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I’m dreaming of the opening cutscene in Fire Emblem: Three Houses.

This is weird, I find myself thinking, I only saw that cutscene in full the first time I played the golden deer route back in November, and skipped it on my subsequent playthroughs. And yet, I’m watching Seiros/Rhea killing Nemesis in glorious high definition. Or like, the Disney live action remake version of Seiros killing Nemesis. Which is also weird. I don’t know if I like seeing the JRPG characters in such realistic rendering.

The cutscene fades, and I am standing in front of a green-haired girl on a throne.

“Oh my... What could have brought you here?” Sothis asks me.

“What?” I say, intelligently. Or maybe I think it. Sothis responds anyway, asking me to choose a form.

I point at the female Byleth automatically, because I always play as her. It feels like I’m still dreaming. 

“Hmm... I have not seen the likes of you before. Who are you, anyway?”

“I’m a mortal,” I say, remembering the correct response from the game.

If I’m aware that I’m dreaming, I should be able to do whatever I want, right? But when I try to make myself wake up, or think about something else, nothing happens. I’m a train on a predetermined track. It feels weird, weird, weird. A dream that’s more real than any dream I’ve ever had before, and it’s about a video game.

“I see. Then you must have a name of sorts. Go on.”

I look around for a keyboard or something so I can type my name in, but don’t see any. I shrug and smile at the goddess. 

“Byleth it is,” Sothis says — the first time she says anything I don’t remember hearing in the game.

I tell her my birthday and sit through the rest of the opening dialogue. This is a weird dream to have, I think, but any minute now my alarm will go off and I’ll get up and feed my cat, and continue on with my normal every day life.

“Hey. Time to wake up,” says a voice.

I open my eyes.

“Were you having that dream again?”

I blink at Jeralt, then look down and see I’m fully dressed in fem!Byleth’s sexy mercenary outfit. My whole body is thinner and more muscular, my hair is longer and bluer, my skin is clearer. There’s a mirror on a dresser in the corner of the room, and I go over to look at it.

“What the FUCK,” I whisper furiously.

“What’d you say, kid?”

“Uh...” Right, I don’t have time to think about all this now. If I did somehow become an isekai protagonist and get teleported into the world of a fucking video game, I should probably stick to the rules of the game as best as I can remember them for now. What were the dialogue options for the first conversation...

“I was dreaming about a girl...” I blurt out, sounding way too anxious to be in-character for Byleth. I’ve never been the best at acting, and especially not at improv. God, I’m doomed from the start here, aren’t I?

“You’ve described her to me before. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone like that,” Jeralt says, like nothing’s amiss and this is a normal person way to say words. He gives me his spiel about mercenaries and the mission. “We’ll need to leave at dawn.”

I remembered the right answer here was “Of course,” so that’s what I say, half-expecting a support icon to pop up in my field of vision to confirm it. No such luck. The only indicator I have that I said something Jeralt likes is the corner of his mouth going up slightly, in a faint impression of a smile. 

No dialogue options or support trackers?? This isn’t a dream anymore, it’s a fucking nightmare!

A mercenary comes to get Jeralt, and we walk outside (apparently tactfully fading from one cutscene to the next is also a luxury not provided to me here) and meet the three house leaders.

I take back everything I said about this being a nightmare.

Edelgard is tiny, way shorter than my new body, with unrealistically shiny white hair and huge purple eyes. She has a determined set to her mouth that makes it easy to see, even now, the emperor she will become.

Dimitri’s tall and broad already, standing with perfect posture between Edelgard and Claude. He looks like he could be someone’s older brother, and he’s standing directly in front of me, so close I could reach out and touch his house leader cloak.

Claude... Claude was the first Lord I fell in love with, and every subsequent playthrough just made me regret not choosing him over and over again. To see him nod and wink at me, face to face, as he talks to Jeralt absolutely takes my breath away. Holy shit. Holy shit.

“Come on, let’s move,” Jeralt tells me eventually. “Hope you’re ready.”

“Of course I am,” I lie. I’m pretty sure game!Byleth only nodded at this, but I’ve always been too talkative for my own good.

As we walk to the battlefield, I’m thinking hard. The abstracted game mechanics I’m used to don’t apply here. There are no buttons to press, no dialogue to choose. Oh shit, what if I’m playing in Classic mode? What if I’m playing Classic/Maddening?? I DIED THREE TIMES ON THE LOWEST DIFFICULTY SETTING—

There’s a sword attached to my belt. It’s not shiny, so I assume it’s an Iron Sword. 40/40, all those other numbers I ignore because I don’t know what they mean. My friend Suyang, whose Switch I borrowed to play the game at all, is continually appalled at how bad I am at the actual gameplay of Three Houses when I play at her house. I’m not a gamer. The last video game I played before this was OFF in 2014, and I set all of those battles to autoplay.

I pick up the sword with both hands. Looks like there’s no autoplaying this.

I see the three lords lined up in the clearing a bit ahead, and jog to catch up with them. Is this still turn-based combat? Do I still control their movements in battle? Is somebody going to tell me what to do??

I take a few steps forward. I remember in the game, Jeralt told the player character about how combat worked. Sure enough, he calls me back and tells me to take out the enemies in the front first. Which I already knew, so that’s useless.

“Do I just... swing my sword at them? Is that how this works?” I ask, keeping my voice down so the lords don’t overhear and lose respect for their future professor.

Jeralt looks at me like I’ve gone insane, which, I understand how it may seem like that. “You just fight them, kid. You know how to do that. Come on, no time to waste.”

“You’re overthinking this! Move!” Sothis whispers in my head. I jump, and almost drop my sword.

“That didn’t happen in the game,” I think back. 

“Do you see a controller anywhere? Stop thinking like you’re in a game, and think like you’re on a battlefield. Which you are! Fight!”

I turn to Claude, who smiles and rattles off his scripted line, “It’s because of you guys that I’m not dead right now. Thanks for that! I didn’t expect to run into mercenaries like you in some remote village. The gods of fortune must be smiling on me!”

He sounds so nice up close like this, I think, and smile at Claude as well. “Happy to help,” I say. Since I can’t choose dialogue options to raise support, I can at least try to say things that might, maybe, make people like me more? I hope?

I look at the bandit in front of me, and the sword in my hand.

Maybe this mercenary body knows what to do, even if my brain doesn’t. 

I try to swing it like in the attack animations I remember seeing, and as my arm goes up, my form suddenly changes, and my weight shifts to a position that I don’t remember ever doing but feels like I’ve done it a thousand times. The enemy falls.

“Impressive,” says Dimitri next to me, before running and stabbing another bandit with his lance. I guess that answers my question about controlling the allied units. 

Claude takes out a bandit by shooting his bow from behind a tree, Edelgard swings down her axe with a fancy spin I assume is her Combat Art, and we slowly advance up to where Kostas is standing. 

I hit a few more enemies, feeling myself grow stronger as I “level up”.  I can feel the Crest of Flames in me, too, burning almost painfully as I swing at Kostas with all my might.

He falls, then gets to his feet and runs towards Edelgard.

Fuck, fuck, fuck. Do I block it successfully, because I know how it’s going to go down already, or do I let myself take the hit so Sothis uses the Divine Pulse on me? 

That song from the first High School Musical movie about sticking to the stuff you know plays in my head as I dive in front of Edelgard. 

“Honestly! What are you accomplishing with that little stunt?! It’s like you’re trying to get me killed, you fool!” 

Sounds familiar, sounds expected. What isn’t familiar is what comes next.

“And you knew! I could hear you thinking it! You knew what was going to happen and you let us get killed anyway! And for what?”

“I wanted to see you turn back the hands of time,” I admit.

Sothis humphs. “You could’ve just asked, fool. No need to go out of your way to almost die to have me show you a magic trick. Very well, since there’s nothing else I can do to get out of this situation...”

The room swirls, and I’m back to the moment before Kostas stands up again. This time I run in front of Edelgard and block his hit with my sword somehow. 

“We will have a long talk about your unusual knowledge of future happenings,” Sothis adds, and then yawns. “When I’m not... so... sleepy...”

In the distance, the pale uniforms of the knights of Seiros appear over the horizon.

“Oh, thank fuck,” I mutter under my breath, half-expecting the battle endcard to show up telling me how many turns this took and who the MVP was, even if no other game mechanic has made itself known to me yet.

Dimitri is looking at me oddly. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised a mercenary uses such... strong language,” he comments. 

“I apologize for offending your delicate sensibilities,” I snap. “It’s been a very long day, as I’m sure you can understand.”

Dimitri nods stiffly. That... probably made my support go down with him. Whoops. On the other side of me, Claude stifles a laugh.

“Sorry,” I add, embarrassed. “I didn’t mean to say it like that.”

“I understand, I didn’t mean to judge your vocabulary or anything of the sort,” Dimitri says, attempting a smile of his own. Ugh, now this is awkward. How did I ever get to A support with this dude at all?

Jeralt calls me over as he’s talking to Alois, who looks even more like a Dad(TM) than he did in the game. “Are you the captain’s child?”

“I’m a bandit,” I say, making finger guns with both hands as I did when meeting people in my old body.

“What are you doing,” Jeralt mutters. 

I remember guns do not exist in this universe yet. “Just... stretching my fingers after all that swordfighting,” I explain, taking the opportunity to do the actual hand stretches I learned in art school while Alois compliments my sense of humor and convinces Jeralt to take us both to the monastery.

The three house leaders surround me as I press my palms together in front of my chest.

“...What are you doing?” Edelgard asks.

“Hand stretches. They’re good for your wrists. Did you need something?” I pull the fingertips on my left hand back with my right and count backwards from thirty as Edelgard tells me about Jeralt. What were the dialogue options here...

“Captain of the knights of Seiros? He never told me anything about his time at the monastery.” That was definitely longer than whatever Byleth was supposed to say, but I say it anyway.

“How curious,” Edelgard murmurs, looking at me like a scientist examining a specimen.

It’s Claude’s turn to speak, so I break away from Edelgard’s gaze to focus on him. The voice in my head that is not Sothis is chanting “best boy” very softly. I’m sure Sothis is unimpressed, however. “You are coming with us to the monastery, right? Of course you are. I’d love to bend your ear as we travel. Oh, I should mention that the three of us are students of the Officers Academy at Garreg Mach Monastery. We were doing some training exercises when those bandits attacked. I definitely got the worst of it.”

“That would be because you ran off,” Edelgard adds.

The three of them bicker about their respective strengths and weaknesses and whose allegiance I am interested in. I don’t have the dialogue of the game perfectly memorized, but it feels like it’s all straight from the cutscene. Suyang would be pressing + right now, she always skips straight to the gameplay and ignores as much of the story as possible. I kind of want to press + too, if only because I already know these characters, know what they value and how they lead, and don’t need to watch them argue to learn more about them.

“So, capable stranger, let’s get right to it,” Claude says. “Where does your allegiance lie?”

I’m supposed to pick a country now, I know, but I don’t want to. Part of me hopes if I can build bonds with all three house leaders and their students, maybe then I can stop the war from happening. And I do want all of them to like me, because apparently my need to be liked by people transferred over from my previous life.

“I don’t think I know enough about Fodlan geopolitics to choose a nation to ally myself with, and I certainly have no ties to any of your homelands myself,” I say slowly. “But I do know that all three of you are capable, talented leaders and fighters, and I’d enjoy helping all of you grow.”

There’s a beat.

“But who’s your favorite?” All three of them ask in unison.

I can’t help but laugh, and after a moment, Edelgard, Dimitri and Claude all join in. 

We start heading back to the monastery. In my head, a tiny goddess bangs her fist.

“I’m wide awake and demand explanations!”

Welp.

I need a confidant. I’ve never been good at keeping everything to myself alone. I have a best friend I tell everything to, and I ask my various groups of friends for advice on most major decisions. To be trapped here in this other world without anyone from my own support system feels profoundly isolating.

So I figure, as Sothis is going to be reading my extremely un-Fodlanish thoughts, she deserves to know why they’re like that at all. So I tell her.

“But this is impossible! From another world?! Really! And you say you know what will happen in the future?”

Yeah, dude. Literally what I just said. 

“And your manner of speaking is so odd as well! But that makes sense if you’re not from here, huh... You’ve given me much to think about. I shall call on you again once I have done so.”

Do you want me to think of a soothing song for you to help you nap?

“It’s the least you can do,” Sothis sniffs, curling up on her throne. The only lullaby I can think of is a Russian song my mom sang to me when I was a kid, so that’s what I think about in the back of my head as we walk. 

"I don't understand this, but it sounds nice. Another," says the most demanding brain-freeloader goddess I've ever met.  At least the songs stuck in my head until the end of time are entertaining to someone.

Chapter Text

The walk is a lot longer than it seemed in the game. Which means it’s an opportunity to talk to the lords and get to know them better, a thing I am determined to do at all costs.

“So, noblekids,” I say, addressing all three of them at once, “have you read any good books lately?”

“I confess I haven’t had the time to read much recently, but I enjoyed books about knights and tales of chivalry as a child,” Dimitri offers.

“Classic,” I nod. “Very respectable.” Dimitri seems pleased at this, which is a relief.

Claude, meanwhile, lights up. “I read a book about poisonous mushrooms last week. They discovered a new kind recently. When you eat it, your body releases a mysterious steam!”

“That’s a— impressive,” I tell him. I feel like people don’t say “awesome” or “cool” here, and I don’t want to sound like a complete weirdo if I can manage it. “What about you, Edelgard?”

“I read a fascinating treatise on the theory of monarchy and government.”

Right, wasn’t one of her favorite gifts the monarchic studies book? That tracks. “Planning for the future?”

“Always.”  Edelgard smiles, but it doesn’t seem very friendly.

I continue prodding them into making small talk with me as we go. “What do you think of the monastery? Do you like it there?”

“I enjoy the opportunity to meet and train with such a variety of people from different backgrounds,” Dimitri says earnestly. 

I remember a meme I saw of him saying “good morning my friends of color” and try very hard to keep a straight face. Which is easier than expected, since apparently this body’s face is naturally less visibly expressive than what I’m used to.

“I’d be happy to show you around,” Dimitri continues.

“It really is Fodlan in a nutshell,” Claude adds. “The good and the bad.”

“What do you mean by that?” I ask, tilting my head to one side. 

“The way people are treated based on who their family is, or where they’re from, or whether or not they have a crest...” Claude shrugs. “You’ll see what I mean.”

"Like it or not, we’ll be there soon enough,” Edelgard finishes. 

The trees give way to a hill topped with the hauntingly familiar spires of the Garreg Mach monastery. Without thinking, I stick my hand in my pocket for my cell phone to snap a pic, only to find nothing there. Because of course I don’t have a phone in fucking 1100s Fantasyland. I stare up at the hill, the stone walls glowing from the late afternoon sun, and try to commit the image to memory, since I can’t do anything else.

I may never see Twitter again. A blessing and a curse. 

“Wow,” I breathe. “It’s beautiful.”

“It really is!” Alois agrees. I had forgotten he was even there. He leads me and Jeralt to Rhea’s audience chambers.

Rhea’s Archbishop Regalia is even more elaborate in real life, with intricate jewelry and a heavy-looking headdress. I bow deeply. “Lady Rhea.”

“So you have heard of me,” Rhea says, pleased. Jeralt is giving me a weird look. Fuck.

“The three house leaders told me about the monastery and the Church of Seiros on our trip over here,” I say. It’s not a complete lie, but I did learn more about the Church from the Fire Emblem Wiki than from the teenagers, who I kept asking about things like hobbies and favorite foods (so I’d know what kind of gifts to get them later.)

Rhea and Seteth tell me about being a professor, blah blah, Jeralt apologizes for dragging me into this with him, and then Manuela and Hanneman show up.

“So young...” Manuela comments.

I remember Byleth is 21, which coincidentally is also how old I was before I got isekai’d into Byleth’s body. I've taught middle schoolers before, but never fighting. I don't have the faintest idea how to use a lance or a bow. I guess I'll figure it out.

“Competence and age are not necessarily correlated, as you well know,” Hanneman interrupts. “I am Hanneman, a Crest scholar and professor at the Officers Academy. I wonder if you bear a Crest of your own. When next you have a moment to spare, I insist that you pay me a visit so we can delve into the subject further.”

“I’ll stop by your research laboratory when I get the chance,” I promise Hannemann, bowing my head in a show of respect. He seems gratified by that at least.

“I’m Manuela. I’m a professor, a physician, a songstress, and available. It’s nice to meet you.”

I wonder if I can impress Manuela with my Prior Knowledge. 

“You were with the Mittelfrank Opera Company, right? I’ve heard of you.”

Manuela gasps, pleased. “Of course you’ve heard of me, I was world renowned in those days! Do stop by if you ever want a private performance.”

Score. That’s gotta have been worth at least 3 support boosts. I feel very proud of myself.

“I’ve gotten the chance to talk to the house leaders on my way here, so I know a bit about each house already, but any guidance from either of you would be most appreciated.” I remember reading somewhere that asking people for favors and sharing knowledge makes them like you more, so even though I feel like I know all I need to know about the three houses already I want to hear it from the professors themselves. They might have something interesting to add, who knows.

“Well, if you really don’t know, I’ll do you a favor and tell you. The officer’s academy is comprised of three houses of students...”

Rhea encourages me to go run around and talk to everyone before I make any decisions, so I oblige. Or, I would, except the minimap I relied on so heavily in the game version does not exist and my own real-life sense of direction is laughable. Everything feels different from a first-person point of view, when instead of textured computer models I’m surrounded by what looks like real people and real stone walls. I spot a flash of red in the adjacent hall (the Reception Hall, maybe?) and make a beeline towards Edelgard.

She introduces herself and asks if I’d like to know more about any of the Black Eagles.

“Actually,” I explain, slightly embarrassed, “I haven’t managed to meet any of them yet. I have no idea where to go and I would really appreciate it if you could walk me to the classrooms so I don’t accidentally wander somewhere I shouldn’t. Please?”

Edelgard chuckles. I groan. “I’m making a terrible first impression as a professor here, aren’t I?” Which makes her laugh more. It’s a nice sound, but also a little embarrassing. I wanted Edelgard to think I was cool and impressive, dammit!

“Not at all! You’re new here, it’s only natural that you haven’t quite got the hang of things yet,” she tells me. “Follow me.”

I try my best to pay attention to where Edelgard is leading me and which doors we’re going through. There are a lot of NPCs around — but I feel bad thinking about them as NPCs now, since they look just like normal people except maybe a bit plainer than the characters I’m more familiar with. Edelgard walks quickly, almost power-walking. Maybe because she’s so short, she’s used to walking faster to keep pace with Hubert and her other tall friends? She stops at the edge of the lawn in front of the Officer’s Academy. 

“Black Eagles are in that building, Blue Lions are next door, Golden Deer at the end of the row. You’ll have to ask Claude and Dimitri if you want to know more about their houses, but I can wait here until you’re done talking to the Eagles, if you’d like.” Edelgard leans against a column with feigned nonchalance. She likes being an expert on her house, I think, and wants me to ask.

So I nod. “Thank you very much for your kindness,” I add, bowing. “Even if this is just a ploy to get me to lead your house.”

Edelgard huffs, face turning pink. “It’s not a ploy, I was genuinely—”  I smile a bit wider and raise my eyebrows. “Oh. You’re... teasing me. Alright, then.”

Teasing might not have been the best approach with Edelgard, I reflect, but it was kind of funny so I’m happy with it. I walk into the Black Eagles (or, Beagles, as my friends liked to call it) classroom. 

I feel a bit like I’m at the character meet and greet in Disney World. Or, more realistically, a cosplay meetup at a convention. But Caspar’s hair is too vivid to be hairdye, and Petra’s braids are more elaborate than a game rendering could hope to capture.  They’re all standing around and talking amongst themselves, turning around curiously when the door opens before going back to whatever it is they were doing. 

I head straight towards Bernadetta and Ferdinand, because I know what I’m about. It is very surreal to hear familiar dialogue and familiar voices come straight out of real life mouths. But mostly I am squealing internally like a child meeting Cinderella at her castle for the first time. It’s Bernie and Ferdie! In front of my face! Like, right there!

“Calm down!” Sothis tells me. “You’re supposed to be a professor!”

If you don’t stop yelling at me I’ll think of a really annoying song and have it play on loop in my brainspace forever, I think back at her. She sticks her tongue out at me. Fine, then, Renai Circulation 10 hour loop it is. 

“It’s okay, I don’t bite!” I tell Bernie, hoping I seem friendly despite the fact that I am a stranger and speaking. “And I’m pleased to make your acquaintance as well.”

I talk to everyone in the room, feeling alternately unsettled and charmed by the experience. Not having dialogue buttons is inconvenient, though, especially when I go up to Dorothea.

I recruited and S-supported her on my first run, on account of being a lesbian. But like, if she’s a person, and I’m a person... I’ll have to learn how to flirt with girls. And, well, all my Tinder matches ghosted on me, so I can’t say I’m any good at that.

Maybe I’ll die before the five-year-time-skip and it’ll be a non-issue. At any rate, I can’t flirt with my students if I’m teaching them, so this is really a problem for future Byleth.

“Before I joined the academy, I was a member of an opera company in the Empire. You should hear me sing sometime,” Dorothea says, smiling politely.

I look her in the eyes and say, feeling extremely out of place, “I would love to! And I like your hat, it’s adorable.” That seemed normal to me. That’s how I talked to everyone, in the normal world. It’s out of character for who Byleth was, but it feels right to me, to talk like this.

Dorothea’s polite smile warms into something a little more real and she says, “Thank you,” in a tone that reminds me of Hilda.

Speaking of Hilda...

“It was lovely meeting you all,” I shout from the door. “I’m looking forward to this school year!”

“Yeah, nice to meet you too!” Caspar yells back. What a guy.

I step back outside and take a few steps over to the Golden Deer classroom, where I am greeted by much of the same. I refrain from patting Lysithea on the head and instead ask her for book recommendations, which makes her light up. Support points raised, I hope. The Golden Deer house was the first house I led, and I have a special fondness for them all because they’ve been with me the longest. 

Hilda and Marianne are just the cutest, and Leonie was my most reliable fighter on all three runs despite her weird Jeralt stan thing. I tell Hilda I like her earrings and Leonie that I look forward to training with her, and leave Marianne be for now. I’ve made friends with shy people before, and I know that ambushing them with conversation usually isn’t the best strategy. 

When I walk into the Blue Lions room, Sylvain steps out from behind the door like he’d been waiting for me all along. Oh dear. “Well, well! It must be my lucky day today, being approached by such a beauty. I'm Sylvain Jose Gautier. Feel free to say hi whenever you like.”

A knot of anxiety rises in my throat, an instinctive reaction to being approached like this by a man I don’t know. Even though I’ve hit A support with Sylvain three times, and grown to appreciate him as an interesting character, his first impression is still godawful. I take a deep breath to calm myself. I want to set him on fire, but I’ll do the responsible thing and set a boundary instead. “Please don’t flirt with me, I know you don’t mean anything by it but it makes me uncomfortable due to past experiences.”

He steps back instantly. “Gotcha, my mistake. I look forward to getting to know you better regardless.”

I nod, still feeling sick to my stomach. Ingrid marches up to Sylvain, Felix in tow. “Honestly, Sylvain, couldn’t you see you were bothering her with your advances?”

“It’s fine, really, I didn’t mean to make a big deal or anything... “ Oh my god, I’m the worst Byleth. It’s me. Why couldn’t I just blink passively in silence at everything that comes out of his mouth? Why did I have to react to it? This is terrible. I interrupted a conversation, I can never set foot in the Blue Lions house again. Sorry Dimitri, if we get to the war phase here you’re on your own.

“Ingrid’s just looking for an excuse to get on my case about girls again,” Sylvain sighs, rolling his eyes at her. “That’s Ingrid, by the way. And behind her is our good buddy Felix. Say hi, Felix!”

“Fuck off, Sylvain,” Felix says, then turns to me. “You’re that mercenary who saved the boar prince, right? I look forward to sparring with you, and beating you.”

“That’s me. You’re on.” My hands do the finger-guns thing before I can stop them. Fuck, I’m a modern meme disaster of a person. I press my fingertips against each other and turn the motion into a hand stretch. My heart is still racing and my brain can’t stop overthinking everything I’m doing and saying here. This is terrible, I am terrible, why am I here in the first place?

