gestured to the shoes on the floor, not paying her words much of any attention. ”I found your boots last night, looks like they’d fallen off when you were running me around the training field, so I brought them back.” A second glance proved the professor’s words true, Edelgard saw none of the larger scuffs she remembered on the older spare boots in her dorm, so the professor really had gone and searched what must have been a pitch black field just to find her shoes.

“But why did you stay? N..Not that I’m not appreciative of you finding my shoes.” Edelgard stumbled over her words, and Manuela tried to strangle down a chuckle as she saw the poor young girl floundering.

“Well, figured it was smart to have someone familiar nearby.'' I asked Manuela and she gave the ok to take a cot for the night, just in case. Speaking of, let’s get out of her hair. ” Byleth moved for the door, but paused as Edelgard spoke.

“Just in case of what?” Confusion painted itself across the girl’s face. Byleth turned back and shrugged.

“Well, in case you woke up again and thought you were somewhere…” Byleth quickly nodded towards the woman sat at her desk, who suddenly seemed to be rather desperately looking for her book. “..Let's call it less pleasant and more familiar. I was here in case I was needed.” Byleth said, her monotone making it hard to tell how caring or annoyed she had intended that last sentence.

“Well, thank you. I think.” Edelgard said. Byleth nodded and gestured towards the door.

“Alright, give me a moment.” Edelgard said, quickly moving to her cot and putting on her shoes before starting out the door and down the hall, followed close behind by her professor. Manuela had an evil grin on her face, and she absolutely could not wait for her next appointment for tea with Dorothea.

“You know, I really do think it’d be wise to switch out your boots for something a bit more practical. At least something without heels.” Byleth commented, her thumb looped into the belt beside her shortsword as they walked out of the staircase and out onto the grounds.

“Of all students, you choose my attire to question?” Edelgard asked jokingly, standing in the plot of grass in front of the classrooms.

“Well, if I tried to speak to Dorothea about wearing a blouse that actually fit for once I’m pretty sure that girl would launch a bloody coup.” The laughter that muttered comment drew for Edelgard sent that same strange warmth through Byleth, and shook her head a bit to try and clear it.

“Entirely possible, to be sure.” Edelgard’s face went a bit serious, as if she were lost in thought. Finally her face settled on serious.“Professor, did you mean what you meant last night? About helping me achieve my goal” Byleth nodded, leaning against one of the columns of the building.

“Wouldn’t have made much sense to lie, now would it?” The concept seemed to strike the Professor as ridiculous.

“Maybe not.” Edelgard said, blushing a bit. “But does that mean just while we’re here, or will you keep your word, even when we leave the Monastery?” Byleth saw something drop in that instant. The girl before her wasn’t Edelgard Von Hresvelg, Heir Apparent to the throne of the valiant Adrestian Empire. No, stood before her was no one other than Edelgard, her comrade who even in her panic the night before had not looked so nervous as she did right then.

“Edelgard, what do you mean when we leave?” Byleth looked at her, eyebrows furrowing together. Edelgard shook her head, and as quickly as it had dropped the wall was back up.

“Nevermind, it was a silly question. I will see you in class tomorrow, professor. Have a good day!” With that, she was gone. Byleth sighed and shook her head. What had she gotten herself into with this class?

“Well, clearly she has been paying attention to you. She’s mastered at least one of your skills down pat.” Sothis teased from the back of Byleth’s mind.

“And what would that be?” Byleth rubbed the bridge of her nose, she sincerely did not need this right now.

“Communicating with all of the grace of a brick wall.” Sothis laughed as she felt the utter exasperation flooding the woman’s mind.

“Charming. Very charming.” Byleth muttered as she walked towards the training field, feeling rather determined to get some actual training in. She had found it rather difficult over the past six weeks or so to actually get much in the way of training done, thanks in no small part to her recurring ‘training partner’. She began her laps around the training field, trying to use the exercise to distract herself, however that proved fruitless.