Sothis flicks me in the forehead. “Why won’t you learn! Just stay calm and talk to everybody. Go over there and say hi. And change your brain song, I’m sick of whatever this thing is.”

Can’t, it’s a 10-hour loop, I think back, still annoyed, then come up to Mercedes and Annette. 

Mercedes takes one look at me and says, smiling kindly, “Are you alright? You seem overwhelmed. Are you new to the monastery?”

“Oh, Mercie! Do you think this is that mercenary people have been talking about?” Annette peers at me with wide eyes, and despite her adorable nature the thought of people looking at me makes me shy away further. There’s a reason I instantly gravitated towards Bernadetta.

“It’s very nice to meet you,” I manage, after they both introduce themselves. “And I am a bit overwhelmed, yeah. It’s been a long day.”

“You’re doing fine,” Mercedes says. I remember an AU fic I read once where she was a kindergarten teacher. I can hear it in her voice, the kindergarten teacherness. If gold star stickers existed in this universe she’d probably give me one now.

“Thank you,” I say.

I talk to Dedue and Ashe, who is just as sweet and earnest as I remember him being, and go back to find Edelgard. She’s still standing, but I sit down on the grass in front of her, prompting her to sit down with me.

“Sitting on the grass is unladylike,” Edelgard informs me, smoothing her House Leader cape down on the grass like a picnic blanket.

“I’m not a lady, I’m a mercenary,” I reply. “So, give me the rundown on the Beagles.”

“Give you the what on the what ?”

“Uh. I meant, tell me more about everyone in the Black Eagles house.” I’m going to have to invent markers and then use one to write NO MEMES OR SLANG on my hand so I stop forgetting. “Starting with yourself.”

“Me?” Edelgard pulls a few grass blades out of the ground, absentmindedly. “Well...some think I'm a bit distant. Arrogant, even. But there's little to be done. One day, I must rise to become Adrestia's next emperor. What else...” She shakes her head. “Never mind. So, Hubert...”

I let her talk about her classmates, admiring how fond she seems of all of them. She really does care about her people, I think.

“Thank you for taking the time to tell me all of this,” I say. “And for sitting on the grass, despite how unladylike it is.”

She tilts her head and looks at me, consideringly. “You’re not at all what I expected you to be,” Edelgard says finally. “But...” 

And with that enigmatic ellipsis, the princess of Adrestia jumps up and power-walks away.

“The fuck was that supposed to mean?” I mutter. Oh well, time to hunt down the other house leaders.

Claude appears on a walkway behind the Officer’s Academy buildings. I wave frantically at him.

“Claude! Hi! Tell me about your house! And yourself!” I blurt out, stopping short in front of the boy. “I’m supposed to choose a house to lead for the year but I want to make an informed decision,” I add in a slightly more refined manner.

He laughs. The sound is music to my ears. “Well aren’t you enthusastic! Congrats on the teaching gig. You must’ve made a hell of a first impression on the Archbishop. I'd better introduce myself properly. I'm Claude von Riegan. I'm from the ruling house of the Leicester Alliance, but don't worry too much about all that madness. I bet you'd like our house. We're not as...difficult as the other two.”

“What are your thoughts on your housemates?” I prompt.

What the house leader’s descriptions of their classmates really give me is a good impression of how the leaders think of everyone. Claude riles up Lysithea on purpose, Edelgard finds Ferdinand irritating. All of that is important to know.

“Thanks so much!” I say, when Claude finishes. “I just have to talk to Dimitri really quick and then— have you eaten yet? Do you want to grab a meal with me? And maybe Dimitri too. I want to get to know you all better.”

“It would be a pleasure.”

“Actually, do you know where Dimitri might be? I’m still finding my way around...”

Claude nods. “Saw him on my way over here. I can take you to him. Let me guess, you want to hear what he thinks about the Blue Lions?”

“Got it in one,” I agree. “I did get to meet them all, but I want to hear Dimitri’s perspective on his friends and allies, and how he sees people despite being a prince himself.”

“I see. That makes sense.” Claude nods, then smirks. “Did Sylvain hit on you? Don’t take it too personally, he does that to everyone. Not that you aren’t a lovely young lady.”

“I’m aware,” I say, wincing in spite of myself. “But... thank you.” Being reminded of that brings back the embarrassment and anxiety I felt when it happened, and when Claude and I finally find Dimitri outside the student dorms, my stomach is in knots and I’m not sure I want to eat anything after all.

“Have you heard of meditation? Taking deep breaths? That might be a good idea,” Sothis tells me.

Please don’t talk to me when I’m in public so I look slightly less weird, I am extremely not capable of having two different discussions at once, I think back at her, and then try to think of a different song to replace Renai Circulation which I had admittedly also gotten sick of having in my head. 

“Hello, Claude, Byleth!” Dimitri calls. 

“Heyo. The new professor wants to talk to you, Your Princeliness.” Claude bows. “Would you care to join us for a meal afterwards?”

“I’d be delighted,” Dimitri says, flushing slightly at the attention. “Oh, and please accept my apologies for the other day. You came to our aid, yet I hadn't even the courtesy to properly introduce myself. And commented on your language!”

“I’m gonna go ahead to the dining hall, give you some privacy.” Claude winks and walks off, leaving me alone with Dimitri. I don’t know if I should feel grateful or not.

“It is seriously completely fine, my d- your Highness.” I just almost called a prince “my dude.” Jesus fucking Christ.

... I feel like I’m going to accidentally say “Jesus Christ” instead of “Goddess” and have to answer a whole lot of questions.

“Please, call me Dimitri.” Dimitri tells me about the Blue Lions, giving me no information I did not already know, but it’s nice to see how much he cares for his friends. I will feel moderately guilty for recruiting as many of them as I possibly can.

“What do you think would be the most challenging thing about leading your house?” I ask him. I sound like I’m interviewing him for something. I also wish I’d thought to ask Claude and Edelgard about that earlier.

Dimitri rubs his chin, frowning thoughtfully. “What an interesting question, professor! I think... perhaps getting everyone to stay on task? The Blue Lions are a very motivated group, but we definitely have different goals and interests, and it might be difficult to get... certain people to focus.”

“You can say Sylvain, it’s okay.”

“Sylvain is a very capable and intelligent person! But... you understand what I mean.” Dimitri looks away. “Shall we depart?”

“We shall.”

We grab Claude and walk to the dining hall, where I spot Edelgard in line for... something that smells like fish.

This should be fun. Byleth can and will eat anything, but I’m a picky eater, and I cannot stand the taste of fish. I don’t mind some types of seafood, but I never ate fish if I could help it back home. Now, stuck at a monastery with a fishing pond and a menu half-composed of fish-based meals, either Byleth’s taste buds are going to overrule mine, or I have to teach myself to like new things.

I get in line behind Edelgard and Hubert and wave cheerfully. “Edelgard, Edelgard! Sit with us! I want to talk to all three of you some more before I have to make up my mind.”

Edelgard looks at me. Looks at Hubert, who is expressing Maximum Disapproval at my insistence on interacting with Edelgard. Looks at Claude and Dimitri, who both pretend to not be paying attention to this conversation with varying degrees of success.

“Why not,” she sighs. She collects her plate of fried fish things from the chef. “I’ll get a table.” 

I receive my plate and turn to the other two house leaders while they wait in line. “Are you three, like, not friends? Is it because of the whole rival houses and geographic allegiances thing? Or personal reasons?”  I can hear myself speaking in a manner wholly unsuited to my present situation, but I can’t stop myself. I need to practice using less slang and filler words...

“Yes,” Claude says, seemingly ignoring how weird I talk. “Mostly the rival thing, I would say. Everyone at the Officer’s Academy is keenly aware of how their pasts determine their inevitable futures.”

Dimtri coughs. “Some of the tension is due to personal reasons as well.”

Oh yeah, he and Edelgard are stepsiblings, I remember that.  “Like Claude’s tendency to tease?”

Dimitri coughs louder, turning slightly pink. 

“Hey!” Claude says. “It’s tactics! Get them off guard and go in for the kill.”

“If you say so,” I singsong. 

Edelgard has claimed a table in the back, near a window with a nice view of the setting sun. I sit down opposite her, and Claude and Dimitri sit down on either side of me. 

“So...” I poke at the fish tentatively. “How was everyone’s day? What was the highest point of your day, and what was the lowest point?” I sound like a camp counselor, but I need them all to bond! Mostly I need Edelgard to realize she doesn’t have to violently take over the continent to reform the current social hierarchy. That, if she wants, Claude and Dimitri could be her allies.

The house leaders exchange a look. I get the feeling they don’t get questions like that very often. I try the fish and feel relieved — it’s not my favorite food in the world, but I don’t want to spit it out immediately. Maybe my tastes and Byleth’s tastes averaged out somehow. 

“The high point, of course, was learning that you are to be a professor here,” Dimitri ends up saying first. “And the lowest point... I broke a lance in training today, and it was almost brand new too. I misjudged my own strength again...”

“That’s never fun. I hope you can replace or repair it soon,” I offer. “Anyone else?”

Claude and Edelgard chew silently, watching each other with narrowed eyes. 

“Well, the highest point of my day was also getting to spend time with you again, professor,” Edelgard finally says. “I found sitting on the grass with you to be a delightfully unusual experience. And the lowest point was having to drag Bernadetta out of her room for the house meeting.”

“You sat on the grass with her?” Claude and Dimitri both hiss at the same time.

“I got tired of standing,” I explain. “Claude, your turn.”

“I was trying to think of a good lowest point to share,” Claude admits. “High point, you already know what I would say, we’re all aiming for the same thing here. Lowest point, I went to the library to find a book after breakfast, only to learn that Linhardt checked out the only copy.”

It occurs to me that I might have accidentally encouraged the three of them to compete for my house leadering. Whoops.

The icebreaker serves its purpose, though, and the rest of the meal passes in light, mostly-friendly conversation about training weapons and books and dealing with shy people. It also serves to change the subject away from me, so I don’t have to answer any questions about my nonexistent mercenary past or why my personality is nothing like what the rumors about me implied.

What do you think? I ask Sothis, as a peace offering to make up for earlier.

“Your memories tell me there’s more than meets the eye to these children, but as of right now? I think they’re all trying too hard to impress you.”

I stuff a piece of fish in my mouth to keep from laughing out loud.

The three house leaders lead me back to Rhea’s audience chambers, where most of the named adults in the game are already waiting for me. They don’t make it past the threshold, though, Edelgard explaining Rhea doesn’t like visitors unless she called for them. 

“We were expecting you earlier,” Rhea says, smiling in a way that I would not describe as kind or benevolent at all. 

Seteth mutters something about how this shows I am unreliable and unfit for the position, but I ignore him.

“My apologies.” I bow. “I thought it wise to break bread with the leaders of each house, so I could learn more about what they value and how they would like to be taught. Also, you did not specify a time for me to return.”

She seems slightly gratified by this. “So, do you feel as though you can make an informed decision now?”

On the one hand, leading the Black Eagles would let me get closer to Edelgard, and maybe help solve the war problem that way. It’s also the route I played most recently, so I have the clearest memory of how things are supposed to unfold with them. On the other hand, leading the Blue Lions would mean the early missions with Lord Lonato and Miklan would have emotional weight to them (and also, trauma I would have to help the kids manage.) 

On the other other hand, I like Claude.

“I would like to lead the Golden Deer, if it’s all the same to you.”

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

I meet Flayn briefly, and, as it’s getting late, am told I’ll meet the students in my class tomorrow. Which sounds great to me, I don’t think I could handle any more interaction with fictional characters who are now people. I find my way back to my Personal Quarters and open the door to find Jeralt sitting at my desk.

“Oh. Hi,” I say. I sit down on the bed. Kill Bill sirens are going off in my head, and I can hear Sothis whispering “Ooooooo” like an elementary school class when someone has to go to the principal’s office.

“Welcome back, kid.” Jeralt turns his chair around to face me. “Let’s talk.”

Chapter Text

“Let’s talk,” says Jeralt.

“What about?” I say, trying my hardest to keep a blank face. I am definitely worse at keeping a blank face than the original Byleth was. Jeralt figured it out, because, of course he did, he’s her dad.

I don’t have a lot of experience with dads, if I’m being honest. My father went back to Russia when I was five, and I was never close with my stepfather even before the second divorce. Interacting with Byleth’s Dad, while knowing I am not Byleth and pretending to be Byleth, is not something I feel confident in my ability to pull off.

“How are you settling in?” Jeralt says, instead of, “I have figured out your secret, you sham of a Byleth-impersonator, and will now make you pay for your identity thieving ways.”

“Oh. Um. I’m doing well. The food is good,” I say, hoping I sound Byleth-like.

Now that I think about it, what happened to the original Byleth’s mind when I got stuck in her body? Sothis, any thoughts?

“That’s an intriguing question. I will have to ponder it.” Sothis yawns. I think of a song to help her sleep through this conversation.

“I’ve noticed you seem... very enthusiastic about being here. You’re smiling more than I’ve ever seen you smile before.” Jeralt rubs his chin. “I wasn’t sure about coming back to the monastery, but if you’re enjoying it, it can’t be that bad of a choice.”

“It’s... peaceful,” I offer. “I am enjoying myself. Thank you, father.”

Jeralt stands up with a grunt, stretching his legs like he wants to complain about his knees. “Have a good night, kid. You have another long day ahead of you tomorrow.”

“Good night, father.” He closes the door behind him, and I fall back on the bed, finally relaxed.

Now that I think about it, in the game, Solon-impersonating-Tomas and Kronya-impersonating-Monika didn’t get caught at all until after they’d done their evil deeds. Maybe I didn’t have anything to worry about from Jeralt after all. Unless I’d accidentally killed the real Byleth, in which case, he would probably kill me too.

“You done pondering that question yet, Sothis?” I ask quietly. 

Sothis just snores. She’s floating in midair over my desk, head resting on her arms. I feel compelled to put a blanket over her or something, except the blanket would just fall right through.

I start figuring out how to get ready for bed in this world; thankfully, toothbrushes do exist, but instead of toothpaste they use a powder thing, apparently. I miss being able to talk to my friends, I miss having an infinite collection of things to read and watch and listen to at my fingertips. I wonder if anyone’s noticed I haven’t been online. I wonder if time here passes differently than back home. 

The song I started thinking about for Sothis got stuck in my head for real, so I hum quietly as I figure out where the servants put Byleth’s stuff and how to get out of this weird corset-armor deal she has going on. Turns out there’s fasteners on the sides. Wild.

I fall asleep faster than I ever did in my old life. 

And in the morning, I meet the students. Properly, this time.

 

“Wait, what?! Are you really our new homeroom professor?” Hilda demands.

I curl my hands into fists at my sides to keep myself from making any unnecessary gestures. “Yup!”

“Is that true?” Ignatz cuts in. “You aren't quite what I pictured. Oh, sorry, I didn't mean that the way it sounded.”

“Don't tell me, you chose this class just to get to know me better, right? I'm flattered, really.” Claude chuckles. “Whoops. Now that you're our professor, maybe I should choose my words more carefully.”

“I don’t care about formalities,” I say. “You can swear if you want.”

“Hell yeah,” Lysithea says, only to immediately flush as everyone in the room turned to stare at her. 

Honestly, this whole adventure was worth it just to hear that. Maybe by the end of my time here I can get her to say “fuck.”

“Lysithea, there’s a difference between being informal and being vulgar,” Lorenz scolds. She crosses her arms and turns away from him with a “hmph.”

The rest of the conversation seems to go down the same way it did in the game, as far as I remember. It’s been a while since I played the Golden Deer Route. Claude says I have skills, Leonie brings up Jeralt, everyone’s chattering excitedly. When Lorenz suggests a conversation over tea I interrupt Raphael to say, “That sounds great, I adore tea.”

This is true. At home I went through about 7 cups of tea on any given day, a habit picked up from my mother and grandfather. Russians usually drink tea with sweets directly after a meal, but I have a cup next to my computer all day long, constantly refilling it from my electric kettle, and occasionally spilling it all over the table. I remember in the game it took a few chapters to unlock the tea party mechanic, but I want to try and fast-forward that by getting Lorenz to give me tea stuff now. I doubt Byleth’s body has a caffeine dependency, but I need tea, emotionally. Maybe tea will help me feel more at home in this body.

“Professor, come on, it’s not a real party without meat!” Raphael interjects.

“I like meat too, but it’s such a nice day today, a tea party in the garden would be absolutely lovely,” I say, trying to smile. “Maybe we can have some sweets to go with it?” I glance at Lysithea, who perks up at the mention of sweets.

“Your common sensibilities are grating to my noble ears, Raphael. Please quiet yourself.” Lorenz smiles at me. “I would be more than willing to procure high quality leaves.”

“Please do so, then.” I nod, and Lorenz walks out in what he probably thinks is a noble and dignified manner. 

“I can get the sweets!” Lysithea yells, running out after him. The rest of the Golden Deer seem to take this as a cue that the meeting has been adjourned, and spill out into the rest of the monastery.

Claude is watching me. “You seem calm.”

“I met them all yesterday, remember? I knew what to expect.”

 “We’re a rowdy bunch. You'll find nobles and commoners alike here-- those who are dedicated to their studies alongside slackers. But hey, that just makes your life more exciting, right? I really hope you're looking forward to the year ahead as much as I am.”

I smile at him. “I really am. Now let’s go have tea.”

We push several of the tables in the garden together to accomodate all nine of us. I let Lorenz teach me how to brew the perfect cup, even though I know how to do that already, and commend Lysithea on her choice of desserts. Marianne sits in the corner furthest away from me, next to Hilda. I try not to feel offended by that. 

Lorenz has poured Leicester Cortania for everyone, which I think was the most expensive tea in the game. It certainly tastes like a very fancy black tea. “Professor, what’s your favorite kind of tea?” Ignatz asks.

The real answer is milk oolong (a variety of oolong that tastes somewhat milky), but they do not have anything called oolong in Fodlan. “Crescent Moon tea?” I think it was described as having a light and subtle flavor, so it’s probably the closest to my preference. “I also like bergamot, and mint. I don’t really like fruit or herbal teas as much.”

“You have more refined taste than I would expect from a mercenary,” Lorenz comments. I bravely resist the urge to roll my eyes at him. “But since you seem to appreciate the beauty of a cup of tea, I will graciously allow you to borrow my tea set if you need it in the future.”

Fucking score. “I would be very grateful.”

“You’re getting distracted,” Sothis suddenly pops up in my head again. “You have a mock battle with these students coming up soon, don’t you? You need them to listen to you about matters more serious than tea!”

But I like tea.

Sothis punches me in the arm, which has no effect on me whatsoever, and Leonie asks me to tell a story about Jeralt in battle.

God, I am so fucking bad at improv, I think, as I frantically rack my brain for something, anything I’ve read in a book or seen in a movie I could crib from to entertain these kids. The only thing coming up is that Monty Python bit with the Black Knight, which does not help. “What good is thinking about the past, when we should be focusing on the mock battle in our future?”

“The professor’s right,” Lysithea adds, “we have to study hard so we can do our best!”

“How about you do your best, and I sit on the sidelines and cheer you all on?” Hilda suggests, winking at me.

“You’re participating.” I already know who I’m putting on the field for the mock battle: Claude, Hilda, Marianne, Lysithea, Leonie. 

“Why me?” Hilda pouts. “Surely there’s someone else who would be way more useful on the field.”

“It’s your fault for complaining,” Claude says in a stage whisper. “Saying you don’t want to do it only made Teach want to put you in more. It’s reverse psychology.”

“Exactly.” I nod. I kind of wish this school had a house points system so I could give people rewards for saying things I liked. Or like, fantasy Skittles. I had a teacher when I was a kid who’d give people Skittles for getting the right answer in class. 

Anyway. “What’s everyone looking forward to learning the most?” I ask, like I don’t know exactly what their strengths and weaknesses are already. I hope that makes me sound more like a professor to them and less like a 21 year old with an unhealthy attachment to tea.

“Reason,” Lysithea says immediately.

“I want to be just like Jeralt, so lance and riding,” Leonie adds.

“I enjoy archery,” Ignatz contributes. 

The conversation shifts to a discussion of teaching style and how they prefer to learn things, which, even if I don’t know much about archery with my conscious brain, I do know a decent amount about teaching. Maybe if I stand in front of the classroom Byleth’s knowledge will just flow out of my mouth. Maybe Byleth’s definitely not dead spirit can possess me. Or something. 

I’ll figure it out, probably.

After the tea party is over and the dishes returned to the dining hall, I ask Claude to give me a proper tour of the facilities. “I feel like I got half of a tour yesterday, but I still don’t really know where anything is? Do you have a map?”

Claude just grins and motions for me to follow him through a cloister, so I do. “I can absolutely get you a map. But first, Rhea asked for you. She’s probably going to give you your exorbitantly high teacher’s salary or something. I can take you there and then show you around after?” 

“Is the teacher’s salary really that high?” I remember I’d always end up with hundreds of thousands of gold pieces I didn’t know what to do with at the end of each route. I’ve never been a big spender in the game or in real life. 

“It’s... decent... Although I don’t think most students here really understand the value of a gold piece, except maybe Leonie. Nobles,” Claude says dismissively, striding towards a staircase I can’t recall ever noticing.

“You’re a noble,” I point out.

“Never said I understood the value of a gold piece either.” He turns back to smile at me, his yellow house leader cloak swirling around with him, and then takes the stairs up two at a time.

Rhea does give me my salary for the month (a big sack of gold coins. It’s heavy as shit) and tell me more about my duties and weekend activities I have the option of doing, as a professor. I assume eating ten straight meals with different pairs of students wouldn’t work out as well as it did in the video game. Instead of gradually revealing things like the training facility and the sauna to me as the months went by, Rhea just tells me about everything now. Which makes more sense, I guess.

“Claude can answer any further questions you may have about life at the monastery,” Rhea concludes, gently shooing us both out the door.

I carry my sack of gold coins in both arms, feeling a bit like Scrooge McDuck. “I’m sorry I keep dragging you around, but can we please drop this off in my room and then go explore?”

Claude looks at me like I’m missing something incredibly obvious. “Just put the bag in your pocket, Teach.”

“What pocket?” I’m wearing leather shorts over lace tights and a metal corset top thing, and the pockets on these shorts could hold one coin at best.

“Any? Just try it.”

“If you say so,” I shove one hand into the left shorts pocket to open it, and gently lower the Money Sack with my right. There’s a slight sucking noise, and the bag drops right into the opening. I don’t hear it hit any kind of bottom. When I take my hand out, the pocket appears just as empty and glued to my hip as it was before. “ Huh.

“There’s a limit to how much you can fit in a pants pocket, obviously,” Claude goes on, “and some things just can’t go in there at all, but it’s a convenient way to carry a lot of small things. Surprised you didn’t know this already, Teach.”

I am vividly reminded of Homestuck Act 1. “I’ve never carried around that much stuff,” I lie. Claude just raises his eyebrows at me.

“Anyway,” he says, “let me tell you about the bulletin boards.” He explains while we walk from the audience chamber back to the Golden Deer classroom, talking calmly and clearly. He’d be an excellent teacher himself, I think. I nod very earnestly and try to pretend everything Claude says is news to me, while looking around him to see if there’s anything interesting happening. “... And I think that covers it! Any questions?”

“Um...” I look at the bulletin board. In thin, elegant script is a note asking for someone to help Flayn catch a fish. I take the note off the board. “Do I just... take this to the pond, or what?”

“Pretty much. You know how to fish, Teach?”

“I’m great at it,” I lie. I assume if Byleth’s body can fight for me, it can fish for me as well. And I like Flayn. She deserves some fish.

“Alright, then I’ll leave you to it. You think you can walk to the pond from here by yourself?”

“Of course! Thank you for all your help.” I bow slightly. 

Claude waves me off. “Just doing my job! Make sure you talk to everybody today, if you see them. Get to know your students and all that.”

“Will do!” I give him a mock salute.

And then I see a cat on the grass in the middle of the lawn.

Garreg Mach has a lot of stray cats. I noticed this in the game, I noticed it again here. But this particular cat looks a lot like my cat Belka back home. So, it is not entirely my fault that I forget where I am and run over to pet the cat. A thing I couldn’t actually do in the game. Her fur is soft and silky. She is the best cat in the world.

You know that xkcd graph of how human intelligence approaches zero the closer the human is to a cat? As I am telling the cat how soft and pretty she is, and how much she deserves sausages, I can hear Claude clearing his throat uncomfortably over my shoulder.

“So, Teach,” he begins, “care to explain why you’re talking to that cat in Albinean?”

I freeze. 

Sothis, sweetie, could you please turn back the hands of time a minute or two so I don’t have to go through this conversation?

“My Divine Pulse is a tool to be used only for battle.” Sothis yawns. “It’s too powerful and dangerous to throw it around whenever you say the wrong thing in a conversation. And don’t call me ‘sweetie!’”

I think guiltily of the half-dozen save files I made due to messing up too many dialogue options in a row. Sothis sighs. I can’t see her shaking her head, but I know she’s doing it.

“Uh,” I say. “How do you know what Albinean sounds like, first of all?” 

“I’ve met a few ambassadors from there when I was younger. Not the point. Teach, how do you know Albinean?”

Apparently Russian from our world sounds like Albinean from their world. Neat! How do I explain this to Claude. “Uh... when I was young, my father and I traveled through Albinea, and I was at the age when kids just soak up languages, you know, and managed to pick it up... and there was a cat I got... very attached to... so I associate cats with that memory, now. I’m a bit rusty, though.” There. Good lies have a grain of truth to them, right?

Claude stares back, unimpressed. “I don’t know what the truth is, but I’m sure that’s not it.” I roll my eyes, slightly embarrassed. “But actually though, doesn’t Albinean use a different alphabet? What do you think of leading a seminar or two for the Golden Deer about Albinean? We can use it to send coded messages and pass information on the battlefield. Maybe not for the first mock battle, but in the future.”

“Hmm... That could be useful, yeah. Certainly something the other houses don’t have.” I have a vague memory of Ryan Estrada’s Learn to Read Russian in 15 Minutes instructional comic I could work off of for a lesson, and other, older memories of trying to teach my best friends in elementary school how to read my family’s language. Some of those friends went on to take Russian classes in college because of me, which was weirdly flattering to hear about. “I’ll schedule something for next weekend.”

“Great. I’ll check the library for any books on or in Albinean that could be useful.” Claude turns to leave, and then stops. “And in the meantime, maybe I can teach you how to lie better.” He winks at me.

“I look forward to learning from a master,” I reply, which startles a laugh out of him.

Anyway. I have to go get Flayn her fish.

Chapter Text

The next few days pass in a blur of introductions and training. I get my crest analyzed by Hanneman, fish, garden, cook, train. People keep asking me to do basic tasks in a way that feels like it’s more for me than them, like I remember from the game.But I’m lucky, Byleth’s body remembers how to fish, and I guess the part of her brain I have access to during this body timeshare remembers things about gardening I never learned in my other life. I learn that while I don’t know how to swing a sword consciously, if I have a sword in my hands, I can do it. So long as I don’t think about it.

I meet Jeritza and Tomas and wonder how badly I’d mess things up if I tried to expose them now. I shouldn’t, not until I have the skills to deal with them.

“Is Byleth, like, still alive?” I ask Sothis, when I’m back in my room at the end of the day.

“Yes,” Sothis replies without hesitation. “I can feel her, the same way I can feel you, but she’s buried deeper. Like... what’s more than sleeping but less than death?”

“A coma?” I don’t know how to feel about this, especially since I can’t feel Byleth’s soul the way Sothis can. “Do you know when she’ll wake up?”

Sothis shrugs. 

“I thought you knew everything. You’re a goddess.”

Sothis sticks her tongue out at me. “Just because I’m a goddess doesn’t mean I know everything! I don’t know what computers are even though you keep thinking that word, and I can’t understand the other languages your songs are in. I can’t predict the future either.”

“What do you know, then? Besides the Divine Pulse thing?”

She tries to smile mysteriously, but I get the sense I’m making her angry. Probably a bad idea, but too late to change that now. “If you’re nicer to me, maybe I’ll let you find out. Can you make a new song play in your head?”

I sigh theatrically, but try to think of another song for Sothis anyway. “Never ask me to sing out loud, by the way, it’s not happening.”

“Noted.”

The mock battle is scheduled for two days after I arrived at the monastery, not giving me any time to teach a proper class. I spend the day before the battle chasing down the Golden Deer kids individually, dragging them to the training hall and trying to figure out where they’re at, skills-wise and personal confidence-wise. It’s not very helpful— without the numbers and letters of measurement I’m used to, I have no idea how Leonie’s handling of a bow and lance compares to Ashe or Ingrid, for example. And I have no idea how much leading I’ll be expected to do on the field.

The morning of the battle dawns bright and early, and I am awakened by a goddess sitting on my chest like she’s my cat from home and she needs to be fed Right Now or she will Scream.

“Good morning,” says Sothis.

“What the fuck,” I reply. 

“Rise and shine, not-Byleth! You have a long day ahead of you. Come on, go eat breakfast.”

“Okay, I’ll eat,” I sigh, and end up in the dining hall. 

I sit down next to Claude.

“Well, you'll be our commander, that much is for sure. Just don't screw it up and everything'll be great. Got it, Teach?”

I give him a thumbs up. I want to say no promises, but I feel like that would make the metaphorical support bar go down. “We got this,” I say instead, and then want to kick myself because that sounded way too modern for this setting.

Claude raises an eyebrow, but doesn’t comment on it. “Right. I'll do whatever I can to help too. I mean, I'm kind of obligated to. For example! If I add a little something to their food to upset their stomachs...”

“Fuck no,” I say immediately. “Don’t even think about it, von Reigan.”

“Yeah, yeah, wink, wink. I read you. You can't officially condone that sort of thing, right? But say, hypothetically speaking, students from the other houses started racing to the infirmary... As far as anyone knows, it could just be a harmless little stomach bug making the rounds.”

Fuck no.” 

“You do use stronger language than any other teacher I’ve ever had,” Claude muses. “I don’t mind, of course, but some people might lose respect for you if they heard you swearing like that.”

I wince. “I’m...trying to keep that in mind.” It’s hard, okay! I curse a lot! Bad words just fall out of my mouth! 

“Well, well. What a fascinating conversation you two are having. May we join?” Edelgard appears with her own food, Dimitri close behind her.

Dimitri sits down on the other side of me, just like on the first day, and Edelgard sits down opposite. I find myself hoping this arrangement becomes our default. Interhouse friendship could help change the tides of the war, maybe.

I let them brag and boast and focus on eating. Breakfast today is the Sweet Bun Trio I remember from the game. Pretty nice, but the knowledge that I’d have to invent bagels to get a breakfast bagel around here (and I do not actually know how to make bagels from scratch) is already getting to me a bit. I miss breakfast bagels.

“I'm rather eager to see what sort of scheme that mind of yours conjures up.”

“You heard 'em, Teach. We can't let these fine folks down.”

“If they insist,” I say. Claude grins.

After breakfast, I’m whisked off by Manuela to the faculty strategy meeting. Which is, Manuela and Hanneman explain things to me, the only new person involved in this.

“It’s generally considered a good idea for the professor to stand on a stronghold until attacked first, and then move. Let the students make independent decisions. However, since you’re only just now learning how these kids fight, you might want to take a more active role in the battle,” Hanneman says, leaning against the edge of his desk.

I nod solemnly. I remembered in the game I could only choose some students to send into the mock battle, but that seems kind of unfair now. Maybe that was a game construct to ease the player into the battling system? “Do I have to choose which students will participate, or does everyone in the officer’s academy get involved?”

“Since it’s a practice battle, and there’ll be three groups fighting at once, you have to choose three students besides your house leader to send into battle,” Manuela explains, then smiles at me. “I don’t intend to tell you who I’m selecting to represent the Black Eagles, of course. You’ll see soon enough.”

“We won’t lose,” I say. But then it occurs to me: I’m not a game protagonist anymore, am I? I could totally lose. And then what?

“Don’t think like that, dummy,” Sothis hisses. “You have to believe you’re going to win or you never will!”

Fine, fine , I think back at her. Who do you think I should use?

“Orange hair, blue hair, and pink hair,” she says immediately.

You still haven’t learned their names? But, yes, I was thinking Leonie, Marianne, and Hilda as well. Lysithea’s insanely powerful, but she’s too squishy right now to be practical. 

“Er... Byleth? You still with us?” Manuela waves a hand in front of my face.

“Huh? Oh. Yes, sorry. Lost in thought.” This is why I’d rather not talk to Sothis in public!

“As I was saying, we need to head out soon. Go talk to your kids.”

“Right! Thank you for taking the time to get me up to speed.” I bow for emphasis.

“No problem at all,” Hannemann says. 

The Golden Deer kids are gathered in the classroom, and the conversation dies instantly the moment I walk in. I feel kind of powerful.

I clear my throat. “So, for the mock battle... Leonie, Marianne, and Hilda, you’re going to be on the field.”

“Noooooooo,” Hilda whines immediately. “Professor, please, I promise I’m totally useless!”

“Reverse psychology, Hilda, I told you,” Claude mutters, looking cheerful.

“Me too...” Marianne adds, staring at the floor. “I’ll only bring everyone down...”

“Both of you stop that,” I snap. “Hilda, I’ve seen you in training, you’re remarkably strong and fast. You can beat up anybody. And Marianne, you’re the only person in this house who knows how to heal already. We need you.”

I turn to Leonie. “If I give you a lance and a bow, do you think you could handle switching between them as needed?”

Leonie straightens up, nodding intently. “I’m ready.”

I believe her. Girl was my MVP for most of my battles on Verdant Wind.

“Everyone else, you’re going to be providing vital moral support, got it? You are all strong and capable and I believe in all of you.” I just want Hilda to get some motivation and Marianne to feel more confident. And Leonie to level up faster so she can become a bow knight and kick everybody’s ass.

“Cool, then, let’s head out.” And we do.

I learn very quickly that fast traveling is not actually a thing that happens here. The three houses, and Jeralt, all march to an empty field about a mile out from the monastery? It feels like it’s taking forever, since we’re all lugging our weapons and packs of water and vulneraries. Granted, they’re training weapons, so they’re made of wood, but apparently weaponry is exempt from the infinite pockets thing in this universe. I can only imagine what going to battle later would be like, once I’ve amassed a whole convoy full of ancient relics and broken swords. Ugh.

At any rate, we get to the battlefield eventually, and the Golden Deer are pointed to a corner and told to set up there. I squint at the field to see if I can tell who’s being sent out from the other houses. I’m somewhat relieved everyone’s character designs are so distinctive: I can make out Ferdinand’s pale orange hair and Mercedes’s shawl from across the whole field.

“What’s the plan, teach?” Claude asks, folding his arms up behind his head.

“Okay so,” I say, having been thinking about this plan for most of the day and refining it in my head with Sothis’s input on the walk over. “We’re going to go for the Black Eagles first, and then pivot east to the Blue Lions. Leonie, Hilda, you’re in front. Go for the mages like Hubert and Dorothea, they tend to be weaker to physical attacks. Claude, you’re a ranged attacker with your bow. Keep your distance. Aim for Dimitri, Edelgard and Ferdinand, I think they’ll be the most susceptible to bow attacks. Leonie, if you see a good opening for using a bow, go for it. Marianne...” I turn to Marianne, who seems startled I still haven’t changed my mind about including her. “Stay next to Claude. Keep your distance, be prepared to attack with Nosferatu if you need to, but also be ready to heal anyone who gets hit. Oh, and be sure to take advantage of the forest and hide in it as much as you can!”

“I’ll do my best,” Marianne whispers. Hilda puts an arm around her and says something, too quiet for me to hear.

“And what’ll you be doing, I wonder?” Hilda asks. “Surely you’re not going to make your students do all the work for you, Professor?”

I will be screaming internally while I let Byleth’s instincts take over this body and beat up some teenagers, thank you for asking! “I’ll lead the attack, of course.”

Jeralt calls for the battle to start, and we’re off.

It is slightly nerve-wracking to not have perfect control over the actions of my entire team. I just have to charge ahead and hope my little speech before the battle was enough instruction to get an acceptable performance out of them. 

I also get a better understanding of the movement mechanic! I run forward as far as I can, and then I suddenly realize with perfect clarity that I’m getting winded, and if I keep going I will keel over without hitting anyone. And the Black Eagles are still a good twenty feet ahead of me. The moment I stop to catch my breath, Ferdinand notices me, and sprints forward.

I’m not good with spatial dynamics, so I can’t say how big the battlefield is. Bigger than the fields we played soccer on in high school gym class, that’s about the only thing I can say for sure. Anyway, Ferdinand von Aegir, true to form, shouts “I am Ferdinand von Aegir!” and lunges with his training lance at me. I jump to the side on Byleth’s instinct, and dodge it successfully. Thank you, Byleth-body.

Game Byleth would’ve said “Predictable,” probably, I remember her saying that a lot. I say “Eek,” because I am not cool and stoic at all.

It feels weird to fight Ferdinand. I know he’s the same age as my friend Phoebe’s younger sister, whom I’ve known since she was like ten, so I can’t help but feel like I’m whacking a baby with a wooden training sword. Why am I even being allowed to fight these students, I am an Adult.

This is so unbalanced, I think distantly, as I parry his lance and lunge forward without having to make any kind of conscious effort. It is surreal to feel your body moving without any input from your actual brain, but I know if I tried to strategize now, I’ll end up in the fencing attack stance I learned in middle school. I’m pretty sure fencing with a thin pointy epee has about as much in common with broadsword fighting as a fish with an octopus. 

Somehow, Byleth disarms Ferdinand, and knocks him to the ground. Nice.  “I yield,” he pants. “I am the son of House Aegir! How did I fail? I must train harder...”

Oh jeez, I forgot how annoying this kid could be sometimes. “Practice makes perfect, Ferdinand,” I say, pulling him up with my free arm. “It was a good attempt.” 

He smiles wanly at me, and trudges off the field. I look around to see how the rest of the Golden Deer are doing. 

Wait, I have a goddess sharing my head. Sothis, can you keep an eye on everyone else for me? Are they doing well?

“Blue Hair’s healing Orange Hair, who thrashed the Creepy Tall Man soundly. Pink Hair got Hat Girl off the field, and Claude has shot three arrows at Edelgard so far but she’s being stubborn.”

“I know you know their names by now,” I mutter as I scan the field. She’s right: Edelgard and Manuela are the only Black Eagles left. The Blue Lions have started moving toward us too, but I’d rather eliminate the need to fight two groups at once.

“I guess I’ll go for Manuela now,” I say, and yell, “Hilda! Go help Claude!”

“Fiiiiiiine,” she yells back, but she’s already running at Edelgard with her axe. I then remember Edelgard is also an axe user, but she’s been weakened enough by Claude for Hilda to land a final blow.

“Good job!” I shout, and then turn to Manuela, who steps off her heal tile as I come closer.

Manuela’s makes a circle of golden light and fires it at me. I don’t manage to dodge it fast enough, and so I learn what it feels like to get whacked with a Nosferatu to the chest. As it turns out: like pulling an all-nighter in the space of a millisecond.

Nosferatu drains the opponent’s life force and gives it to the caster, or something like that, right? I definitely feel a bit drained, but not to the point that I can’t keep fighting. I hope Marianne can heal me later. 

I let the instincts take over and slash at Manuela. She falls faster than Ferdinand did, which I wasn’t expecting. “Uh, sorry, Manuela,” I feel the need to apologize.

“What are you apologizing for?” She wheezes. “You’ve done well. I nearly wound up a patient in my own infirmary.”

“That’s why I’m apologizing!” A real mercenary wouldn’t apologize for hitting someone in a mock battle, would she. I am terrible at this.

“It’s all part of the battle, dear.” Manuela pats me on my cheek like an auntie at an awkward family reunion and walks away.

I turn around and see the Blue Lions have already started their attack on us, having advanced slowly while I wasn’t paying attention.

Ashe aims straight at Marianne and hits her squarely in the chest. She drops like a rock. A horrible feeling seeps in my chest, a combination of guilt and shame and whatever emotion “all my gamer friends are going to laugh at me for losing a unit in the mock battle” is.

“Hey, Sothis, Divine Pulse, please?”

“I was waiting for you to ask.” The world swirls and goes gray. “How far back do you want to go?”

“The beginning of my conversation with Manuela, after I’ve beaten her.”

“It shall be done.”

The world is restored to normal again, and Manuela is telling me I did well. Now that I’m paying attention, I can also hear Dimitri yelling something in the distance, probably telling me how great his house is and how they totally won’t lose to us.

“Thank you, Manuela!” I tell her, and start running towards Marianne. I don’t think I’m going to reach her in time, since true to my orders she’s standing far behind the rest of my core group. Claude is the closest to her, but he looks tired, and I suspect he’s taken more than a few hits already.

“Claude, cover Marianne!” I shout at him anyway. “Marianne! Attack! Ashe!” Sorry Ashe.

I watch Ashe react to my yelling and lower his bow, looking perplexed. “How did you know—”

Marianne doesn’t let him finish, and aims a Nosferatu directly at him instead. I follow that up with a swipe of my sword. And Ashe goes down.

“Ah–so strong! Have to do better next time...” Ashe looks at me as he leaves, squinting slightly. “I’m still not sure how you knew I was aiming for Marianne right then, Professor...”

“Battle instincts,” I decide, nodding firmly. “It was a good idea, though!”

It is super annoying to have a first person view of the field instead of an overhead shot where I can see everyone’s position at once, with little icons indicating exactly who’s where. From my vantage point, I can see Claude taking a sip from his vulnerary while saying something smug to Edelgard, who is limping off the field. She flashes me a pained smile when she notices me watching. “To think that the Black Eagles could lose so readily...”

Hey, Sothis, how far from my body can you project yourself?

“Not higher than a wyvern’s flight,” Sothis replies. “But if you were paying attention to the battle instead of interrogating me, you would see that right now Hilda and Leonie are both approaching Dedue, while Claude has finished with Edelgard and is now aiming for Dimitri.”

I can’t even see Dimitri from where I’m standing, but I’ll take her word on that. “That’s stupid, Dedue’s a fucking tank, if anyone should be dealing with him it’s either me or Marianne,” I mutter, and come closer to Marianne. “Marianne? How are we feeling?”

“Um, I’m okay, I think,” Marianne whispers. 

“Do you have any more Nosferatus in you? Think you can aim one at Dedue?”

Marianne tilts her head, apparently considering. “Yes,” she says after a second of thought. She nods. “I can do it.”

“Fabulous,” I tell her. “Hilda! Leonie! Remember what I said about mages being weaker to physical attacks? Aim for Mercedes!” Sorry Mercedes. She’s bringing up the rear of the Blue Lions squad, casting a heal spell on Dimitri while Claude shoots arrows at him. The three remaining lions (minus Hanneman) are clustered together, several feet away from us, with Dedue in the front, Dimitri behind him and slightly to the right, and Mercedes next to Dimitri, healing.

On the Golden Deer side, we have Claude, in front, Hilda and Leonie behind him, and Marianne and I trying to catch up.

There’s a weird pause as the two remaining teams size each other up. Everyone is looking a little worse for wear.

“Marianne,” I whisper to her. “Could you hit Dedue from here with your spell?”

“I can try,” she whispers back, and before I can say anything else, swings her arm up in a flash of light. And again.

“Apologies, Your Highness. I can go no further.”

Fantastic job,” I tell Marianne, beaming. “Really, you’re amazing.”

“Ah... Thank you.” Marianne looks away, blushing. I’m so happy she’s on my team.

I make my way towards the heal tile Hanneman is standing on, trusting the rest of the golden deer to have Dimitri and Mercedes in hand. There’s two of them and four of us, how hard could it be?

I hear Leonie shouting something as she attacks Mercedes and turn around. She really goes for it, pushing the taller girl right off her feet with one thrust of her practice lance. I guess that must’ve been a critical hit. It looked badass.

“Excellent! Keep it up!”

Hilda whacks Dimitri with her axe, and he finally yields. Great. 

Hanneman starts moving towards me, but he is way slower than Byleth’s body. That’s also new — my old body was consistently the slowest runner in gym class for all of grade school, and even when I did sports they weren’t sports that required fast running.  I think this body has a different running form than I’d ever used in my own body, too.

Unfortunately, he’s a mage unit. When I’m still like five feet away from him, a gust of wind whips out of the sky and hits me. It feels like a wave of cold and pressure washing over my body, but like, I’ve experienced worse winds outside back home. 

I look at the dinky wooden training sword in my hand. I look at Hanneman, setting up for another spell. I bravely resist the urge to yell “Leroy Jenkins” as I run forward, swinging the blade and trying to keep my conscious brain from thinking about how to hit him.

My arm goes up in a pose that seems kind of like a critical hit pose to me, but I can’t remember the critical quotes and don’t know what to make up. Also, isn’t it kind of corny, to say things when you hit people? The only quote that comes to mind is “your motherfucking life ends 30 minutes from now” from Pop Team Epic, but that would just be weird to say here.

The arm goes down, all of this body’s strength going into that hit. “My goodness. The leadership of someone with actual battle experience is... Well! I was as good as useless.”

“And with that,” Jeralt’s voice rings out over the battlefield, enhanced by either magic or a megaphone I don’t know if they exist here yet. “The winner of this mock battle is... The Golden Deer House!”

I raise one arm up in the air and follow Hanneman off the field. The rest of the Golden Deer kids run to catch up with me.

“Great work, everyone!” Claude says. “Even if it's just a mock battle, the taste of victory is sugary sweet!” God, what a nerd.

“I’m really impressed with everyone’s performances today,”  I tell them. “You all did a great job of both following orders and acting on your own initiative.”

“And did you see Marianne’s attacks!” Hilda swings an arm around her friend. “I’m so proud of her!”

“I know, right?” I say, nudging Marianne. “You’re the star today.” I don’t know if Marianne would be counted as the MVP for this battle in the game interface, but she’s MVP in my heart, okay?

Marianne stares at the ground, looking embarrassed.

The rest of the Golden Deer are waiting at the edge of the field, sharing a bag of cookies Lysithea grabbed from the kitchen before heading out. Good thinking, Lysithea.

Lorenz says... something Lorenzy I tune out instantly. I suddenly realize how exhausted I am, and how much my entire body aches from everyone’s attacks. 

Wait. I have... a vulnerary. Now’s the perfect time to try it out. 

I uncork the bottle and take a cautious sip. It tastes like normal water, but I can feel it sliding down my throat. A wave of energy seems to radiate out of me, and suddenly my bruises feel less bruising and I in general feel more alert and capable of walking back to the monastery unassisted.

The sun begins its descent over the horizon as we walk. I’m still tired, despite the effects of the vulnerary, but it seems everyone else is as well. There isn’t as much chatter as there was on the way here. Raphael and Ingrid speculating about dinner.

All in all, it’s been a pretty successful day, I decide.

Chapter Text

My first day of class is the day immediately after the mock battle, which I think is a cruel and unusual punishment.

“Has no one heard of rest days?” I grumble as I try to fasten Byleth’s dumb mercenary shield shirt over her unnaturally flat stomach, before giving up and going through the wardrobe for a normal person shirt. “Can I legally wear this outside?”

“If you put a uniform vest or jacket over it, yes, because that’s technically underclothes,” Sothis tells me from where she’s hovering. 

“Wait, how would you know, weren’t you sleeping for the past thousand years?”

“I know this land better than you do,” Sothis says with the kind of ironclad confidence I’ve always dreamed of having.

I pull a vest on over the shirt. I look distressingly like genderbent Felix, so I take the vest off and replace it with a jacket and shorts like Edelgard’s. I keep the lace tights, but add higher boots.

People are going to be mistaking me for a student like this, I realize. Still, better than Cleavage Armor that takes three full minutes to buckle up. 

I throw the cloak over my shoulder and do a twirl for Sothis. “Thoughts?”

“Very respectable,” Sothis tells me. “Now go, you have to eat breakfast before class starts!”

“Why are you so preoccupied with me eating breakfast?”