She wasn’t complaining about Catherine’s presence, not in the slightest. She found her to be pleasant company, even beyond their more physical activities. The woman’s presence in the Eagle’s training days had also seemed to improve morale around the class, which was good. There was something Catherine seemed to be able to do to connect with the student’s that Byleth just lacked, and Byleth respected that, or perhaps appreciated it would be a more accurate description. Catherine seemed like a good compliment to Byleth’s lessons, and while it had yet to be tested their styles of combat seemed complimentary enough to be beneficial in a fight, so a bit of training being lost here and there in favor of other physical activity was not something Byleth felt too bothered by.

 

The afternoon passed quickly enough, and as Byleth found herself wrapping up her first complete day’s training in what must have been over a month, she felt a strange, unpleasant churning in the pit of her stomach. Something just didn’t quite feel right.

She shrugged, and wandered off towards her dorm to prepare for dinner. Perhaps some food would help settle her stomach. Low blood sugar was common enough after training, especially for Byleth as she had little incentive to eat beyond purely fueling herself to continue on

Dinner passed quickly, and Byleth saw the seat to her left which the knight had been occupying more evenings than not for the past few weeks left empty. The meal did little to help the sensation in her stomach. She must have seemed unwell, because Edelgard asked her if she felt ill. Byleth made a comment about a bad feeling in her gut, and the Hresvelg seemed to take it as either an acceptable answer or a sign to leave it well enough alone.

She found the next day’s lecture passed the time quickly enough as she taught the students a technique on redirection of a charging opponent. Byleth even had a rather pleasant distraction after the class was over as Dorothea took time to discuss something she’d done during their last mission concerning magic and thrown weapons. It was an interesting idea, as the Professor couldn’t recall a use of magic and weaponry beyond some of the things Catherine had discussed about the Relics, but the thought of the blonde woman brought that sinking feeling into her get yet again, and it only grew worse when the class ate its supper without Catherine in attendance.

After the following day, where physical training passed without any hint of the woman, and Byleth found the sensation in her stomach still harassing her to a nearly unbearable degree, the professor had had enough. She left the training grounds after the final round of sparring and hurried to her room before going to the bath and cleansing the sweat of her training off of her. After that she went to the Arena in search of Catherine. Sadly, Catherine was nowhere to be found there.

Similar results were found at the fishing pond, the dining hall, and the Cathedral. Byleth couldn’t find a sign of her anywhere she had come to know as her usual haunts. Catherine hadn’t mentioned anything about a mission at their last training session prior to the Rite, and if there was an emergency dire enough to ship out her team it’d likely have made some kind of news around the school. What was going on? This was exhausting.

“I really must wonder if all young love is this infuriating, or if you simply are so cartoonishly incompitent as to make it especially exciting.” Sothis taunted as Byleth checked the fishing pond again. The deity had become rather skilled at grating on Byleth’s nerves as of late.

“Damnit, must you really add to the fire right now?” she asked under her breath.

“Hey, kid. You doing ok?” Byleth shifted quickly towards the voice, and saw Jeralt walking down the stairs from the dining hall.

“I’m fine, sir. Just having some difficulty looking for Catherine. She isn’t anywhere I usually see her. Do you know if she’s out on a job?” Byleth asked, arms crossed in front of her. Jeralt gave her an odd look, his head cocked just a little to the side as his mouth shifted into a smirk. He looked as if he had just been told some inside joke.

“No, Sir Catherine is not out on a mission, at least not one I sent her on. I’ve actually been meaning to check up on her as well. She wasn’t at morning training, and hasn’t been for several days. No one’s seen her since she was relieved of guarding Rhea after the Rite.” Jeralt’s look shifted from almost comedic to a bit more probing. “What exactly is your interest in her whereabouts, kiddo? I didn’t know the two of you were very friendly.” The question didn’t receive much reaction beside a light shrug.