“You need to take care of this body! You’re sharing it with at least two people! You have to feed it well.”

“‘At least two?’ Mmm, don’t like that.” I remember that one song featuring the vocaloid Gumi, where she developed ten personalities because of a crush... she called them the tenants inside her or something. It’s been a while since I listened to it.

This time, Claude sits down next to me immediately, but Dimitri and Edelgard are hovering nearby like they’re not sure they should be eating with us. I gesture frantically at the table, like, “sit down, dummies.” Three times makes a pattern! We will  eat breakfast together every day, dammit!

“Are you prepared to teach your first class, professor?” Edelgard inquires. She very precisely cuts her eggs and bacon into bite-sized pieces. I feel mildly self-conscious of my own more haphazard table manners, although they are in line with my mercenary backstory.

“I think I am,” I say, which gets a chuckle out of Claude. I feel mildly accomplished. 

In reality, I have no idea how teaching will work. Will Byleth’s weapons experience be like an encyclopedia inside my head I can call on to teach in my own style? Will I have to improvise from what I noticed when playing the game? 

“Your performance at the mock battle was as impressive as I expected,” Dimitri contributes. “If you can fight and lead your students in battle so well, I’m sure you’ll have no problem instructing them.”

“Plenty of people who are skilled at something are awful teachers,” I point out. “People naturally gifted at a certain skill tend to have a hard time explaining how they do it to others.”

“That is true,” Dimitri allows, “but I’m sure your students will be able to learn a lot from you.” He lowers his voice a bit, then. “I do wish you had decided to lead the Blue Lions, but, I suppose it’s too late to change that now.”

“Sure is, your Princeliness.” Claude grins, leaning his elbow on my shoulder. Which is a thing I do to my friends on a regular basis. I lean away from him. “Boundaries, Claudigan.”

Claude’s jaw drops. “ Claudigan?

“Claude could be short for Claudigan.” I sip my tea. I am so glad this universe has a tea culture. The cheap common “tea of the saints” blend everyone drinks is honestly pretty decent black tea.

“Claude is not short for— never mind. The point is, Teach is on our team now, and there’s nothing either of you can do about it.”

“I do hope we continue eating our meals together like this,” I say pointedly. “Never underestimate the importance of interhouse bonding.”

That... sounded kind of stupid, now that I’ve said it out loud. But oh well.

“It is a nice change of pace,” Edelgard admits. “I do enjoy a light round of verbal sparring in the morning.”

“As do I, Princess.” Claude winks at her. Edelgard shakes her head ruefully.

After breakfast, I have about half an hour to meet with Rhea and get the Mission of the Month (right, the bandits, I remember that part) and then prepare for the class, which is both plenty of time and not enough. Rhea and the other professors give me lesson plans and a syllabus because this was so short-notice, which helps. The first class is going to be on swordfighting, because that’s my— Byleth’s — strength. I’m going to take them all to the training grounds and let them all fight each other in pairs, correcting people’s stances, before demonstrating myself and then leading them through exercises.

The difference between teaching and combat is, I had zero knowledge of combat, so I could easily let Byleth’s instincts take control and not worry about it. But I do have some teaching experience, and I want to try teaching these students. I just don’t have all of the information I should be teaching them.

But... Byleth does.

“Hey, Sothis?”

“What do you want?” Sothis appears in front of me.

“You can read both mine and Byleth’s minds, right?”

“Sort of? Byleth is harder to access because she’s asleep. But I can try to look at her memories of swordfighting for you.”

“Could you look at what Byleth knows about proper swordfighting form and then...transfer that to my mind somehow? Like, I’m imagining a file transfer right now, do you see it? Can you make that happen with Byleth’s combat knowledge?”

Sothis sighs deeply and floats upside down. “I shall make the attempt. You’ll know if it works.”

The Golden Deer show up at the training grounds on time, which is good to see. Even Hilda is there, pushed through the door by Claude.

“Are you all ready for SWORDS CLASS?” I ask.

They stare at me in silence. It is at that moment that I remember nobody in Golden Deer is a swords specialist. 

Okay, fine. “I want everyone to run five laps around the perimeter of the grounds to warm up.”

This, surprisingly, is met with a confused murmur. It is at that moment that I remember this is technically the middle ages, and apparently gym class hasn’t been invented yet. 

Thank God I did a sport in high school. “Has anyone noticed that when you start exercising, you’re a bit stiffer than after you have already exercised for a while?”

Some nodding. Emboldened by this, I keep going. “Where I grew up, it was customary to do stretches and light aerobics like running to loosen and prepare one’s muscles before starting more vigorous athletic activity, like sword practice. This reduces the risk of injuries from muscle strain as well. Does that make sense?”

Nods all around. Raphael especially looks like I just revealed a deep mystery of the universe.

“I’ve never thought of it that way,” says Leonie. “I’ll definitely keep it in mind in the future.” 

Score one for Professor Me. Byleth who? “Great! Okay, laps. Don’t push yourself. If you find yourself short of breath, switch to walking. It’s not a race. And then we’ll stretch.”

On second thought, maybe stretching was supposed to happen before running? Eh, they’ll be fine.

Claude and Lorenz end up racing each other until they’re both almost sprinting by the end of the third lap. “Claude, Lorenz! You can’t expend all your energy now, you still have a whole morning’s worth of drills to do! Slow down!”

“He started it,” Lorenz pants.

“I didn’t start anything, you just decided you had to run faster than me!”

“I literally do not care at all,” I say, putting a stop to that.

Everyone finishes their five laps, Hilda walking all of them to keep pace with Marianne. Marianne attempted to run but then switched to a walk, looking disappointed with herself. Lysithea was unexpectedly fast at first, but couldn’t run for all five laps either. Mostly, the run confirms what I already knew: most of the Golden Deer kids have some speed, but need to work on stamina. They’ll get better, I hope.

“Excellent work! We’ll do this before every physical training day from now on. Now, stretches!” I lead them in a round of stretches I vaguely recall from years of gym class, and fencing, and gymnastics and all the other sports I tried in my past life.

“Everyone feeling warmed up? Good. Go get some training swords.” They do so. I’m impressed at how much everyone seems to listen to me. They’re so much more obedient than the classes I’ve taught before. 

Lysithea hangs back a bit as everyone else is digging through the storage closet for practice swords. “Professor? Do I really have to do sword training if I intend to focus on my magic skills?”

“Absolutely.” I was expecting this. “Right now, if someone were to hit you in battle, you’d fall after taking a single hit. You need to either get strong enough to be able to take several hits in a row, or get fast enough that you can dodge any attack. At any rate, you have to get fast enough at casting spells that you can counter any attack immediately. Physical exercise is the best way to build that foundation, so you can become a powerful mage instead of a glass cannon.”

Lysithea nods intently. I really, really hope she internalizes this; I have big plans for her, but only if she can handle being on the front lines. At some point, Lorenz will get Thyrsus, and I will unceremoniously give his family’s Relic to Lysithea, and then she will be completely unstoppable and nuking enemies from across the battlefield in a single shot. But until then, I need her to toughen up.

“You are going to be amazing,” I tell her, trying to put all the conviction I have into my voice. “But you have to work for it.”

Lysithea looks me in the eye. She is really short, even shorter than I expected from the in-game sprites. “I will.”

I smile.

“You have exceeded my expectations of your teaching abilities,” Sothis concedes. “But my expectations were very low. Let’s see how you do with the swordfighting.”

I resist the urge to roll my eyes. Just show me what a proper stance looks like .

An image appears in my brain of a younger Byleth standing next to Jeralt, while Jeralt adjusted the position of her feet on the ground. So that’s how it works. It feels kind of like I’m looking through image search results for a reference photo for my drawing, not like I’m watching a stranger’s memories. Maybe because they’re filtered through Sothis, or maybe because Byleth is asleep, I don’t feel any particular emotion attached to the experience. Weird.

I line everyone up in pairs: Raphael against Leonie, Claude against Lorenz, Hilda and Ignatz, and Marianne against Lysithea. Good thing there’s an even number of them for now. I look at the lineup critically. 

Sothis , I think, should I switch Leonie with Ignatz? Or anyone else?

“Let them practice for now, and then switch people around. I think everyone should take a turn sparring against everyone else.”

Oh, duh, I could make them move down the line like in swing dancing! Of course.

“I don’t know what that is, but sounds horribly vulgar.”

I’ll show you later, maybe. “Okay!” I clap my hands, and address the Golden Deer. “Show me what you can do!”

The morning flies by. Everyone seems more or less engaged in the activity, even Hilda.  Sothis successfully transfers Byleth’s memory files into my mind somehow. I think everyone’s stances improved a bit. After lunch is independent study where I can coach students one on one, and assign the paired tasks for Saturday.

“Marianne and Leonie, you’re both on stable duty,” I say immediately. I want them to work on their riding skills so I can put them on horses as soon as possible.“Hilda and Claude, sky watch. Raphael and Ignatz, weeding. I guess that leaves Lorenz and Lysithea on cooking duty. Everyone got that?”

Resigned nods. Claude raises his hand. “Teach, I’d switch Leonie and Lorenz if you want dinner to be actually edible.”

“Such vile accusations about my culinary abilities will not be tolerated!”

“Claude, don’t be rude, I have complete faith in Lorenz,” I lie. I’ve never used Lorenz to cook before, I usually go for the Blue Lions kids who are all weirdly good at it. ... He’ll probably be fine. Lysithea’s type A enough to follow a recipe well at least.

For the rest of the day, everyone just reads and answers questions from their workbooks about the theory of whatever their area of interest is, and I get to call people up to come to my desk and get One on One Instruction whenever I feel like it. 

I end up feeling rather like a parent trying to help their child with calculus after decades without math classes. While Byleth’s body knows a bit about most weapons in this world (and Sothis kindly Airdrops that information into me as well,) I’m pretty lacking in the Reason and Faith department. I just didn’t grow up with the kind of magic that exists in this world. Most of my advice to Lysithea and Marianne boils down to just common-sense filtering and tips on applying first aid to wounds left over from my brief stint as a lifeguard in high school.

The experience is, overall, draining and demoralizing. I’m going to have to schedule Faculty Training with Hanneman and Manuela as soon as possible.

After classes end for the day and everyone begins to file out of the Golden Deer classroom, I find Sylvain waiting by the door.

Jesus Christ, not again. “Do you need something?” I try to keep the irritation out of my voice. It’s not his fault he is Like That. Mostly.

“Hey, Professor,” Sylvain beams, like I didn’t even say anything. “Pretty great timing. I want to ask you something. I'd like to be in your class, if that's possible. I've been thinking maybe I oughta get serious about studying.”

“Really? Sure you’re not a spy for Dimitri?”

Sylvain blinks at that. “Not a spy, I promise. If his highness wanted someone to spy on you, why would he send me of all people? I just think I’d learn better from such a young and lovely teacher such as yourself.”

I bravely resist the urge to roll my eyes, but I knew this was going to happen from the start. I recruited Sylvain every playthrough anyway. I’m in a groupchat called “the reluctant Sylvain stan support group,” for crying out loud, I can’t just let him not be in my class no matter how annoying he gets.  “Fine. Be here on time tomorrow.”

“I'll be there on time and in the front row and everything,” he promises. “You'll never have a better student.”

“I dunno, I do have Lysithea here, after all...”

“But I’m better looking than Lysithea, aren’t I?” He gives me a look that’s probably supposed to be attractive but just makes me kind of nauseous.

“Never do that to me ever again. Didn’t we already have this conversation?”

“Right, sorry, reflex.”

I look Sylvain directly in the eye. “We will talk more about that later.” It’s not that I think I have to Fix Sylvain singlehandedly or anything. But I think I have some context and life experience that could help him, at least a little.

Sylvain looks as though he is reconsidering his decision to be in my class. Too bad! No takebacks!

I sit down for dinner with the house leaders again. “Sylvain’s joining the Golden Deer,” I announce unceremoniously.

“What?” Dimitri explodes. “He didn’t tell me anything!”

“If it makes you feel any better, I think it’s just because of my looks.” 

“Don’t sell yourself short like that,” Edelgard says. “You did win the mock battle after all.”

Claude is thinking it over. “Sylvain is smart,” he says, “even though his personality is... whew. He could be a great classmate to have.”

“He is a great classmate,” Dimitri grumbles. “We’ve been friends since we were children! How could he just throw it all away for— I mean no offense, Professor.”

“None taken,” I shrug. I almost call him Dima, but stop myself in time. Maybe later. 

The dinner today is another fish stew thing of some kind. Not my favorite, but edible. Probably on par with the food my college dining hall had. “Alright, gang, highs and lows?”

“Highest point was gardening with Dedue after lunch,” Dimitri says, and then switches abruptly to a low, growling tone. “Lowest point was finding out Sylvain switched classes, and not even from the man himself!”

“You can beat him up later, your Princeliness,” Claude says, reaching around me to pat Dimitri’s shoulder. Dimitri stares at Claude’s hand incredulously. “As for me, my highest point was beating Leonie in a practice match. Lowest point was discovering that Lorenz and Lysithea are on cooking duty this weekend.”

“Press F to pay respects,” I whisper.

“What?”

“Nothing. Edelgard?”

“What were your highs and lows today, professor?” she asks instead, leaning forward. “You always ask us, but never share yourself.”

She makes a good point, but also, she’s stalling. “Alright then, but you go first.”

“My highest point of the day was learning a new combat art with my axe,” Edelgard says, “and my lowest point was...” she turns away. “This is rather embarrassing...”

“Do tell,” Claude and I say simultaneously. 

“Linhardt decided to sleep in front of the Black Eagles classroom today, and I tripped over him and almost broke my nose,” Edelgard says in a rush. “I should’ve been watching where I was going, but he didn’t even notice!”

Don’t laugh don’t laugh don’t laugh. “Did you scold Linhardt for that?”

“Of course I did, but scolding Linhardt is like pouring water on a duck. He just yawned and said he’ll try not to do it again. He probably will.” Edelgard stabs a piece of fish with unnecessary force.

“You can always encourage him to transfer to the Golden Deer,” I say with a smug smile. Edelgard glares at me, but the corner of her mouth twitches. She does think I’m funny! Ha!

“Professor. Highs and lows,” Edelgard reminds me.

“Highest point was getting through the swords class without anyone injuring themselves or bursting into tears,” I say honestly. “Lowest point was realizing how much I still need to learn if I want to really help my students.”

The house leaders are quiet. I lean back a little, bristling. “What?”

“You really do care about teaching, huh,” Claude says, head tilted to one side in consideration. “I know you were just kind of thrown into this position because your dad was pulled into working with the knights, but you’re actually trying your best.”

“Of course I’m trying my best!” I snap. “It’s my duty to be the best instructor I can be, and I take that seriously.”

Dimitri and Edelgard exchange a wistful look and I feel kind of bad I’m not teaching their classes. I wish I could just combine all three classes into one, and teach them all at once. 

Rhea did say though that since Hanneman teaches all Reason classes and Manuela all Faith classes, I will be responsible for Sword classes for all three houses as well. So I’ll get some time with the Blue Lions and the Black Eagles in my future.

“I’ll be teaching your houses swordfighting later in the week,” I tell them. “You’ll get to see for yourself.” They perk up at that. 

“Teach is a master of swords. You’re going to learn a lot from her.” Claude grins. 

“I studied the blade,” I  agree. No one gets the reference, obviously, but it makes me feel better to have said it out loud instead of just thinking about it every time I swing a sword. 

“I look forward to learning from you,” Dimitri tells me, with so much earnestness I can’t help but smile a bit at that.

After dinner, Claude drags me to the library to look for books on Albinean for my secret weekend seminar. The library is surprisingly small, and appears to be completely empty. I think my apartment has about as many books as this library does. I think I remember something about Seteth removing inappropriate books from the shelves, which makes sense. But Claude clearly spends a lot of time here, because he finds three slim tomes in a matter of minutes.

An Albinean-Fodlan dictionary, a field guide to Albinean berries, and an atlas with maps of the area. “That’s about as much as I expected we’d find,” Claude says. “But it’s something!”

I flip through the dictionary. Albinean isn’t perfectly identical to modern Russian, as I discover. There are some words that sound more like Ukranian or Polish to me. But the spelling rules are consistent, and the alphabet at least is the Cyrllic alphabet I know off the top of my head. 

Молодец, ” I tell Claude, patting him on the back.

He laughs uncomfortably. “What does that mean?”

“A person who has done a good job. So, you!”

“Oh. Thank you. Molodetz ...” he repeats slowly. “That’s great. I’m going to enjoy your seminar, I can tell.”

I nod. “I’ll focus on quick ways to memorize the alphabet and how to use it for codes, but maybe if we have time we can learn some basic words and phrases.”

A sleepy voice then asks, “What are you two talking about?” It’s coming from under the table in the far corner. 

 

Chapter Text

We watch as Linhardt slowly climbs out and straightens his clothes. His hair is a mess from lying on the floor. “Claude. Professor.” He nods at us both, and then notices the books piled in front of us. “That looks interesting. May I ask what prompted the sudden research into Albinea?"

"Uhh....." I say very intelligently.

Sothis pops into my head again to tell me, "Divine Pulse is battle only, I have told you this! Deal with it yourself!"

Fine, I will!

Claude is attempting to communicate something silently to me, but I've never been good at reading nonverbal cues. Or improvising. 

I know you said you can’t turn back time now, but if you could freeze it for like a minute so I could thi—

“I cannot! I shall not!”

Pick one!

“Professor?” Linhardt asks politely. “Are you planning some sort of extracurricular mission abroad?”

That could work. “Yes! That is exactly what we’re doing. You figured it out.”

Claude smacks his forehead with one hand. Come on, I can’t be that bad at lying!

“You are,” Sothis yells in the back of my head. “You are that bad at lying!” 

Linhardt sighs deeply, like we have both disappointed him. It would be more effective if he didn’t look like he’d just woken up. His ponytail has migrated to the side of his head. “What’s really going on here?”

Claude sighs. “The professor is leading a seminar for the Golden Deer students about using the Albinean alphabet for coded communication this weekend. A Golden Deer exclusive production, I’m afraid!”

“Coming up with secret tactics for your own purposes? That’s...extremely typical of you,” Linhardt says around a yawn. “I didn’t know you knew Albinean, professor.”

“Picked it up while traveling in my youth,” I say. It sounds believable enough to me. “But yeah, we’d rather not let other houses in on this just yet.”

“Fair enough. Then can I join your house?”

I stare at him. “Really? Just for that?” I couldn’t manage to recruit Linhardt on my first playthrough, even though I asked him every single week and got to B-support with him by the last chapter before the time skip. I can’t believe offering a single foreign language class would be enough to get him to switch allegiances.

“If I learn Albinean, I can read books in Albinean. And I always want more books to read,” Linhardt explains. 

“You can’t possibly expect Teach to just let you join our class because you want to learn a language,” Claude scoffs.

“I suppose the future king of Almyra would already be conversational in the less common languages of our world, but I’ve never really had any opportunity to learn, so I’d be interested in trying now. If it’s not too much effort.”

“The future king of Almyra?” I repeat. How did Linhardt find that out so fast? I mean, I knew, I got all of Claude’s supports and read up on the Wiki, but how did Linhardt?

Claude freezes. “So that’s how you want to play this. Alright. Teach, we’re adding Linhardt to our class.” 

“Fine by me. Welcome to the Golden Deer.” I want to recruit as many people as I can, and befriend as many people as I can as well. Also I killed Linhardt on my Verdant Wind run and was very upset about it and I feel like I should make up for that now.

Claude steps forward and grabs Linhardt by the shoulder, squeezing in a way that must be at least a bit painful. “I trust you won’t go spreading that little fact around, will you?”

“Why would I? It doesn’t matter to me,” says Linhardt.

 

So the Golden Deer house gets two new members in one day. “Please welcome Sylvain and Linhardt to our house,” I announce the next morning. Reactions are mixed.

“Alright! The more the merrier,” Raphael cheers.

“It is prudent for nobles to forge alliances across national borders,” Lorenz announces. 

“Of all people, why does it have to be you two?” Lysithea says, squinting suspiciously.

Everyone else is more or less indifferent to the situation. Claude has a politely neutral expression on his face.

“Happy to be here,” Sylvain says cheerfully. Linhardt nods, already dozing off where he stands. I get the impression this may be the last time I see him in class before noon.

The rest of the week flies by with little incident. I get the other professors to give me a crash course in magic after class on Tuesday, which helps a lot.  I also get a tip that Annette’s birthday is next week, so I make a note on my calendar to invite her to tea then. 

Teaching the Blue Lions and Black Eagles swordfighting also goes fairly smoothly. The Blue Lions especially are all more proficient with swords than the Golden Deer were, even Annette, which surprised me. Felix makes me spar with him through lunch.

“Do you want to transfer to the Golden Deer?” I ask him, the wooden point of my practice sword pointing at his throat after Byleth’s Body’s third victory in a row.

He glares at me defiantly. “I might like to someday, but not today.”

Fair enough.

In the Black Eagles, Petra is the only Sword Kid, but Dorothea shows promise. She was a great Mortal Savant on my first run, and a Dancer on my last one. I should encourage her to stick with it.

“You have great instincts for handling swords,” I tell Dorothea in as earnest a voice as I can muster. 

Dorothea raises an eyebrow. “And what do you mean by that?”

I keep my face blank. “I think you should consider specializing in swords, in addition to reason. You could be a powerful mortal savant in the future.”

“Oh. That’s... reassuring, to hear you think so highly of my abilities.” She’s blushing slightly.

I will Byleth’s naturally impassive face to stay impassive. “You’re doing well so far. Keep it up.”

Edelgard keeps glancing at me with a thoughtful expression on her face. I wonder what she might be thinking about.

Saturday is Chores Day for everyone, apparently, and the professors job is to supervise the students as they do their assigned tasks. I end up watching Raphael and Ignatz pull up weeds in the courtyard for a whole hour, and then helping Lorenz and Lysithea avoid setting the kitchen on fire for dinner. My main takeaway from the experience: mandatory chores are crucial for noble children who were not required to perform any amount of manual labor growing up. It is frankly hilarious how little Lorenz or Lysithea know about how to prepare meat. To be fair, I wasn’t sure what a Morfis plum looked like until Lorenz told me, so I suppose we’re on the same level there. The food here is different than I’m used to, but it’s good.

There really are random fruits and vegetables and lost items just lying around wherever at the monastery, it’s wild. It makes me wonder if maybe I really am in a hyper-realistic video game experience. I stuff the things I find into my subspace pockets anyway, and contribute some of my finds to my students’ cooking experiments. 

Sothis wakes me up early on Sunday despite my protests. “It’s seminar day! You have to prepare!”

“I told my class the seminar was going to be in the afternoon, not at seven in the fucking morning.” I know in the game a Seminar was worth all of the activity points for a free day, but an actual day in this world is still 24 hours! I had plenty of time to sleep in, catch some fish at the pond, plant some seeds in the garden, eat a nice, leisurely midday meal...

“Do you know what you’re going to talk about?”

“Yes! I wrote it all out in my journal last night. You were there! Let me go back to sleep.”

Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to go back to sleep after being woken up, so I end up alone in a completely empty dining hall at half past seven in the morning on a Sunday. Breakfast isn’t even being served yet. I sigh and make my way to the kitchen to fry up some eggs and bacon, feeling a bit like I’m back in college. 

“Oh, professor! Good morning!” 

I turn around. Mercedes takes down a brass kettle from a shelf and begins to fill it with water. She looks perfectly put together, not at all sleepy or disheveled. “Mercedes! What are you doing up so early?”

“I could ask the same of you,” she answers sweetly. It’s very strange to remember that she is in fact at least a year older than me or the Byleth-body, and yet I’m supposed to be teaching her. “Would you care for some tea as well?”

“Yes, please. Would you like some eggs, or bacon?” 

“That would be wonderful, thank you.” She adds more water to the kettle and sets it on the fire. I crack a few more eggs into the giant cast iron pan and add some more bacon slices before placing it next to the kettle. The lack of an electric stove is also strange. There are no knobs to turn to my desired heat here, just coals in a brick box. Everything ends up tasting a little smoky when I cook it. I haven’t worked out how to manage this technology yet.

I haven’t had much chance to talk to Mercedes yet, so now’s a great time to try! “I don’t have a lot of cooking experience, but I heard you’re pretty good at it! Do you have any advice?”

It’s true enough: most of what I know how to cook relies on prepackaged ingredients, like noodles from a box or sauce from a jar. I can reliably fry eggs, though. “How do you usually take your eggs? Because this is going to be sunny-side up unless you have any other requests.” I slide a spatula under one of the eggs to test it. They cook a bit slower on the...brazier? Is that the word for it? Than on my stove at home, but they look like fried eggs, so I assume I’m doing okay for now.

Mercedes laughs. “I like sunny-side up eggs, thank you. I enjoy baking sweets, but I don’t know how I’ll do with cooking other types of food.”

“Maybe you could help me make some Blessed Jelly with this Morfis plum I found? That’s a sweet, right?” I have no idea what Blessed Jelly looks or tastes like. I’m imagining it as like, a pink and sparkly Neopets jelly. 

“I can try,” Mercedes says kindly. 

So after our breakfast, we make a Blessed Jelly. Mercedes is a patient and skilled chef. She doesn’t yell at me when I mix up ingredients, and tells me stories about previous cooking adventures she’s had with the other Blue Lions. It’s easy to feel calm around her. I learn that she always wakes up early because she got used to that kind of schedule at the church she lived in before the monastery, and that she bakes different things for different moods.

In the game, the moment you finish cooking a food, all of your units get the stat boost for the whole month, but here, I have a giant pot of Blessed Jelly (apparently the Jelly is closer to a jam than an aspic in nature) and no idea how to transfer the +2 Luck to my kids. Do I just? Give them each a spoonful before my seminar this afternoon?

And Mercedes isn’t in my house, but she was so helpful with making the jelly in the first place I tell her to take as much of it as she wants. She takes a spoonful and says, “Delicious!”

Mercedes would be great in a yogurt commercial, I think out of nowhere. “What should I do with the rest of this jelly?”

“Put it in jars, of course! I’m sure the students in your house would appreciate some Blessed Jelly as well, I hear it makes whoever eats it a tad more lucky.”

“Is there a minimum required amount for that to work? How long do the effects last? How do you prove someone’s luck increased, actually?”  Does the scientific method exist in this world???

Mercedes just laughs. I assume that’s a no on the scientific method, then.

“This was a very fun way to spend the morning, professor,” she says with a bow as we finally exit the kitchen carrying several jars each. (I insisted on splitting the jelly evenly, because Mercedes is the kind of nice that makes me want to give her things. I am gay.)

A thought occurs to me then. “What do you say about transferring to my class?”

“Hmm, well... I'm already having so much fun in my current class. Sorry to disappoint, but I'll have to decline.”

I wonder how many more times I’d have to spend with Mercedes to convince her to switch over. I should probably study reason more, too, I think she values that. I didn’t get Mercedes on my first run, but in the Azure Moon route she was an excellent healer. I mean, Marianne’s a great healer already, so I don’t need Mercedes, but...she’s nice and I like her, so.

At this point other students begin to trickle into the dining hall, and the dining staff for the day take over the space. Mercedes smiles and waves at me as she goes... somewhere. The cathedral? Back to her room? I don’t know.

Which reminds me! I should go to the cathedral and check the counseling box!

The counseling box does not give me three responses to pick the right one from, or attach a convenient silhouette of the person seeking advice to the note. I have to make up my own advice from my head, and guess who the person is based on the handwriting. And I have no idea if my responses help me Boost The Support Levels or not. On the bright side, no time limit!

The kids need an actual licensed therapist at this hell school, I think as I dump all the slips out of the box and start going through them one by one. 

“I’ve looked at the notes in this box before, and it seems like everyone’s always worried and complaining about stuff! Is everyone really that bad off?” Raphael’s large, round handwriting is already recognizable after just a week of teaching him. God, this kid is valid. Never change, Raph. I don’t remember what the right answer for this one is though.

Sothis, can you go through my memories to find me answering this question in the game?

“That’s boring! And how am I supposed to pick out one specific moment from the hundreds of hours you wasted on this ‘game’ as you call it?”

Fine, be that way. I let “It’s The End of the World As We Know It” play in my head, Sothis’s least favorite of all my brain music because it references a lot of things she doesn’t know and I keep switching the order of the verses because I don’t remember how it’s supposed to go.

“I wish you were the one asleep right now instead of Byleth,” Sothis growls. “What is a Lenny Bruce?”

Love you too. Now shush.

I make up something for each of the advice box notes and remember I planted some seeds in the greenhouse a week ago, so I go there and collect my flowers and vegetables. I see Ashe in there. 

“Good morning, Ashe!”

“Oh, hello, professor! How’s it going?” 

Right, Ashe likes plants. “It’s going. Do you have any advice for what I should plant next?” I pull my seed packets out of my pockets of infinite depth for Ashe to examine.

He squints at it. “If you group similar plants together, you’ll have a greater yield... Why not try five Western Fodlan seeds this time, and see what you get?”

I smile at him. “That sounds great. I knew I could count on you.” I hand the seeds to the greenhouse keeper.

Ashe smiles back. “My adoptive father is the real expert. He taught me everything I know about herbs, including how to tell them apart and how to make medicines.”

“That’s really c— interesting.” I keep forgetting about the “no slang” thing here. “I’d be happy to hear more about it.”

I let Ashe teach me about gardening for a bit and then ask him to join my class. “I'm really flattered, honestly, but I still have a lot left to learn in my current one!" Goddammit! Sylvain I understand, but how the hell did I get Linhardt so easily if everyone else I’m asking personally is being this stubborn?

“It’s almost noon,” Sothis reminds me then. “You should eat something before your seminar starts.”

She does have a point. “I’m going to get food, do you want to come with?” I ask Ashe.

“Sure thing, I was going to take these tomatoes to the kitchens anyway,” he says, hefting a frankly unreasonably large basket. Apparently individual tomatoes can be stored in pockets, but if you would like to transport a large quantity of tomatoes at once you need a container for it. Nothing makes sense to me anymore.

So I help Ashe carry the tomatoes to the kitchens (despite his insistence that he can carry all that himself. I’m a professor, I’m supposed to be helpful!) and almost sit down to eat with him, when someone comes up behind me as I’m walking to the table.

“We missed you at breakfast today, professor,” Edelgard says reproachfully. Dimitri and Claude stand behind her, nodding in agreement. They look like they’re coming up to me during class time to ask a tangentially-related question. Ashe, meanwhile, is sitting with Dedue in the far corner of the room. 

Crap, I forgot to let anyone know I woke up unreasonably early today. I spend all this energy trying to force the three house leaders to bond with each other during mealtimes, and then stand them up for breakfast on the one day off we get! I am a terrible example and, possibly, a terrible person. 

“I’m so sorry, I woke up really early today and totally forgot we had plans,” I say honestly, adding a bow to show how extra sincere I am. “Would you like some Blessed Jelly to make up for it?”

“Maybe later,” Edelgard says, her shoulders relaxing a bit. “Don’t worry so much, it was an honest mistake.”

“You should feel free to eat whenever and with whomever you want,” Dimitri adds. 

“But we had plans!” We’d agreed that ten in the morning was a suitable breakfast time the night before! Sothis, why didn’t you remind me! 

“You didn’t ask me to remind you,” Sothis says primly.  Uuuuughhhhh.

“Teach, it’s fine,” Claude cuts in. “Don’t beat yourself up over it. We had a perfectly civil meal without you as a buffer.”

“Oh. That’s great! Glad you’re all getting along.” 

So we eat lunch and I tell them about making jelly with Mercedes and gardening with Ashe. 

“Getting cozy with the Blue Lions, I see,” Claude points out. “Don’t tell me you’re thinking of switching classes already.”

“What?! No! I just — I don’t see the students from the other houses as much during the week and — “ Claude raises an eyebrow at my protests, while Edelgard and Dimitri snicker into their hands.

“Whatever,” I snap, silently thankful Byleth’s body is less prone to blushing than my own. “Tell me about your mornings instead.”

I watch them talk. I wonder if the tension between Dimitri and Edelgard is going to ease up at all, if I keep forcing them to interact. Eventually they’ll have to talk about their respective tragic backstories, right? And maybe — okay Edelgard probably won’t be able to convince Dimitri to go to war against the Church, but —

I’m getting too far ahead of myself here. We’re still in the first month! What took an hour at most to play through seems to crawl past, but it’s still enjoyable in a different way.

Claude taps me on the shoulder. “We should get going.”

“Oh! Right, of course.” I jump up.

“Secret business?” Edelgard asks, eyebrows raised.

“Naturally,” Claude replies, with an exaggerated wink. “Dimitri, Edelgard, a pleasure as always.”

“See you later!” I add, waving.

“See you, professor. Bye, Claude.”

My lecture’s starting in another half hour, so I take the time to write out the Cyrillic alphabet on the blackboard, circling with different colored chalk the letters that look and sound like English letters, the letters that look like English letters but sound different, the rest of the vowels, and the Really Weird Ones. I’m a bit surprised colored chalk exists here, but relieved. 

Claude sits on my desk in a flagrant disregard for propriety, shouting out random questions to be a nusiance for some reason.

“Don’t you have anything better to do?” I ask him. “Wait, yes you do. Give me some words it would be useful to know the R— Albinean words for.”

“Enemy,” he says immediately. “Attack. Retreat. Direction words in general. Hm... Landscape attributes? Like, hill, tree, fort... Fire. Weapons? House names.”

“That’s probably enough for day one,” I say, writing them all down next to the alphabet.

“What about swear words?”

“Day two.” Russian swearing is a whole Thing we definitely don’t have time to get into today.

The Golden Deer trickle in slowly around the agreed-upon time. Linhardt actually shows up first, only to crash into a desk at the front of the room and promptly start snoring. I ask Lysithea to sit next to him and smack him with a ruler if he dozes off while I’m talking. 

Even Sylvain comes. “What? I did promise to be a model student, didn’t I?”

I guess!

“So... Albinean,” I say. “In my youth, my father and I traveled through Albinea for a time, and I was fortunate enough to pick up the language well enough to be able to speak, read and write it. Claude thought it would be useful to teach you how to use this alphabet and language for coded communication, so that is what today’s seminar will be about! Добро Пожаловать! ” 

Blank stares. 

“That means ‘welcome.’”

I think it goes pretty smoothly after that? Everyone takes notes and manages to write their names in Cyrillic without any problems. The Weird Letters are a sticking point as I expected, but they figure it out.

 

“This looks hideous,” Claude says, staring at the “ Клод ” on his paper. He adds “ вон Риган ” after it. “That doesn’t help. I wonder if... nah.”

“Thinking of a name change?” I ask him. His eyes widen a bit, and then narrow into a calculating expression. 

“Could be, could be,” is what Claude ends up saying. “What’s Albinean for ‘bow’ again?”

It’s... fun. Normally, when I share parts of my culture with people around me, I feel vulnerable and exposed. But I’m not me, and my country of birth doesn’t even exist here, so there’s nothing to be vulnerable about.

Lysithea and Linhardt are, predictably, very interested in learning to read another language and end up fighting over that dictionary Claude found in the library. I keep waiting for Linhardt to casually say something about Lysithea’s “two crests” situation to freak her out, but if he knows already, he at least has the decency to not discuss it in public.

I wrap things up around sundown. “Thank you all for coming today! I hope you enjoyed this diversion from your standard lectures. Get some rest. До свидания! That means goodbye.”

I grab Lorenz on his way out of the classroom. "Lorenz! Can I borrow your tea set?"

"By all means. I have a spare set you may use at your leisure, professor. Let me get it for you."

Lorenz runs up to his room and comes back with a very fancy-looking tea set and some small bags of mint and crescent moon tea. I'm touched he remembered my tastes.

"Thank you very much," I say, bowing deeply. "Your kindness is most appreciated." I cannot say anything about his noble nature without cracking up, but I can at least try to reflect his own way of talking.

"No trouble at all, I assure you." Lorenz waves me off, but he seems pleased.

And with that, I head off to the next point on my agenda: teatime with Edelgard.

Chapter Text

Well, first I go back to my room to make sure I can brew a decent pot of tea using the tools available to me, and strategize with Sothis about Edelgard. My room has a fireplace and a kettle in it I didn’t notice while playing, but it makes sense for winter, I guess? I start a fire (with some effort) and put the kettle over it.

“How much do I tell her?” I ask Sothis as I pace around the room waiting for the water to boil. “That I have visions of the future? That I know she paid those bandits to attack them and kill the other two house leaders? That I know she’s the Flame Emperor? She’d probably stab me right then and there!”

Sothis is floating upside down next to the fire. “Start with the bandit fact. It seems like something you could find out by asking around, especially since you have connections to other mercenaries through Jeralt, yes? But never mind that: why do you want her to know?”

“We’re facing that group of bandits again for our mission at the end of the month.  She’s gonna talk to the leader guy in her Flame Emperor outfit and then I think kill him? I don’t remember that cutscene very well. Wait no, I think we kill him while fighting the bandits. Anyway, if I tell her I know she paid the bandits off... she might go out and kill the guy herself? Get Rhea to switch the missions so the beagles deal with the red canyon thing? Or maybe she will stab me after all!”

The kettle whistles, so I take it off the fire and pour some water into the empty teapot, rinsing it out. There’s no sink, so I just dump the hot water on the ground outside. Civilization. “I don’t know Edelgard well enough to predict what she’d do in this situation.” I did S-support her on Crimson Flower, but that doesn’t mean I know anything about her! 

“So focus on getting a closer bond with her this teatime, and then reevaluate next week. The mission’s at the end of the month, is it not? You have time.”

Right. Of course. This was always a problem for me in the past, I’d rush ahead to get things out of the way as quickly as possible and then need to be told to slow down.

Sothis watches me prepare a pot of Bootleg Earl Grey Tea the way my mother taught me.It’s Bootleg Earl Grey because I put in two spoonfuls of Seiros black tea and one of bergamot, then taste and add a bit more of the dried bergamot leaves. A spoonful of dried tea leaves for each person, a spoonful for the pot, steep five minutes under a cover and then marry the tea to the pot by pouring a little into a cup and then back into the teapot. I wonder if I didn’t know how to do this myself, would Byleth’s body do it for me? Have I brewed enough loose leaf in my life for this to be an ingrained habit?

I take a cautious sip and decide it’s good enough to bring to the teatime. It doesn’t taste exactly like what I drink every day at home, but it’s close enough to remind me. I hope Edelgard likes it too. She had agreed to bring the desserts while I bring the tea.

“It’s teatime! For Edelgard! And Fodlan! Is that how the song goes?” I say. 

I’m talking to myself mostly, since I know Sothis won’t get it, but Sothis throws her hands up in frustration and whirls around to face me. It might have been intimidating if she wasn’t four and a half feet tall. “Your mind contains 21 year’s worth of memories, books you’ve read, songs you’ve listened to, and all of this other nonsense I don’t even have the context to understand, and some of it is in multiple different languages! I don’t have time to dig through your head to find whatever you happen to be referencing this time!”

“You’re right,” I realize. “It would be easier for you if you were dealing with actual Byleth, probably. Sorry.”

Sothis flaps a hand at me, waving off my concerns.“Get to the garden before you’re late!”

I go to the garden. I’ll have to figure out a good way to transfer more of my knowledge to Sothis later. And maybe like. Bond with her on a personal level. Right now it kind of feels like we’re randomly assigned partners on a group project neither of us really wants to complete.

But right now: bonding with Edelgard!

She’s sitting at a table in the garden where the Amiibo activator thing was in the game. I never used it since I was playing the whole thing on my friend Suyang’s Switch. Here, the gazebo looks like an ordinary gazebo. I guess the entrance to the holy tomb is underneath it or something? I can check later.

Anyway, Edelgard is sitting with her legs crossed at the ankles and arranging little tea cakes (biscuits? Cookies? Pastries? Sweet Snack Objects) on a three-tiered stand. It all looks significantly fancier than what I’m used to. I place Lorenz’s tea service and tray on the table and sit down opposite her.

“Good evening, Edelgard,” I say in the most polite voice I can manage. “Thank you for coming.”

“Thank you for inviting me,” she replies, and darts a glance to another table behind her, angling her head in that direction. 

I look. Dimitri and Claude are also sitting and drinking tea, while not-so-subtly watching us.

I wave at Claude. Claude waves back. Dimitri looks embarrassed about it all.

“Was I supposed to ignore them?” I ask Edelgard, who looks... taken aback by my reaction.

“I thought you would at least pretend to do so,” she says. “While we’re on the subject, my retainer Hubert has concealed himself rather more skillfully behind the bushes over there.” Again, she doesn’t point but gently nods at the direction Hubert is hiding in. “Please pay them no mind.”

“I’ll try not to. Milk, cream, sugar, how do you take your tea usually?” Anyone who puts milk in their tea is either British or a heathen (including my dear friend Margarita, for whom this is her only character flaw) but Edelgard is a princess so she can get away with it.

“It depends on the tea,” Edelgard says instead, and sniffs it delicately. “Oh! Is that... it smells like bergamot, but also... something else?”

“My own blend. Please try it.” I think Edelgard’s favorite tea was bergamot, so I hope adding the black tea didn’t ruin it entirely.

She takes a sip. “This is interesting,” she says. “I don’t know if I prefer it to pure bergamot leaves.” Edelgard adds a spoonful of sugar to her cup, and stirs it slowly, methodically.

This tea party is already stressing me the fuck out. I wish I had the dialogue options floating in front of me so I’d know what to pick from, but it’s been a hot minute since I’d played her route and I don’t remember what she’s into anymore. Books, probably? Cats?

“I noticed there’s a cat who often sleeps in front of your room,” I hazard. “Is it... your cat?”

Edelgard’s lips quirk up in a smile. “She’s her own cat, but I do feed her fish from the dining hall on occasion.”

I’m reminded of that show I watched once, Russian Doll. “That son of a bitch belongs to nobody but yes, he’s my cat.” Edelgard and Nadia have quite a bit in common, now that I think about it. “That’s really nice of you,” I say. “Does she have a name?”

Edelgard turns abruptly very red at this, and looks away. She mumbles something.

“What?”

“...Fuzzball,” Edelgard says, a little louder.

Holy shit. 

Don’t laugh don’t laugh don’t laugh. “That’s the cutest cat name I ever heard. When I was a child, we stayed for some time in a village where the neighbors had a cat named Belka, which means ‘Squirrel’ in Albinean.” In every lie a grain of truth.

“That’s a cute cat name too.” Edelgard smiles, a bit more warmly this time.

I want to get her talking about her past, but I feel like two week’s acquaintance isn’t enough time to get her to trust me that much. But I need to understand where she’s coming from with her whole “fuck the Church” ethos, from her perspective, and how I can convince her to go for her goals without... starting a war, collaborating with sketchy mole people, and getting her own classmates killed.

“What have you been reading lately?” I ask her.

She lights up and starts telling me about some book on the secession of the Leicester Alliance from the Empire. I try to pay attention, but I’ve never been very interested in politics. I have to be interested now, though.

“So do you think it’s better for the whole continent of Fodlan to be united as one country, or the way it is now, or fractured even further into smaller city-states?” I ask.

Edelgard frowns, thinking hard. “If a strong leader unified Fodlan, it would be easier to make major reforms to society as a whole.”

The first week of school and she’s already thinking about her master plan. Impressive. “But like you just said, the Empire fractured into Faerghus and the Leicester Alliance after some time, didn’t it? It’s hard to maintain control over a large territory.”

“Even a short-term unification of Fodlan would have lasting effects on the continent,” Edelgard says, taking a sip of her tea. “What do you think, professor?”

I wonder what support level I need to hit with the house leader kids to convey to them the idea that perhaps in addition to crests being bullshit, hereditary monarchy is also bullshit and they should switch to like... I don’t know, parliamentary democracy or something? It’s been a few years since I took AP Gov.

“I think I would like more tea,” Is what I end up saying.

Edelgard’s class is also going to fight bandits for their end of month mission, just not at the Red Canyon. It is kind of strange to me how many groups of bandits just exist in this world, ready for teenagers to beat them up. There were a few requests for students to go deal with bandits on the bulletin board I was going to have the Golden Deer do next week.

Oh jeez, am I going to have to actually kill someone? ... Did I kill people in that first bandit skirmish and not realize it? I don’t think I’m ready for that, emotionally. I’ll have to convince myself the actions of Byleth’s Fight-body are separate from my Nerd-brain. 

“Have you ever killed anyone?” I blurt out, accidentally interrupting Edelgard’s musings about battle tactics. 

Edelgard blinks at me. “No,” she admits. “...is it difficult?”

How the hell would I know! What would Experienced Mercenary Byleth say... 

I nod once. “I hope you don’t need to get used to it.” 

Edelgard looks thoughtful. I can’t tell if that was the wrong dialogue option or not.

At any rate, the pot of tea is soon empty, and the sky is shading from sunset purples to blue. Edelgard is frowning at the table. “Dinner will be served soon, and I ate so many sweet buns just now I probably won’t be very hungry...”

“You can just have some fruit or something at dinner if you want. It’s the time spent together that’s important.”

“Not keeping a balanced diet?” Edelgard raises an eyebrow at me, amused. 

I wave it off. “One missed meal won’t kill you.”

Dimitri and Claude are still sitting in the garden, but they’re deep in conversation with each other now instead of watching us. I kick Edelgard lightly under the table to get her attention, then push a tiny bowl of candied walnuts towards her.  “Bet you a fish you can’t hit Claude with one of these from over here.”

“You’re on.”

 

After dinner, once I’ve returned several lost items to their owners and caught some more fish in the pond, I get ready for bed. Sothis hovers. 

“So... how do you get information from me?” I ask her. 

She blinks. “What kind of question is that?”

“Like, do you see and hear my thoughts as I think them? Can you dig through all my memories whenever you want, or do I have to be actively recalling a memory for you to be aware of it? Can you search my memories for specific words or images?”

“Hmm...” Sothis flips upside down to think on this further. “Mostly the first one, I think. You have a lot of things in your brain, but if you tell me the outline of something, I can pull up the information that fills it in. I share your knowledge of the potential futures of Fodlan because you wanted me to know.”

“Okay.” I sit down on the bed. “I think, for us to really work together here, I need you to know a lot more things.”

After I turn out the lights, it feels like the first night of sharing a dorm room with a stranger, trying to get to know each other by talking into the wee hours of the morning. Except Sothis has amnesia about her own past, besides the bits I already filled her in on. 

I tell Sothis about how I grew up, my friends and family, and the things I reference in my head most often. I talk about where I first heard each of the songs I keep playing for her, why I always have an image of teenagers running in a circle when I’m humming Istanbul (not Constaninople) or It’s The End of the World As We Know It. Sothis struggles to recall anything useful about her past, and, frustrated, falls asleep again.

I hope that helps.

Chapter Text

The next week is easier now that I have the routine more or less figured out. I teach the students what I know, and what I don’t know I give them tips on how to self-study more efficiently. I teach my first Authority class, which Professor Manuela explains to me is basically a combination of public speaking and battle tactics. I make everyone practice projecting their voices and enunciating like I remember doing in my public speaking class in college. I’ll make the real grown-ups teach me battle tactics later.

“You need to learn Authority in order to lead battalions in battle. This is the Officer’s Academy, we’re training you all to be leaders, not followers. A big part of being able to lead groups is knowing how to speak to groups effectively. So today, you’re all going to take turns telling the class about something you’re passionate about. I’m sure you all have a topic you can talk about for five minutes without prompting, right?”

Poor Ignatz seems terrified at the very thought of it. I’ll start with him first. “Ignatz! Tell us about how to value a work of art!”

“Oh! Uh. Well, it depends on what kind of work it is...” I am relieved my plot works. Ignatz manages to explain art appreciation with only some stumbling, and his classmates cheer him on and clap when he’s done without me having to tell them to do it. They all seemed to bond very quickly even without my help, which is nice to see.

Getting Linhardt and Hilda to do anything in class is pretty much impossible, unless I happen to hit on some very specific thing they’re actually interested in and, in Hilda’s case, present it to her in just the right way to trick her into doing it. 

I make Linhardt tell the whole class about the book he was trying to read under the table from the back row of the classroom.