“I’ve been helping her work on her brawling when I have time to spare from my students. She hasn’t been around much at all, and I had a bad feeling so I wanted to make sure she hadn’t gone and gotten herself killed. ” Jeralt seemed to find something funny about her response.

“Hmm, I imagine that... improvement must explain the good spirits she’s been in lately.” Jeralt pondered, although it seemed more like he was trying to convince himself of something. “Catherine’s quarters are in the knight’s pavilion, just off of campus and past the training grounds. Follow the path into the woods and it shouldn’t be too far down. Find the room with the blue door, and that’ll be hers.” There was a brief pause as she heard him sigh, and a second later Byleth felt the pressure of Jeralt’s hand resting on her shoulder. He smiled faintly but paused again, as if trying to find his words. “And Byleth… just be careful. There’s plenty of ways training can get someone hurt that don’t always seem obvious.” With that, he started back up the stairs. What he meant by that, Blyeth had no idea, but she wasn’t in much of a mood to ponder.

 

The knight’s quarters were something akin to a massive maze of matching numbered doors, with a grand ornate stone entryway leading in. Each door had a name plate, and on it were inscribed several names, presumably of all who were occupying that particular room at that time. As Byleth moved deeper into the drab grey stone mausoleum of a building, she noticed the doors slowly becoming less frequent, with fewer names on the name plates. It took nearly half an hour of searching once she had made her way to the barracks, but she finally found what she was looking for. Down a hallway scattered with only a few variously colored doors, each with only one nameplate, sat a bright blue door with the words “Catherine Charon” on the small brass plate.

Byleth was a bit curious. She’d never known Catherine’s last name. She’d never thought to ask. She found the thought oddly distracting, and tried to clear her mind of it as she knocked. A tired voice hollered back at her.

“Shamir, for the last time, get fucked and leave me alone!” Byleth heard something hit the door with a soft thud. Clearly she was in a fantastic mood.

“Charming, Catherine, very charming.” Byleth heard a heavy thud and some scrambling behind the door, and soon enough Catherine opened the door.

The woman was a mess. Her hair was disheveled, even by Byleth’s standards, and her clothing at the moment consisted of an undershirt that seemed much too tight, not to Byleth’s complaint, and a pair of loose black cotton shorts that ended at her knees.

“Hey, Byleth, listen I’m not gonna lie it’s kind of a bad time. I’m uh, feeling really sick. Do you think we could do a rain check?” Catherine asked, cocking a grin to one side. Byleth almost took the hook, but something seemed off. Wrong.

First there was the rawness of the skin on her cheeks, on top of the way her eyes were bloodshot and underlined by heavy black bags. Byleth might’ve written that off as illness, but what finally gave it away was something in the way her grin just didn’t seem right. Her mouth twitched weakly at the corner that was pointing up. It never did that, not in the past two months she’d known this woman nor the entirety of their time they’d be seeing each other, or whatever it is that they were exactly doing.

“You’re full of shit.”

“Listen, I’m just down with something, ok? I think I ate something rotten last night. That’s it.” Catherine’s shoulders tensed a bit as she spoke.

“Fine, but what’s your excuse for no one having seen you since the Rite?” Byleth asked.

“I, I meant that night. I must’ve eaten something that gave me a bad bug, and it’s just taking a while to wear off.” Byleth almost felt insulted by how badly this woman was lying to her.

“Catherine, you ate dinner with my class that night. You and I ate the same food, from the same kitchen. If you’re going to feed me bullshit at least disguise it well. What is wrong?” The question did not come out as caring as one might have wanted it to.

“Goddess sake, can you back off?” The exasperation in Catherine’s voice was thick like tar.

“I will the second you stop acting like I'm a child and tell me why you’re locked in your room, crying.” Byleth shot back, earning a groan as the blonde finally relented.

“Damn it all, fine! Can we not talk about this in the hallway?” Catherine whispered under her breath.

“You’re the one blocking the door.” Byleth gestured at the tall woman, who was in fact blocking almost the entire doorway. Catherine l