“So if we look at the Crests from the Empire and compare them to the lineage of Crests descended from the Ten Elites, we can conclude—”  

“Louder! What are the Ten Elites?”

Hilda manages to spend her entire five minutes recounting the gossip she heard at the market on our last free day. I can tell she’s trying to come off as shallower and sillier than she actually is, and it’s kind of infuriating. I want to know the real Hilda, dammit! I want the support conversations!!

“Is this how Captain Jeralt taught you Authority?” Leonie asks me after the class. I have a sudden urge to set up some kind of counter to keep track of how many times Leonie bring him up in front of me. We need to Talk about that, eventually. Maybe on the next free day.

“Captain Jeralt preferred to teach by example, rather than lecturing,” I said. That seems more his style to me. “I’ve learned from many teachers in my travels as a mercenary, and incorporate all of their lessons into my own.” I look at Leonie and hope I seem learned and mysterious. “If you put one person on a pedestal, you may end up blinding yourself to the many gifts other people offer you.”

Leonie looks thoughful. I wonder if that worked. Did motivation increase? I wish I could see the motivation meters.

Now that I’ve settled in a bit, I have some time after class to relax! Sort of. On Monday I end up helping Ignatz learn a new Combat Art with his bow, and on Tuesday we have a faculty and staff meeting, but on Wednesday, I get to go to the greenhouse and vibe. 

For like, twenty whole minutes. Do not talk to me, do not breathe on me, I am watering and weeding these plants. No one is asking me questions, no one is explaining things to me, I finally get a bit of space to be alone. I’ve missed this so much, I find myself humming a little tune as I pull the tiny sprouts the greenhouse keeper taught me to recognize as weeds out of the damp soil, watering can balanced carefully between my knee and the flowerbed. I don’t feel Sothis in my head waiting to make fun of me, so I allow myself to sing, very quietly.

“Professor! You sing when you garden too?!”

I drop the watering can. It spills all over the tile floor, water flowing down towards where Annette stands at the entrance to the greenhouse, gardening supplies in hand. “Fuck!”

Annette gasps. “Professor! Language!”

“Shit! I mean— ! I am so sorry.” I bow to make up for it.

Annette giggles. “Oh, I’m just teasing, I don’t mind that much. What were you singing about? Can I hear?”

I pick the watering can back up. It is, unfortunately, empty. I’ll have to refill it later. “Only if you share what you sing about when you’re gardening. It’s only fair.”

Annette pouts. “I just make up songs about whatever happens to be on my mind! I can’t sing on command, professor!” Her eyes light up suddenly, and she grins. “But maybe hearing you sing could inspire me! Pleeeeease? I want to hear it!”

“Ugh, fine.” I sing to myself and sing along with the music I’m listening to all the time, but I hate singing in front of an audience. If it helps establish rapport with Annette, though, I’m willing to try.  “Istanbul was Constantinople, now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople, been a long time gone, Constantinople, now it’s Turkish delight on a moonlight night... It’s uh. It’s a nonsense song... about places that don’t exist... that I just made up.” Sorry for the accidental plagiarism, They Might Be Giants. I’m not even a big They Might Be Giants fan, I only know a handful of their from my 6th grade science teacher and the summer camp I went to.

“It’s catchy,” Annette decides after a moment. “Is there more?”

We end up going through the whole song, Annette joining in on the repetitions. I even dance a bit, though I don’t know if my extremely cool and modern dance moves have anything in common with how people dance in Fodlan circa 1180. Annette, to my surprise, copies my movements, and we spin in a circle around the planters.

“So take me back to Constantinople—”

“Now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople!”

“Been a long time gone, Constantinople, why did Constantinople get the works? That’s nobody’s business but the Turks!” 

Annette bursts into giggles. “Professor, where did you come up with this stuff?”

“I read a lot... I get bored sometimes... You know how it is. Anyway, you promised to sing in return!”

Annette makes a wide-eyed and entirely false expression of injured innocence. “Did I promise that? Well...”

“It’s only fair,” I remind her. “Besides, I read somewhere plants like it when you sing to them. Do it for the plants, Annette.”

“Well, if it’s for the plants, I guess I have to!” And I get treated to a live performance of Crumbs and Yums by Annette Dominic. I feel like the luckiest person alive. If only my internet friends could see me now.

Now that concert time’s over, Annette helps me weed the garden plots. “You know, you’re not at all like what I expected,” she told me. “Everyone said the mercenary coming to Garreg Mach was stoic and quiet, but you’re so... cheerful.”

I try to keep a neutral expression on my face, which is harder now than when I’d first woken up with this body. I guess I’m becoming more used to it or something? “I’ve been feeling pretty cheerful lately,” I admit. “Perhaps it’s the environment here at the monastery. Or the people.”

“That reminds me, your birthday’s tomorrow, isn’t it?” I continue. “Allow me to invite you to tea.”

“That sounds wonderful, I’d be happy to!” Annette finishes weeding and starts clipping yellowing leaves off plants for some reason or other. I don’t know anything about gardening, but she clearly does.

“While we’re on the subject, I would love to have you in my class, if you’re interested. I think you’d be a good fit.”

Annette freezes mid-snip. Half a leaf tumbles into the dirt. “There's still a lot I want to learn from my current class...” she says, but she looks clearly conflicted. “It’s just... it’s a bit early in the year for this, isn’t it? I’ve barely even gotten to know my classmates yet. Ask me again next month, okay?”

Huh. That was definitely not in her game script. I guess the bonding experience we just had was worth more than one support level. Annette’s personality is the closest to my own real-life personality, so I’m not too surprised we get along, but it’s still a relief. I don’t know how I’d handle it if a character I liked hated me. I can barely handle real-life people hating me.

For her birthday tea I make a pot of the Sweet-Apple Blend. 

“I love this tea! Is it a favorite of yours as well?”

In the game I always tried to agree with whoever was asking me questions to raise support points. But, talking to them in person makes me feel horribly guilty for lying about even small things, so I honestly say, “it’s alright, but I’m not partial to herbal teas.” 

I give Annette some flowers I picked in the greenhouse after she left the day before. 

“Thank you so much!”

Claude and Hilda are sitting at the exact same table Claude and Dimitri were sitting at to spy on my last tea time with a student. I guess this is going to be a recurring thing now. 

We chat about books and gardening and how there’s never enough hours in the day to do what we need to get done. Annette mentions there’s a magic concept she’s struggling with, and I suggest she ask Lysithea or Sylvain for help with it.

“Sylvain? Really?” Annette raises her eyebrows.

I nod. “Don’t let him fool you, he’s a genius who actually likes solving puzzles. I saw him playing a board game with Claude before class yesterday.” It made me feel like I was back in my fifth grade math class, where the boys played Risk during classtime. Surreal.

“Wow! I wish he was still in my class,” she sighs. “Mercie’s my best friend and everything, but she decided to focus on Faith only so like I can study with her, but we’re working on different stuff, and I don’t want to bug her too much by making her help me with stuff she doesn’t even need to know—”

“There will always be a place for you in my house if you want it,” I interrupt, “but I know Lysithea would be thrilled to have a study partner as motivated as you. You could ask her the next time you see her?”

I’ve been putting Lysithea, Linhardt and Sylvain together a lot because they’re all learning Reason, but it always ends with Lyisthea smacking Linhardt with a ruler to wake him up and Sylvain sneaking out early because of “other committments.” God, what a fuckboy. I’m going to let Lysithea work alone next class.

“Maybe I will! Thank you for the suggestion.” Annette beams. I am so profoundly relieved Annette likes me. 

The teapot is slowly emptied. Annette says “thanks for the treat!” and runs off to do whatever she does, while I march over to Claude and Hilda.

“Claude, with all due respect, what the fuck are you doing here.”

Hilda covers her mouth with one hand and raises her eyebrows, reminding me of a surprised emoji. Claude is completely unfazed. I guess he’s had enough time to get used to my way of speaking. “Can’t a guy have some afternoon tea with his dear friend?”

“Claude.” I have learned how to hold Byleth’s classic unimpressed expression for almost thirty seconds, so I just stare at him until he caves and fills the silence in. 

It works! Claude looks away, smiling ruefully. “It’s just... don’t you think it’s a bit strange, that you’re spending all this quality time witth students outside your house? You did choose to lead the Golden Deer for a reason, right? And yet you seem to be trying to bond with everyone except the Deer.”

Oh. When he puts it like that I feel kind of guilty, actually. “I see you all in class every day, but I barely get any time with the other houses during the week and I want to get to know everyone,” I point out. 

“Yeah, but Professor, ” Hilda jumps in, an already familiar wheedle to her voice, “in class you’re all serious and trying to make everyone do work! It’s not fair if none of the Golden Deer get to know you off the clock like the other houses.”

Ouch. She has a point. “You’re right,” I admit. “Let’s do something fun this weekend, as a class. That isn’t me lecturing about a foreign language.”

“Can we do the foreign language lecture too?” Claude adds. “You promised swear words on day two.”

“I can’t believe you remember that, but sure. You’re the house leader, come up with an activity.” 

“On it.” Claude salutes. It’s cute.

My second Free Day goes more smoothly than the first. At least this time Sothis doesn’t wake me up at the crack of dawn. In fact, she’s been strangely quiet lately. I don’t hear her complaining about my every move as often as I’d gotten used to. I get up at a normal hour and eat a normal breakfast with the three house leaders.  After breakfast, Claude and I discuss the plans while walking to the greenhouse so I can check on my plants.

“So, Claude, have you thought of something fun for today?” 

“I’ve come up with a few ideas. One: picnic lunch on the hill behind the monastery. It’s nice out today, why not take advantage of the weather?”

I nod. “I like that, but if we want to do that today it’s kind of short notice for everyone. What else?”

Claude starts ticking off ideas on his fingers. “Scavenger hunt, also short notice and requires a lot of planning, but would be very fun. Prank war between the three houses, same issue. ...Book club? But we don’t have that many readers in our house...”

I take a moment to mourn the fact that movies and video game tournaments are not even possibilities for bonding activities in this world, and also, that we only get one entirely free day a week. “Why don’t we plan a picnic for next weekend? I’ll announce it at the end of the seminar. And then we can discuss other ideas for activities.”

“Fine by me.” Claude throws up his hands. “I’ll see you at lunch, Teach. Got plans of my own for now.”

“So mysterious,” I tease, and then wave him off.

I complete most of the “quests” on the bulletin board for this week, but a few are snapped up by other students and monastery people, which never happened in the game. I miss having protagonist powers. Seteth requests some help clearing bandits in what I assume is the equivalent of an auxilary battle, but I don’t want to send the kids out before they even have their first mission at the end of the month. Time passes so, so slowly here when it’s synced to the real world. I can’t believe this took me like, an hour tops on my first playthrough. It’s been multiple human weeks!

Everyone shows up to my seminar again this week. Even Hilda, who Claude has to drag in while saying something about how she needs to know all the secret codes too. Linhardt is already sleeping on top of two desks shoved together when I walk in, but I wake him up and make him write out the alphabet on the board for me to see if he retained anything. He nails it, which I’m pleasantly surprised about. I guess he really can excel when he’s interested in something. He writes out the words I’d covered last week as well.

“Are you going to cover Albinean grammar at all, or do I have to try to track down my own sources?” Linhardt asks me, sounding already exhausted at the prospect. “Because that’s so much effort.”

“Well, the focus here is on utilizing the language for coded communication, not fluency, so I wasn’t intending to teach grammar,” I explain. Not to mention that I don’t know enough about Russian grammar to begin with. My mom was always correcting me for using English grammatical structures on Russian words. I add some new words to the blackboard. “If you’re really curious I can write out some short passages I have memorized and you can try translating them with your dictionary.” By short passages I mostly mean “lyrics to children’s songs about potatoes,” but I’m sure that’s still good translation practice.

“Please do,” Linhardt says immediately.

I point at him with my chalk. “Only if you promise to show up to class and actually pay attention for the entirety of next week. Note that I’m only asking for a week, not the rest of the year.” 

Linhardt sighs and sits down at the front of the class. 

The students are more or less used to me and my style of instruction by now, so class is fine. We review the stuff from last week and the new words I’ve added, and Lysithea reminds me about the swearing, so I talk about mat . I don’t know if Albinean has loanwords from a foreign language used exclusively for the rudest form of profanity, but Russian does, so I just omit the fun fact about the origins of the words and go over them as briefly as possible. 

Claude raises his hand, which he only does when he thinks he’s being funny. Most of the time he just calls out. “Professor, can you give us some examples of using these words in a sentence?”

“That would be highly inappropriate. Oh, but that reminds me! What do you all think of having a picnic lunch on the hillside next weekend?”

“Good food and good company? Sounds perfect!” Raphael booms. He is doing his best.

“I’ll make sure there’s tea and sweets,” I add, because Lorenz and Lysithea seem unconvinced, “and there’s some lovely views of the landscape for sketching, and..... Birds? Probably? Marianne you like birds, right?”

“H-how did you know?” Marianne whispers.

Oh right, I haven’t really had any one on one conversations with Marianne yet. Or seen her talk to birds. She’s so quiet, it’s hard to notice her if you’re not actively looking for her presence. “Intuition. Come on, it’ll be fun!”

Everyone eventually agrees. Lorenz stops me on my way out the door to ask me if I’ve been using the tea set. “I have, and it’s been very useful. Thank you again for your kind gift.”

“It is a noble’s duty to help those in need,” Lorenz declares. “Er, not that you’re in need, necessarily—”

“I got it. Thanks.”

We end up chatting about teapot shapes for a good few minutes, and it remind me of a conversation I had with my mom shortly before I became the protagonist of an isekai anime.

Which makes me realize something: this is the longest I’ve ever gone without calling or texting my mother at all. Not even when I was studying abroad on the other side of the planet from her did I go this long without contacting her, and knowing that I can’t reach her even if I wanted to... Well.

I leave Lorenz behind and go to the lake to fish.

Chapter Text

Fishing is nice because I don’t have to do it. I can sit down at the end of the dock and let my own mind wander, while Byleth’s experienced arms reel in the line at the perfect moment every time. Eventually we run out of bait and our bucket is full of shiny wet fish, and then we deliver the fish to the dining hall and go about the rest of our day. It’s like meditating, almost.

This time though, Byleth’s muscle memory just cast a line when I hear thundering footsteps behind me. “Hey kid, can I talk to you for a second?” 

I ignore Jeralt and wait for the fish to bite. That’s what Byleth would do, right? Stoic and kind of weird is the leading characterization for her that I’ve seen. There’s a tug on the line, and I count prime numbers while Byleth pulls the fish out of the water and into the bucket. Plop!

Only then do I turn around. “What is it?”

“Just checking in,” he says innocently. “It’s been two weeks. Are you enjoying teaching?”

I nod. Stoic and quiet, stoic and quiet. But wait, I have a different personality here, so maybe I need to like average out my personality and whatever Byleth used to be like? “It’s interesting,” I end up saying.

“Glad to hear it.” He pats me on the shoulder hard enough to dislocate something if Byleth’s body wasn’t already used to this sort of treatment. “You have that mission at the end of the month, right? How do you feel about it? Do you want to take some of our mercenaries with you?”

Oh right, Byleth’s starting battalion in the game was Jeralt’s Mercenaries. Hmm. I don’t know how Battalions work in practice. Are they just going to hang back until I whistle for them or something? ... is there a way for me to find out without revealing that I am, in fact, a fake Byleth?

Fuck it. “That would be helpful. Thank you.” I don’t know if I should bow or not. 

“You should come out drinking with us on your next free day, for old time’s sake. The guys say they miss you.”

That reminds me, what the hell has Sothis been doing all day? Is she napping? Hey, Sothis, hello???  

“I’m busy, do not disturb,” I hear her voice snap in the back of my mind. Well, glad she’s still in there at least.

Right, Jeralt said something. “Ah... I have plans with my house for next weekend. Maybe after the mission,” I say. I desperately don’t want to go out drinking. I can’t stand the taste of alcohol and I can’t risk accidentally spilling my secret under the influence. But I mean... Father-daughter bonding or whatever...

Jeralt just nods, accepting my excuse. “After the mission, then. I’ll hold you to that, so don’t forget.”

I nod as well. I feel like I’m nodding a lot in this conversation, but I don’t trust myself to really speak without blowing my cover.

Jeralt smacks me on the shoulder again. “See ya around, kid,” he says, and walks off to wherever he came from.

I wait until he’s out of view, and sit down on the dock with a sigh of relief. Okay, Jeralt-interaction-quota fulfilled for at least another week. I kick Byleth’s legs back and forth, thinking about what to do next. What is Sothis doing, anyway?

“I’m almost done! Have patience, child,” Sothis says, sounding distracted. “It’s almost dinnertime now, go eat.”

Sothis doesn’t speak to me again until after I’ve changed for bed that night and am about to extinguish the candles in my room. She’s hovering over my desk as usual, eyes closed and frowning in concentration. 

Her eyes pop open, and she beams. “I have finished my work,” says Sothis.

“... what work are you referring to?” 

Sothis flings both of her arms up in the air and does a flip. “I have spent the past several days collecting and organizing information from both your brain and Byleth’s brain so you’d stop confusing me with all your references. And I have accomplished this task!” This is the most smug I’ve ever seen her, which is saying a lot.

I stare at her. “Didn’t you say there’s too much junk in my head for you to deal with all of it, like, a few days ago?”

“I didn’t say I sorted all of the information you know, but I have pulled out your important memories relating to Fodlan lore and this Fire Emblem Three Houses game you played, as well as everything you know about such games and technologies in general. And from Byleth, I pulled out all her memories of using weapons, commanding battalions, and being a good mercenary. Think of it as rearranging a stack of papers so the important papers are now on top for easy access.”

She does a twirl. “I can now serve as your Google. Go on, ask me something.”

Sothis knows what Google is now, huh. That’s not weird at all. “Okay... what’s the difference between a longbow and a regular bow?”

Sothis closes her eyes for a few seconds, then opens them again and tells me, “A longbow has a greater range than a standard bow. In your game, the longbow could hit enemies from three squares away. Here, it can hit from up to a hundred yards away.”

“A hundred yards! What! That’s a whole football field’s worth of space!” The game interface compressed space a lot, huh.

“I know what a football field looks like now,” Sothis informs me proudly, “and I am not impressed by this concept.”

I move to pat her on the shoulder, but my hand goes right through her spectral body. “It’s okay, I’m not either. This is amazing, though. Good job.”

“I know.” Sothis smiles, and it seems a bit more genuine than the other smiles I’ve seen from her. “I’m going to think about plans for dealing with Edelgard’s plot and the Agarthans while you sleep, so rest well, not-Byleth. You can put the candles out now, by the way.”

“Thank you.” I put out the candles. “I know this was a lot of effort on your part, so I’m very grateful you went through with it.”

“If we’re sharing a brainspace and a body, we might as well work together,” Sothis tells me, her voice echoing through my head. “And now I can understand how you think a little better after digging through all of the nonsense in your mind.”

I can’t see her anymore, but I can imagine her stretching out like a cat before curling up for a nap. “What’s that song you know that goes like this?” She hums a few bars I recognize immediately. “It was in your head earlier.”

“That’s a Russian song called ‘A Man and a Cat,’” I sigh, and try my best to remember it.

Most of the Russian songs I know have been in my head since before I knew what they were called, from hearing my family sing them at different times. “Sothis, did you ever have a mother, or did you just kind of spring into being fully formed?”

Sothis is silent for a moment. “I still can’t remember,” she admits. “But I don’t want to think about that now. Do the song louder.”

I try to make the music in my head louder, whatever that means. 

 

The next week, I’m cleaning up in the Golden Deer classroom after class ends when I hear voices outside. I put down the stack of textbooks on my desk and carefully peek out the door.

“Hey Lorenz, got a minute?” Leonie’s asking, arms full of old weapons from storage. Wait, I think I remember this. It’s their C support conversation!

So that’s how unlocking support conversations works in this world! I have to eavesdrop on people like a creeper. 

Maybe I should just estimate how close different pairs of characters are based on how they interact on purpose in front of me, and not how they talk to each other when they don’t know I’m there. At any rate, I mostly remember what this conversation was about, so I return to my textbook stacks without too much worrying.

There’s a clanging noise as Leonie dumps the weapons in Lorenz’s arms. “Let’s get to it then, buddy!” I love Leonie.

“Ngh,” Lorenz responds. 

I take one last look around the classroom (clean enough) and go outside to help Lorenz before he keels over from the weight of actually carrying things.

“Leonie’s fun, isn’t she?” I say cheerfully, taking half of the swords.

Lorenz scowls. “She has no respect for nobility at all.”

“Good for her,” I say without thinking. Or, I am thinking, but I’m thinking of that meme image of the lady from Arrested Development instead of the pseudomedieval fantasy world I am currently in. Poor Lorenz drops the rest of the weapons on the stone tiles of the courtyard. 

“Be careful,” I say, and scramble to help him pick them up.

“What did you mean by that, professor?” Lorenz demands, as we head up the stairs to his room. I’m kind of surprised he decided to bring all these old weapons to his personal room and not dump them in the training hall or something, but I’m going along with it.

Sothis, any ideas on what I meant by that? 

Sothis gives me a thumbs up and sticks her tongue out over Lorenz’s head. I’m being haunted by a nuisance.

“Well,” I begin, “here in the Officer’s Academy, commoners and nobles alike are studying together, as equals, correct? While you’re all classmates, you should treat each other equally, is what I believe.”

Lorenz stops walking and tilts his head at me. “That’s an unusual way of thinking, professor. But it’s rather naive, isn’t it? The Officer’s Academy is supposed to prepare us all for the future, whether as politicians, knights, soldiers, and us nobles are destined for entirely different futures than our common classmates. Would it not be best to act in a way that prepares us all for our life after we graduate?”

I shrug. “You never know how much the world could change by the time that comes.”

He raises his eyebrows, but lets the subject drop, and we get the weapons to their destination in relatively companionable silence. 

I remember the C-support with Lorenz was Byleth confronting him about complaints the female students made about him, but we’re almost three weeks into this and no one’s talked to me yet. Maybe I should bring it up before it becomes a real problem, but I’d have to think about how to approach the topic for more than three seconds. I can’t just be like “hey, do you think your obsession with finding an ideal wife to continue your family line is an expression of compulsory heterosexuality” out of nowhere.

Maybe after everyone gets bored with the Albinean seminars I can do a Gender Studies 101 lecture. Haha.

Lorenz bows. “Thank you for your help, professor.”

“Just doing my job,” I say, and shove my now-empty hands into my pockets to suppress my sudden urge to do weird hand gestures.

I walk back to my room thinking about the state of LGBT identities in Foldan, anyway. There were same-sex paired endings in the game, so I guess gay people are a known entity in this world? But it’s probably less acceptable for nobles who have to make Crest babies to continue their bloodline and all that... Maybe there’s something about this in the library.

I hear a thud as I pass Bernadetta’s door. I have seen Bernadetta in class exactly twice since the first day. I think she’s scared of me, but she’s scared of everyone. And unlike in the game where I could throw gifts and invite her to cook with me every free day until I got B support, actual Bernadetta can say no. 

“Is everything alright in there?” I ask anyway.

“I’m fine! Everything’s fine! Don’t come in!” Bernadetta squeaks.

“...Do you want this armored teddy bear I found the other day?”

The door creaks open a sliver. Bernadetta’s hand darts out, grabs the bear out of my hands, and slams the door shut again.

“Thank you,” she mumbles through the door.

... Perhaps I need a more aggressive approach.

“Would you be interested in joining an art club with me, Ignatz and Dedue?” I overheard Ignatz talking about sketching en plein aire the other day, and jumped at the chance to make it an organized thing. Mostly because before landing in the body of a mercenary, I was a cartoonist, and I’ve missed drawing as much as I used to. I asked Dedue because I remembered he likes arts and crafts, and I wanted at least one person from each house in this club. Inter-house bonding!

“...an art club? With people?”

“Maybe some other people too, they’re just the ones I’ve talked to already. We’ll just meet up at the front gates and then go to a nice location to draw trees for an hour or so once a week.”

Bernadetta is silent. 

“You won’t have to talk to anyone if you don’t want to,” I add. “I don’t know how well you know them but Ignatz and Dedue are pretty quiet.”

“Can I think about it?” Bernadetta says eventually.

I relax. It’s better than a hard no. “Of course. Our first planned meeting is after classtime on Friday. No pressure either way.”

“Thank you,” Bernadetta says quietly. 

I nod, even though she can’t see me, and say, “I’ll leave you be now. Have a good night, Bernadetta.”

“You too, professor!”

It’s really frustrating that I’m not in Bernadetta’s house, or on an equal level with her as a student. I’m a pro at making friends with shy people, from my friend Phoebe who couldn’t say two words in front of me for the first year of our acquaintance to my quieter classmates I met at college. But it is super weird for a professor who isn’t even your professor to try and make friends with you!

“You don’t need to be friends with Bernadetta if you want to get her into your house,” Sothis points out. “Just show her you can be good at teaching her archery.”

“See, logically I know that, emotionally I need everyone to like me,” I explain.

"That's stupid," Sothis sniffs. "Focus on what actually matters."

I roll my eyes. "Thank you, Sothis."

"You're welcome."

Chapter Text

After class lets out on Friday, Ignatz and I walk over to the front gates, where we make small talk with the gatekeeper while we wait for Dedue and maybe Bernadetta to join us. The gatekeeper is just as fun as he was in the game. He promises to show us his sketches when he’s off-duty. 

Ignatz seems on edge, and I realize I’ve barely interacted with him outside of class at all. I was never a big fan of him while playing the game, but I can appreciate his artistic inclinations at least.

“What do you like to draw?” I ask. 

Ignatz startles, like he wasn’t expecting me to address him. “Oh! Um, anything... landscapes, flowers, portraits... I want to capture the beauty I see around me,” he mumbles.

I try to smile genuinely at him. “That’s a great way to view the world.”

“It’s not that special, really,” Ignatz starts immediately, and I remember exactly why I wasn’t a big fan of him: he reflects all of my worst qualities like a funhouse mirror. I want to shake him and tell him to stop doing that, dammit. 

“Stop that,” I say, sharply enough that he flinches. “Try to accept compliments when they’re given. Don’t talk poorly about yourself, it will only make your self-esteem worse.”

Ignatz nods. “I’ll... work on that, professor.”

“Good.” 

Even though it’s been almost a month since I’ve arrived, I still reach into my pocket for the phone I don’t have to try and check the time. No one wears watches here, relying on the monastery’s bells to keep track of the quarter-hours. It makes everything feel slower somehow, not knowing the exact minutes or seconds. Sometimes I miss the sound of a ticking clock.

“Greetings, professor,” Dedue comes up behind us, carrying a large drawing pad and a leather roll of pencils and charcoal. I nod. With Dedue, I’ve found that quiet is the best approach. 

“Should we wait a bit for Bernadetta?” Ignatz asks. I nod again.

“Is there anyone else you can think of that would like to join this club?” I ask them. “I heard Edelgard enjoys drawing...” though I can’t tell them who I heard that from, because I learned that from the Crimson Flower route. 

“Maybe Flayn?” Ignatz suggests. 

“But then Seteth would probably insist on accompanying her, or sending a knight... I don’t think he trusts me very much still.” I didn’t get many supports with Seteth on my playthroughs, so I’ve been avoiding him as much as possible here. I just don’t know how to interact with that dude. 

We stand there in a pensive silence for what might be another minute or two before Bernadetta comes up the steps from the pond side. She stops halfway up and turns around, before changing her mind again and finally making her way to our group. 

Bernadetta holds her leatherbound journal in front of her face like a shield. “It’s just sitting and drawing, right? No talking?”

“No talking,” I affirm. 

She takes a deep breath. “Okay, I’ll come. Just this one time, though!”

“We’re happy to have you,” Ignatz volunteers. He’s so disgustingly earnest.

The four of us make our way through the market street to a hill I’d scouted earlier, one with a good view of the monastery and surrounding environment. I pull out the picnic blanket I acquired for the Golden Deer Bonding Event and spread it out so no one has to sit on the dirt. 

After that, it’s peaceful, the only sounds being birdsong in the trees and the scratching of pencils on paper. I miss my pen collection desperately, I haven’t sketched a landscape in pencil like this in years. But I’ve always found drawing environments like this to be calming, and it’s calming now in a way nothing has been since I woke up here. For an hour, I feel like myself, instead of Me-Pretending-to-be-Byleth. 

Ignatz draws a wildflower a few feet away in tight, meticulous detail that reminds me of my drawing professor from college. Dedue blocks in the long late afternoon shadows over the monastery in broad strokes from the side of his pencil. Bernadetta’s drawing with her arm wrapped around her notebook so I have no idea what’s happening there, but she seems to have relaxed a bit.

“Oh, that looks nice,” Ignatz says, looking over at my paper pad. 

I feel like he’s just saying it to make me feel better, but I am trying to set a good example so I say “Thank you, your drawing is beautiful too.”

Ignatz peers at Dedue’s page. “Oh! I like the texture of the grass and stones, it’s very pleasing to the eye.

Dedue’s drawing style reminds me of the Impressionist charcoal sketches I’ve seen in museums before, but I don’t know if they had an Impressionist artistic movement here. “I like the texture too,” I end up saying. “It’s so dynamic.” I wonder if Dedue can get chalk pastels here... maybe Ignatz knows. Dedue could do some cool stuff with those.

Even though I didn’t really plan for it, we end up sitting in a circle and having a mini-critique kind of session. Or compliment session, since this isn’t a serious art class and we’re all just having fun. 

Bernadetta, after watching us for a bit, slides her journal along the blanket into the middle of our sharing circle. “ Don’t flip to any of the other pages,” she says. “But uh... is this... good?”

Bernadetta had drawn a wyvern, flying high over the landscape. I hadn’t seen any wyverns fly past while we were sitting, but I suppose I haven’t really been looking for them. She drew the dragon with the loose yet precisely accurate marks of someone who has spent a significant amount of time practicing drawing this very creature.

Wow, that’s super on brand, I can’t help but think. “That’s so detailed!” I say. “It really looks like a wyvern. I love this.”

Bernadetta yanks her journal back to her chest and turns away. “You’re making fun of me.”

“I’m not! I mean it.” She doesn’t seem to believe me. This is frustrating.

We start walking back to the monastery. The sun is setting, and I can faintly hear the monastery bells signaling that it is a quarter to... some hour. Not sure which hour.

“Um, professor?” Ignatz asks timidly.

“What’s up?” 

“...could we try painting next week?” I tilt my head curiously at him. It doesn’t look like that’s what Ignatz wanted to ask, but he follows it up with “I mean, I like drawing, but I prefer painting, so.”

“Of course, bring whatever materials you want!” I didn’t get many of Ignatz’s supports when I played Golden Deer, but I remember he was insecure about his art because his parents disapproved of it or something. I can relate to that. But not as Byleth, the mercenary-turned-teacher following directly in her father’s footsteps. How frustrating.

“You’ve established yourself as a hobbyist artist now, so speak from that experience,” Sothis points out helpfully. Thanks, Sothis.

Ignatz lets out a breath. “Professor...you don’t think making art is a waste of time, right?” He shoots a quick look at Dedue and Bernadetta, who don’t seem to be paying attention to this conversation.

“If I did, I wouldn’t have organized this.” Ignatz needs encouragement, Bernadetta needs reassurance, and Dedue... I don’t really understand Dedue yet, I think. I need to be careful about how I phrase this.

“I understand you’re all training to be soldiers and military leaders in some way, so you might believe that art isn’t relevant to that. But it’s important to take care of the mind as well as the body.” Bernadetta looks up at this. Emboldened, I keep going. “Doing something that relaxes you, and that you enjoy doing in your spare time is necessary to stay healthy. Not to mention that drawing helps improve your spatial reasoning and fine motor skills...”

“Space...what?” Ignatz echoes. Dedue is nodding along thoughtfully. 

Right, Fantasy Middle Ages, limited science. “I mean, drawing from observation helps you learn to observe what you see better, and using your hands for drawing will keep you from spraining them from holding the same weapon for too long.” I can’t cite scientific research to back this up or anything, but I sound reasonably confident saying it, and it’s not like these kids are going to argue, right?

“Anyway, drawing is fun and good and I support you all doing it,” I summarize. Bernadetta laughs, then looks mortified at herself for doing so.

“Thank you, professor,” Ignatz says quietly.

I resist the urge to make any kind of weird hand gestures. “Just doing my job.”

 

We go back to that hill for the Golden Deer Special Bonding Picnic on the next free day. Linhardt and Hilda both promptly decide it’s time for a nap under the shade of the big tree. It makes me wish they’d had supports together in the game. The level of craftiness required to be as lazy as either of them is truly awe-inspiring sometimes. 

Lysithea baked a veritable mountain of pastries, while Raphael has obtained what appears to be the entire contents of the monastery kitchens. For his birthday the week before, I’d invited him to tea outside and gifted him a fancy cheese I found at the market. Lorenz arranges the plates and folds the napkins according to whatever counts as table manners in this universe while Leonie and Ignatz arrange the food. The rest of us kind of hover uncertainly, wanting to be helpful without crowding the more proactive people.

“This was a great idea, professor,” Sylvain says. “Nothing like a meal in the outdoors on such a lovely day.” It really is a nice day: we’re approaching the end of May (I mean, Harpstring Moon), the sunshine is warm and the wind is nice and breezy. 

Claude is watching Linhardt and Hilda with a contemplative expression that I have learned means nothing good. 

“Whatever you’re thinking of doing, consider not doing that,” I suggest.

Claude looks at Sylvain. “What would be funnier, wake them up now, or mess with them while they’re asleep and then wake them up?”

Sylvain assumes a mockingly thoughtful pose reminding me of the thinking emoji. “Well, that depends on how you intend to mess with them, of course.”

“P-please don’t hurt Hilda,” Marianne whispers. 

“I’m not gonna hurt her,” Claude scoffs. “Just embarrass her a little.”

“No embarrassing! Just wake them up in a reasonable manner. Or leave them alone, it’s not a big deal.”

“But professor, shouldn’t the whole class be participating in our class bonding activity?” Claude asks.

“Can’t you people get anything done?” Lysithea snaps. She stomps over to Hilda carrying the jug of cold water. 

Time slows down as she slowly tilts the jug towards the sleeping students, and I run to catch up. “I said REASONABLE!”

The jug falls, Hilda and Linhardt both splutter awake, and Lysithea retreats to a safer distance looking extremely proud of herself. 

“Was that really necessary?!” Hilda yells.

“I tried to stop her,” Claude says immediately, and Hilda gives him a look that says she doesn’t believe a word of it. 

I wonder if I should apologize, as The Adult in this situation, but I don’t really know what I should say. “...Do you want cake?” is what ends up coming out of my mouth. 

Hilda glares at me.

“There is cake,” I add, uselessly.

Linhardt yawns, more sleepy than annoyed for the time being. “I’ll have some cake, but I must urge you all to avoid such methods for waking me up in the future.”

After that, the picnic/party continues more or less smoothly, with everyone participating at least a little and enjoying the food. It’s nice. Relaxing.

So of course I have to ruin it by bringing up the mission, which is in less than a week now. 

We’ve been working hard in class, studying tactics and practicing fighting. I had to urge everyone to take the mission seriously, even if it’s “just some bandits” and not, for example, the giant demonic beast form of an ancient immortal being. I don’t know how I feel about possibly having to kill people, even though they’re not exactly innocent bystanders. But Byleth is an experienced mercenary with probably an extensive bodycount, so I can’t let any of my real anxieties show.

“Do you all feel ready? For your first official mission?” I ask.

Reactions are mixed. 

“Bring it on!” Raphael cheers.

“I can handle it,” says Lysithea.

Marianne winces. She shouldn’t be worried at all, she was great in the mock battle and keeping up well in class. 

“We’ll do great,” Claude says in his Confident House Leader Voice. “We’ll teach all of the bandits in Fodlan to FEAR THE DEER!”

“Fear the deer!” I cheer.

The party ends, we pack up the leftovers and dishware to take back to the kitchen, and I gently encourage everyone to spend the rest of their free day resting up. We’ll spend tomorrow double-checking equipment and going over the tactics I picked up from Jeralt’s primer, and then the knights should get back with word of where the bandits are soon after that. 

“Do you think you’re ready?” Sothis asks, once we’re back in my room.

“Physically? Yes. Emotionally? Not at all.”

Sothis is quiet, hovering next to me while I set the teakettle on the fire. “Taking a life in battle is... something you will have to become accustomed to, if you want to avoid raising suspicion about your identity.”

 I dump two teaspoons of crescent moon tea into Lorenz’s teapot and cover them with the boiling water. “It’s different when it’s a game and they’re just 3D models with generic faces! But these are people...”

“Bandits,” Sothis corrects me. “Thieves and possibly murderers themselves. Criminals. Do they really deserve to live?”

“Hey, in your reshuffling of everything I know and experience, did you get to this thing called Death Note?”

“I don’t see what a cartoon you liked when you were twelve could have anything to do with this,” Sothis sniffs. 

I laugh. “Never mind.”

The tea smells nice, not like oolong but like something else I can’t quite place. There might be jasmine in it, or some other herbal flavor I’ve never tasted before. “Sothis, can you smell things in your state?”

Sothis sighs and floats towards the ceiling. “Alas, no. But I appreciate the thought.”

Chapter Text

The mission doesn’t happen first thing in the morning, thankfully. We get to eat a normal breakfast before the knights return from their scouting and report that they have located the bandits the Golden Deer are supposed to fight in the Red Canyon. 

“Are you prepared for your missions?” I ask Edelgard and Dimitri, over scrambled eggs on toast. The food here reminds me of food at college: good, but not quite home. 

Dimitri nods. “Our mission seems... peaceful, compared to fighting thieves. I believe we can handle it.”

“Now, don’t get too jealous,” Claude jokes, reaching across the table for the jam.

“I’m not jealous!” Dimitri protests. “But... I do hope we can get some combat experience out of our mission as well.”

Edelgard is quiet. I wonder if she knows we’re facing Kostas. If she even remembers him, or if he was just some useless bandit leader to her Flame Emperor self.

 

Jeralt finds me after the knights leave. “I can’t come with you, but I talked to the mercenaries and a few of them are willing to serve as your battalion. And there’ll be knights from the Church too, in case anything goes wrong.”

I nod, trying to keep Byleth’s face blank. Jeralt seems to read something in it anyway, and puts his hand on my shoulder in a comforting manner. “You have nothing to worry about.”

I nod again. “Thank you,” I say quietly. “I should go... catch up with my students.”

“Hey, Teach. Glad you could make it,” Claude says, as I run up to the group in the Entrance hall. “We've been waiting on you.”

Unlike for the mock battle, this time everyone is carrying real, sharp metal swords and lances and bows. I put a small leather shield on Lysithea so she doesn’t keel over in battle in one hit.

Everyone is chatting excitedly, determined to do their best and give it all they’ve got. (Well, almost everyone, Marianne still seems convinced she’ll just let everyone down and Linhardt is treating this whole thing like it’s worse than Saturday chores.) It’s cute.

“If we fight half as well as we chatter, we'll be fine,” Claude finally interrupts, putting a stop to the talking. He gestures at me with a wide, friendly smile. “C'mon, Teach. Lead the way.”

The Red Canyon isn’t too far away. Further than wherever we had our mock battle, if I’m remembering it correctly, but it’s still less than an hour’s walk, and the conversations make the time pass faster. 

“So, we are taking children into battle, are we?” Sothis grumbles. “I am not certain I will be able to sleep soundly after beholding something like that... I shall allow you to turn back the hands of time, but know this power is not infinite!”

Right, how many Divine Pulses do I get? I ask Sothis. I don’t actually remember how many I had in the game, because I always played on the easiest difficulty with New Game+ enabled so it wasn’t a concern.

She rolls her eyes. “I’ll give you ten for now, and if that is insufficient then you will have to, hm, what’s the phrase...” Sothis hovers directly in front of me and smirks. “ Get good. Did I say it right.”

I blink. “Uh. Yes.” Where in my head did she find that??

“Did you say something?” Claude asks. I realize I answered her out loud by accident.

“Uh, just thinking out loud. The Red Canyon, huh?”

“Yup,” Claude confirms. “Never been there myself. I hear it’s a ruin of some ancient civilization!”

“Interesting,” Linhardt yawns, appearing out of nowhere. The last time I saw him he was bringing up the rear of our little group, behind even the mercenaries and knights of Seiros. Does he just sense when people are about to start talking about something relevant to his nerd interests or something?

“I haven’t read every book in the monastery library, of course,” Linhardt says, “but I’ve looked at a great deal of them, and I couldn’t find any that talked about the history of the Red Canyon at all.”

“Perhaps someone took those books out,” Claude suggests. He looks contemplative. “Maybe they’re still at Garreg Mach somewhere, just hidden.”

God I hope this doesn’t kickstart the Abyss storyline, these guys are still way underleveled for that. Maybe I should find my way down there myself and just talk to the Ashen Wolves on my own...

Claude stops suddenly and I almost run into him. “We’re here.”

We’ve stopped in front of a narrow bridge at the edge of the canyon, which is less colorful or deep than the Grand Canyon. It certainly doesn’t look like any of my mental images of what a canyon is. 

Sothis is quiet. I wonder if she’s remembering.

 I can see the thieves arguing amongst themselves, but they’re too far away for us to clearly make out what they’re saying even though I remember hearing their dialogue in the game. They’re scattered in groups of twos and threes across the canyon.

“So this is the Red Canyon?” Claude muses. “Doesn't look red to me... Anyway, let's get things started, Teach. Looks like the thieves have been driven back. That's what we last heard, so no surprise there.”

“Mhm,” I contribute. 

“I hear there's a back road to the west. How about we split up and attack from there and from the front? We may be able to corner the enemy by approaching from both sides. In any case, we need to cross the bridge first. I'll leave the details to you, Teach.” Claude moves his arm like he’s about to pat me on the shoulder, and then seems to remember I’m a professor at the last minute and reconsiders. Reassuring.

“Well then...” I clear my throat. “Let’s get to it!”

Two of the thieves sprint across the bridge and block our access, which is just fantastic. I send Leonie and Sylvain out first, they both perform better when fighting next to the opposite gender which is ridiculous but useful. Armed with iron lances, they strike, and the thieves crumple on the stone path.

Marianne looks away.

“I had to do it,” Sylvain mutters. “Don’t hate me, please.”

“This is what I’ve trained for,” Leonie says, but she doesn’t look nearly as certain as she did in the game.

Unlike the game, the... bodies don’t just vanish off the map once they’re down. Leonie uncermoniously shoves both of the ex-thieves off the bridge into the roaring river. I guess that’s... fine??? My head hurts, but I’m not nauseous. Byleth’s body is used to this, even if I am not.

We make our way across the bridge. “Leonie, Sylvain, Claude, Lysithea and Marianne, you guys attack from the front. Hilda, Raphael, Lorenz, Ignatz, and Linhardt, head west. I’ll bring up the rear.”

“Professor, do I have to be in front?” Hilda starts whining immediately. “I’d be a lot more help if I stayed back to observe...”

“Hilda, with all due respect, shut up.” I hand her a steel axe from the convoy, and then turn to address everyone. “If you’re uncomfortable with... fatal actions, aim to incapacitate your opponents. Our goal here is to defeat the enemy commander and for you all to get some fighting experience. You don’t have to kill everyone you see, but I do want each of you to try engaging in combat at least once. Remember what I taught you about planning your attacks: if you see a close-range weapon, those of you with long-range attacks should aim for them first, and vice versa.”

The students murmur amongst themselves. I guess this is an unusual take to have. ProZD’s video about the three houses critical quotes flashes through my mind. (“Murder is okay so long as you’re having fun! Also, I’m fourteen!”)

“Gee, professor, you couldn’t have said something before sending us across the bridge?” Sylvain grumbles.

“Sorry.” I shrug. “Come on, you’re a close range fighter and you land more hits when you’re next to girls.”

Sylvain gives me a startled look, but quickly turns it into a smirk. “Wow, professor, I had no idea you paid such close attention to how I perform with girls.”

I pull the iron sword at my hip out of its holster. “Sylvain. Focus.”

“Right, yes, sorry, focusing.” He turns his lance around and moves to the front of the group next to Leonie. 

The spatial relationships on the battlefield feel very strange, with everyone spread out further apart than I’m used to seeing them in-game, but at the same time close enough to talk and trade items? And it’s not turn-based combat anymore, so while we’re advancing the bandits are moving in on us at the same time, and if that isn’t scary as fuck. I keep telling myself to not panic and let Byleth’s body do her thing, but it’s hard to relinquish control in an actual emergency.

Everyone’s doing well so far, though. The practice I had them all do is paying off, I think, as I look around to see Claude land a critical hit with his bow and Marianne healing Leonie. 

Sothis, keep an eye on the other group for me, I think at her, and run to keep up with Ignatz and Linhardt.

One of the bandits on the west has a battalion following him, so I should probably try attacking him myself with my band of mercenaries. There’s also an actual treasure chest just sitting there on the ground, what the hell?

“We stole this treasure!” a thief yells. “It's all ours! There's not way we're gonna give it up to some knights!”

I roll my eyes and yell, “Looks like you’re gonna have to!” 

The thief is holding a pouch of what I have to assume is gold, and there’s something silvery around his neck. The chest key. I wonder why he decided to keep it there, or why he took the key to the treasure chest but not the treasure itself. Mysteries for another day.  

Hilda’s closest to the thief that shouted, so I push her forward. “Go get the chest key!”

“The what?” She makes a show of sounding spacey and confused, even though I know she can see the key even better than I can.

“Hilda!”

She whacks the guy over the head with her axe, and he collapses to the ground. “I was planning to just sit back and watch,” Hilda admits, “But hey, I got one!”

“Good job,” I say, carefully avoiding eye contact with the former thief. “Now go get whatever’s in that treasure chest. It might be useful.”

“It’s a large bullion,” Hilda reports upon opening the chest. “Should I put it in the convoy?”

“Please do, I’ll exchange it when we get back.” Five thousand gold stretch further here than in the game version. Students aren’t allowed to handle their own finances for whatever reason, so I’m in charge of keeping them all supplied for the monthly mission. I could use the bullion to upgrade everyone’s weapons and buy gifts for birthdays...

Right, I should focus on the fighting. I look around to see how everyone’s doing so far. In my group, while Hilda was dealing with the chest, Raphael and Ignatz had managed to take down a bandit by working together. Good teamwork, guys. Linhardt is healing Lorenz, grumbling all the while. The rest of the bandits are all clustered around the stronghold Kostas is holed up in, but it’s a clear path until then. 

“Good work, everyone,” I say, and we run towards the stronghold.

Sothis, status report. 

“Lysithea took out a fighter from a distance in one shot. She really is as powerful as you claimed she would be, even after barely a month of training. Claude and Marianne each incapacitated a fighter, but not fatally as far as I can tell, and Leonie got an archer. We’re advancing towards the stronghold now.”

Great, so are we. ... I forgot you can’t talk to them, I was going to ask you to tell Marianne to cast Silence on the priest on this side. 

“Unfortunately, I can do no such thing. You’re welcome for the status report, by the way.” 

“Yeah, thanks,” I mutter under my breath, and then take stock of our surroundings again.

From where I’m standing I can see Sylvain locked in close combat with a fighter a few hundred feet to my right, Marianne standing behind him and ready to heal if needed. Claude is weaving around to approach Kostas himself, without even waiting for my directions. Leonie’s aiming her lance at an archer that’s trying to attack Claude.

Marianne is too far away to hear me if I yell now, but if I run closer...

“Claude! Tell Marianne to cast Silence over here!” 

“You got it, Teach!”

The priest moves like he’s been lassoed by an invisible rope, and Lorenz takes the opportunity to stab him with his lance. Didn’t expect that much initiative from Lorenz, but good for him!

Byleth’s body has a kind of endless stamina I never experienced in my own life, when I could barely run for five minutes without getting winded. But here, I don’t feel like I’m losing energy the longer this fight goes on, which is surreal in its own way. Maybe it’s a function of the magic in this world?

There’s a thief with a battalion behind him approaching Hilda. Wait, I have a battalion too! I should use them!

As it turns out, the way a battalion works is they follow a person around at a safe distance, not engaging with any enemies unless directed to do so. Weird, but okay. I blow a whistle. “Jeralt’s Mercenaries, over here!” 

“What’s up, boss?” asks one of the mercenaries. All of them have the same face, which makes me wonder about the possibilities of cloning technology in Fodlan. 

I point at the battalion guy. “I want to run a gambit on that thief.”

“Yes ma’am!”

Hilda is stepping backwards to avoid fighting him. I think she noticed the battalion too. I run forward, and the mercenaries run past me, yelling and rushing the guy and his squad until they’re disoriented and falling over. The enemy also moves back several feet. So that’s how gambits work, I guess.

“Um, thank you,” I tell the mercenaries, bowing instinctively.

“Happy to serve!” one of them says. God that’s weird. If they really are Jeralt’s Mercenaries I’m going to have to figure out how to tell them apart when I have to socialize with them.

A fighter moves to attack me, and I will my brain to stop thinking and let Byleth’s instincts take over. Byleth’s hands swing her sword up and over the man’s head and it’s... done. I try not to think about it and focus on joining Claude on his way up to the stronghold.

“Spoiled little noble!” Kostas snarls. “Just die like a good little rich kid!”

“Being noble has nothing to do with who you are as a person or how hard your life is. Your logic is illogical!” Claude spins around and shoots. “Enough is enough!”

I’m pretty sure that’s a critical hit!

His arrow lands with enough force behind it to knock Kostas off his feet. The man lies there on his back, groaning in pain. “I should have never listened to that idiot... What a mistake...”

The knights of Seiros deal with the aftermath. Sothis tells me to hang back. “Although the battle is at an end, do not feel too at ease.”

I nod politely.

“I feel... a sense of familiarity about this place...and a great depth of emotion is tied to that sense of familiarity. Like joy and sorrow. Pain and love. And all things in between... If I was somehow here before, I wonder what happened...”

“Teach?” Claude interrupts. “What are you doing here? We should get back to the academy.”

“Right, sorry, I’m coming!”

“You’ve earned my gratitude for ridding the canyon of thieves,” Sothis says as we depart. “I am not sure why, yet I am grateful all the same.”

The walk back to the monastery feels longer than it did in the morning. We’d just missed lunchtime, and Raphael is groaning about how his muscles need fuel and whatnot. No one had the foresight to bring snacks this time. I’ll have to remember for the next mission.

So uh, Sothis... do you want me to tell you everything I know about this canyon thing from the video game or do you want to remember it on your own? 

“I will remember that which is lost,” Sothis tells me firmly. “These are my memories, and they are for me to recover. I’ve avoided looking at your memories of my past for this reason.”

But maybe if you knew what I knew you could use it, somehow? Stop Edelgard?

“I don’t see how such ancient history could have a tangible bearing on the near future,” she sniffs, then grows silent. “I must admit it disturbs me to know that you know more about me than I do myself, and I wish to restore some balance to this distribution of information.”

Fair enough. 

Claude and Linhardt both keep looking at me like they want to ask a question, but aren’t sure if they should. I’ve seen them in the library together a few times now. I feel like if they do manage to collaborate, they’ll get closer to solving the mysteries of Fodlan than anyone else in this universe.

We finally get to the monastery and everyone runs for the dining hall. I’m pretty hungry too, but Claude sticks his arm out to stop me. “Hey, Teach, I have a question.”

“I gathered. What’s up?”

“On the way back, you seemed transfixed by the canyon. Did something happen there?”

Excellent question, Claude! What am I going to tell him, an immortal goddess is sharing my brain and she thinks it seems kind of familiar?

“It seemed... strangely familiar to me,” I say, trying for a contemplative and mysterious tone of voice. “Like I’d been there before, even though I know I haven’t.”

“It seemed familiar to you? Huh. Can't say the same. Maybe it's a memory from when you were a child. Or from a past life. Anyway, if you can't remember, I guess there isn't really much more to be said.”

“I do wonder why Zanado came to be called the Red Canyon,” Claude shares as we follow the rest of the Golden Deer to our late lunch. “Nothing there was actually red.”

“There was probably some kind of big battle,” I say without thinking. “Maybe it’s symbolically red with blood.” That’s what I thought when I played the game for the first time at least, it’s not a huge deductive leap to make.

Claude stops and turns back, eyebrows raised in an expression of surprise. “Oh? Now that’s a very interesting theory, Teach. I’ll have to read up on it.”

I’ll have to go to Rhea’s chambers for a debriefing soon, but for now, my only concern is getting some fantasy food into this borrowed body’s stomach.

Chapter Text

“So, you have safely disposed of those bandits,” Rhea intones. I am anxiously bouncing back and forth in front of her, waiting for the ordeal that is “dealing with Rhea for more than five minutes at a time” to be over. “I pray that their souls find salvation. But why did they target the students to begin with?”

Oh, I don’t know, perhaps because one of those aforementioned students hired them to murder two of Fodlan’s heirs? I’m not going to tell Rhea that. Even if I thought it would be useful for her to know, I don’t trust her or like her very much, so fuck that. I just shrug and let her keep talking. This woman loves a good monologue. “We must further investigate the true cause of all that took place. Until we know more, I ask that you support the students and relieve them of any unnecessary worry.”

“Of course, Lady Rhea.” I add a bow for good measure. Supporting the students is the one thing I can definitely do.

“Good. I have high expectations for you. By the way, how was your time in Zanado? Legend has it, in ancient times, a goddess alighted upon this world in that very canyon. For a goddess from heavens, Zanado could only have been a temporary haven.” She pauses as if waiting for me to say something, but I don’t really know how to respond to this without sounding like a complete dumbass. I just nod and hope she continues. Maybe Claude would be interested in learning that Red Canyon lore.

Rhea frowns slightly. There goes that support ranking, I guess. “Long ago, the divine Seiros received a revelation from the goddess. A gift, to help the lost. The goddess is always watching over Fódlan from her kingdom above. However, in ancient times, the goddess graced this world with her presence and offered salvation to the people here. She is the mother of all life, the arbiter of every soul.”

This pseudo-Catholic religion chafes at me like cheap underwear. I was raised Jewish! “...Why are you telling me this?” I blurt out like an idiot.

Rhea blinks. I have gone off-script, and she was not expecting me to. Whoops. “As a professor and a member of the staff here at the monastery, I pray for you to devote yourself to the teachings of Seiros.” 

You’re Seiros! You want me to worship you ? Fuck off! I nod and bow again. If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all and hope the supernatural dragon lady can’t read your mind.

The supernatural dragon lady that can read my mind is cackling gleefully. Sothis thinks my discomfort is hilarious. Sothis may not be the paragon of virtue Rhea says she is.

“So, Zanado was a temporary haven for me, huh?” Sothis muses as we finally escape Rhea’s audience chamber and head to the pond to stress-fish. “I have but the faintest stirrings of recollection about that place... And I wouldn’t have even known I was a goddess if not for your memories, I can’t remember that at all... This is quite frustrating, I must admit.”

“I’m sorry,” I whisper. “I hope you can regain your memories soon.”

“It’s sweet of you to worry about me,” Sothis says. “Explain what ‘Jewish’ means, you kept thinking that while Rhea was talking and I’ve never heard that word before.”

I drop my fishing rod in the pond from laughing so hard.

“Why? What’s so funny to you?” Sothis demands. 

I grab the rod before it sinks too far into the water and shake the droplets off. “It’s... I don’t know how to explain this to you or where to even start. Can’t you just... check my memories or something?”

Sothis is silent, presumably digging through my brain archives for information on Judaism. “I’m getting memories of potato pancakes, some books you’ve read, a song from a television show and a lot of anxious confusion.”

“That’s most of it.” I don’t really want to have this conversation out loud. Or at all. But my discomfort with the Church of Seiros is partly due to this part of my upbringing, so I would like Sothis to understand it at least a little. “There’s also several thousand years of systematic persecution, but we don’t really have the time to go over the history of an entirely different world.”

I put another wriggly worm on the end of my fishing hook, and let Byleth’s fishing instincts cast the line forward.

“Oh, Teach!” I look up. Claude is standing behind me. “How was your meeting with Rhea?”

I sigh and reel the fishing line in. I’m not gonna catch anything with all this noise, unless the fish are really stupid. “She told me something interesting about the Red Canyon.” I summarize her exposition dump.

“A place special to the goddess...” Claude sits down next to me on the pier, kicking his legs back and forth. It occurs to me that I don’t remember ever seeing him in this part of the monastery while playing the game. Maybe he’s not a fan of fishing? “Teach, do you believe in the goddess?”

“Kind of a loaded question to ask a professor at a monastery dedicated to a saint that serves said goddess,” I point out. Just because the goddess of Fodlan is sharing my brain and a stranger’s body, doesn’t mean I believe in her. What was that Discworld quote about witches and gods? It’d be like believing in the postman.

“You are so rude,” Sothis gasps. I think she’s exaggerating.

Claude winks at me. “I won’t tell if you don’t.”

“I believe... it doesn’t matter whether I believe in the goddess or not,” I say. “But I think everyone should be free to believe in whatever god they want.”

Claude leans back, shifting his weight to his hands. “I agree. But you should be careful saying things like that around followers of Seiros, you know.”

“Of course. I’m glad we’re in agreement about this,” I add.

“Me too.” Claude stands up. “I’ll leave you to your fishing now, Teach. Thanks for the chat.”

“Sure thing. You can always come talk to me.”

 

Rhea summons me again a few days later to tell me about the month’s mission. Seteth is there too this time. “We have received reports that Lord Lonato has rallied troops against the Holy Church of Seiros.”

I wince. I remember this one. “That would be Ashe’s adoptive father, yes?”

“That’s correct.”

“Does Ashe know? Is he alright?” Can we be at least a little concerned about the teenager in our care?

“Last I remember, Ashe was not a student of your house, Professor,” Rhea interrupts, smiling coldly. “I’m certain professor Hanneman is helping him through this. Lord Lonato has been showing hostility to the church for some time now.”

They go over the mission details and introduce me to Catherine. Catherine is a lot more attractive in person, and I smile and nod politely when she tells me she’ll be leading the knights. I consider inviting her to tea or something, but then remember her weird obsession and hero-worship for Rhea. Also, the fact that I have nothing to talk to her about because I am still faking all of my knowledge about fighting with Sothis’s help. 

“I look forward to working with you,” is what I settle on, and then I get out of there and go look for Ashe.

He’s in the first place I look for him: the cathedral, praying in front of the altar. I stop a few feet away from him, not wanting to intrude on this private moment. The cathedral at night is dark even with the chandeliers full of candles. I understand those supports about mistaking Marianne for a ghost better now.

Ashe looks up. “Professor? Have you come to pray too?”

 “I came to check on you,” I say gently. “I thought you might be here.”

Ashe nods slowly. I take this as invitation to sit down in the pew next to him.  “I’m guessing you’ve heard?”

“Professor Hanneman told me the news, but there must be some mistake. Lonato would never raise arms against the church. At least, he never said anything to me about it.” He pulls his knees up to his chest. “I don’t understand...”

“How are you feeling about it?”

He blinks. “Um. Confused. Betrayed, a little... Lost. Being here makes me feel more at peace. Knowing the goddess is watching makes me believe everything will turn out alright.”

I try not to cringe remembering how this went down on all three routes, and resolve to do everything in my power to deal with this situation peacefully. Ashe isn’t looking at me, though.

Sothis, any words of wisdom for the sad teenager who believes in you?

“Oh, I hate that you’re the only person who can see me,” she grumbles. “Tell Ashe that the goddess would want him to be prepared for any outcome of this rebellion. Is that too calculated? I don’t remember what kind of blessings and vows I made when I lived among mortals, if I ever did those at all... how inconvenient...” she yawns and goes silent. Thanks for nothing, Sothis.

“Your class will be the one helping the knights deal with the aftermath, right?” He sighs. “I wish you luck.”

“You can come along if you like,” I offer. I remember there was a mission assistance mechanic in the game to borrow students from other houses for a month, surely that’s still possible here.

Ashe perks up immediately. “Really?”

“Of course. I’m sure you’d like to see Lord Lonato again, regardless of... circumstances,” I say. I desperately hope it won’t end up being the last time this kid sees his dad alive.

“Thank you, Professor. I’ll be there.”

I nod. “What do you need most right now?”

“For this to all be a misunderstanding,” Ashe says. “For Lonato to have done nothing wrong, and for Garreg Mach to not be fighting him.”

“I meant, are you hungry? Thirsty? Do you need a cup of tea? A good storybook to distract you? A warm blanket? Your friends?”

“I think I should just go to sleep,” Ashe says after a moment of thought. “It’s getting pretty late.”

“I’ll walk you to your room,” I offer. “It’s dark, who knows what might be lurking in the shadows...”

“Professor! Don’t joke about that!” 

We make it back to the dormitories in short order, and I’m somewhat proud of myself for learning how to navigate the monastery even at night. There’s a cluster of people in front of Ashe’s door: all of the Blue Lions, from what I can see, and I think Caspar and Petra as well. And Leonie, which I was not expecting. Do they seriously think they’ll all fit in Ashe’s room? The single dorms here are smaller than the doubles I shared at college!

“There you are!” Ingrid announces as we come up. “We’ve been looking for you.”

Mercedes holds up a platter piled high with cookies and cakes. Ashe gasps. 

“We thought it’d be nice to have a little get-together and help take your mind off things,” Annette chimes in. “Sylvain brought board games and cards, and Ingrid made tea.”

“Oh...” Ashe covers his mouth with both hands. It’s very cute.

I pat him on the back. “Well, looks like you all have this handled. Great teamwork, everyone. Don’t stay up too late, you still have class tomorrow. Good night!”

“Good night, professor!” 

I wave at them as I walk down the row to my own room. I hope the party helps Ashe at least a little. “The power of friendship saves the day this time,” I comment. Sothis rolls her eyes.

 

I tell my class about the mission the next day, adding that Ashe will be joining us for the mission when it happens.

Claude raises his hand and I sigh internally at whatever nonsense is going to come out of his mouth. “Don’t you think this mission would be better suited to the Blue Lions? We’re going into Faerghus territory and working with Catherine, who was in the Blue Lions house when she was at the academy. Why did Rhea assign this to the Golden Deer?”

Because that’s how this stupid video game wanted to explain the worldbuilding lore to the player, I don’t yell. Instead, I smile brightly and say, “Would you like to go and ask her?”

Claude doesn’t react, and just crosses his arms in front of him. “Seriously, Teach, what’s her motive?”

“Claude makes a good point,” Linhardt says from underneath his desk. “Perhaps Rhea is testing you, Professor.”

I shrug. “Like I said, ask Rhea if you want to try and find out, but I’d rather focus on what’s ahead of us for now. You two can compare theories after class is over. It’s swords time now.”

And then we walked over to the training grounds for practice fighting time. I feel like I’m actually learning about swords from Byleth’s memories now. I can assume the proper stance without letting Byleth’s reflexes take over, and give advice I come up with on my own. 

Everyone starts running laps the moment we enter. I don’t even have to lead them through the stretches anymore. I wish I had internet or a 21st century library here so I could look up more exercises I could have my kids try, but we’re unfortunately stuck with the half-remembered knowledge of a former gym class slacker. 

Since none of these students are sword specialists, after making sure everyone was capable of the basics, I decided they’d get more out of this time if they all just sparred with their weapons of choice, so that’s what we do now. Everyone breaks off into pairs and I go around giving tips and checking in on people’s progress.

Lysithea and Marianne both show more natural talent for swords than the rest of my students, but neither of them are interested in actually pursuing that. So I spend some time trying to convince the two girls to practice with swords, and while Marianne folds pretty quickly, Lysithea is the most stubborn person I have ever met in my life.

“If I stay out of enemy range, I’ll never need to handle a sword,” she sniffs dismissively.

“What if someone casts Silence on you, Lysithea?” I demand. “What if someone has a guard up against magic? What if someone sneaks up on you with a lance and tries to hit you first?” Lysithea rolls her eyes. Was I this annoying when I was 15? Jeez.

“You have to learn to handle close-range physical attacks, because anything could happen on a battlefield.” I pass her a training sword anyway. “Marianne, try attacking.”

“Um, okay.” Marianne steps forward obediently. Lysithea swings her arm up to cast a spell in retaliation.

“Marianne, cast Silence!”

Marianne waves her free hand, and Lysithea steps backwards, arm coming down like it’d been caught in an invisible net.

“Now attack with the sword.”

Professor, ” Lysithea complains, but picks up her training sword and blocks Marianne’s swing with extreme reluctance.

“You sounded like Hilda just now,” I inform her. “Is that what you want for yourself, academically?”

Lysithea shudders. “Okay, okay, I get it.”

She and Marianne practice their swordfighting for the rest of the class period. I feel very proud of myself.

 

Sylvain’s birthday falls on that Friday, so I do the courteous thing and invite him to tea. I don’t remember what his favorite tea was, but he seems like a Bergamot kind of guy so I make a pot of that. 

“You've got excellent taste, Professor,” he says, inhaling the steam. “This is great tea.”

I grin, feeling triumphant. “It’s a favorite of mine as well.”

“I’ll have to remember that,” Sylvain says, smirking.

The sun is setting over the garden, and I can see Felix and Ingrid sitting at a table behind Sylvain. I wonder if he’s noticed them.

 I turn around. Claude waves at me, while Dimitri looks away. So, standard play then.

“I’m surprised you didn’t have other plans, considering it’s your birthday and all,” I say. I don’t really have much to talk to Sylvain about besides “the way you interact with women sets off all my alarms and I really wish this wasn’t the case but there’s a non-zero chance we’ll have to cut this teatime short because of an anxiety attack,” but I can’t just tell him that. We’re in public!

Sylvain laughs self-deprecatingly. “Oh, you know me, turning down dates left and right... I’m kidding, Professor,” he says at my unimpressed expression. “We all got together at Ashe’s the other day, organizing another party for me in the same week would be too much. I don’t usually make a big deal out of my birthday anyway, so...”

Whatever my face does at this must be way too pitying, because Sylvain looks mortified. “Professor, seriously, it’s fine, stop looking like that.”

I shove the birthday cake I procured from the dining hall earlier at him. “Have some cake. You’re what, twenty now? That’s worth celebrating properly.”

Sylvain buries his face in his hands. “Can we please talk about something else now?”

“Sure. What would you like to talk about?”

“What’s your type?” 

All that sympathy I’d been feeling for Sylvain Gautier just went out the metaphorical window. “Remember what I said about boundaries? Several times?”

“I’m not hitting on you,” he protests, “I’m just wondering who I should set you up with.”

“Nobody,” I snap. “We may be close in age, but I am still your professor and you are a student. We are not friends. You cannot set your professor up on dates. You have to talk to me like how you would talk to Hanneman or Manuela, don’t treat me differently because I’m young and pretty.” Wait, never mind, doesn’t he flirt with Manuela in a support? “Talk to me like I’m not something you want to fuck.” Sylvain’s jaw drops. I hope the shock helps it sink in.

“Anyway,” I say, picking up a cookie from the tray. “Have you read any good books lately?”

Sylvain blinks. “You know, I actually have. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the works of Oscar Hremovitz, but...” he talks at length about a Fodlan novelist I have never heard of. I should really go through the pleasure reading section of the library here, sparse as it is. I consider myself a fairly well-read person, and not knowing what books people talk about in this world is almost as frustrating as a language barrier when traveling. It’s a cultural barrier! 

"Thanks for the treat, Professor,” Sylvain tells me as I clean up the table. “I'd like to do this again sometime."

“I’d like that too,” I say. “I learned a lot about the local literature. You’re a very interesting person when you stop trying so hard.”

“You always seem to see right through me,” he mutters. “Have a good evening, Professor.”

“You too! And happy birthday again.”

“You could’ve been easier on him,” Sothis tells me, once I’m back in my room recuperating. "The boy means no harm."

“Sylvain opens his mouth and I relive every catcall I’ve heard outside since I was twelve all at once,” I tell her. “I needed it to stop.”

“I don’t know what cats have to do with this.”

So I share the memories with her. Not just the catcalling, but the other stuff that Sylvain’s careless flirtation brings back up to the surface. Nothing objectively terrible, just... uncomfortable.

“Hm,” Sothis says. And that’s that.

 

That’s the most eventful thing to happen that week, until Jeralt catches me on my way out of the dining hall on Saturday and informs me that I won’t get away with skipping out on drinking with the mercenaries any more, and tomorrow I will join them in the village for some father-daughter-band-of-mercenaries bonding time.

So that should be fun.

Chapter Text

Byleth’s body can and will eat anything. This is one of its best attributes, because I cannot stand the taste of alcohol on a good day and would not be able to drink this... beer? Mead? Light brown alcoholic drink without wincing. 

The tavern is loud and crowded with Jeralt’s entire company in attendance. It’s also darker than I expected, and people I do not know and do not recognize as named characters from the video game keep talking to me. It is, in short, a hell evening.

Sothis I will give up control of this body if you take over for the rest of the night, please, I beg her to no avail. Sothis manifests over the table just to stick her tongue out at me and disappear again.

I don’t even really get to bond with Jeralt in this situation, because he starts drinking hard and fast right away and is singing some horribly off-key song I don’t recognize before I even make it through one glass. I fall back on my best imitation of game Byleth: nod solemnly, smile mysteriously, say the bare minimum required to count as sustaining a conversation.

“Professor Byleth!” someone exclaims. I look up and see Manuela. “It’s rare to see you here!”

“Isn’t it!” says the mercenary next to me. I think his name is Lincoln. In the dim candlelight of the pub it’s even harder to tell any of these people apart. “Byleth never goes out anymore. Too busy, she says.”

“How diligent! I remember my first year as a professor. I don’t know if I worked as hard as Byleth, even then...” Manuela sighs, reminiscing. “But it’s important to have enough time to relax and have some fun every now and then. Take it from me, Byleth.”

I nod. I wish fervently that watches existed in this universe so I could look at something and say it was late and I needed to head out. How long have I been here? A hour? A decade?

“It’s been approximately 34 minutes and 12 seconds, you drama queen,” Sothis reports.

How do you know that?

“I have the power to turn back the hands of time, do I not? While I cannot change the speed of the temporal flow, I am attuned to it. I have to be to use my power wisely.”

“You could’ve told me earlier,” I grumble into my drink.

“What was that?” asks probably-Lincoln.

“Nothing.” On the opposite side of the table, a drinking game that looks kind of like Pong but with nuts instead of ping pong balls is being played. I yank my glass out of the way of an errant projectile.

 I stand up. I have hit my limit. “I just remembered, I’m on curfew duty today, I have to get back to the monastery.”

“It’s not even 9 o’clock,” Sothis tells me with entirely unnecessary glee. “Curfew isn’t for over an hour. There’s no rush.”

Why do you wish to torture me so?

“I’ll walk with you,” Manuela volunteers suddenly. “It can be dangerous out there for young ladies alone at night.”

“I have a sword,” I point out. “So do you, actually. I think it’s everyone else who’d be in danger from us.”

“Let’s hope we don’t have to put that to the test,” Manuela says. “Goodbye for now, everyone~!”

“Bye.”

The tavern door slams shut behind us and Manuela breathes a sigh of relief. “Thank goodness you showed up when you did, honestly, I wasn’t sure how I was going to get out of that one.”

“What happened?” She didn’t seem to be in any distress when I saw her.

Manuela’s hand drops down to the sword at her waist and she walks a little faster. “A man I had... a previous flirtation with had spotted me and was approaching when I came across your table. It was the sort of flirtation where I would prefer not to ever see this man again, if you understand me.”

“I understand perfectly.” 

Manuela turns back to face me and raises her eyebrows. “Oh? Does Professor Byleth have some unsavory suitors in her past as well?”

I hold back a laugh. “No past suitors, but plenty of acquaintances I would rather not run into while out on the town.” Although at this point, if I ran into any of those acquaintances in this world the shock might just be enough to send me right back to where I came from.

“Good for you, Byleth,” Manuela says. “Don’t bother with men. All they ever do is disappoint.”

I try to remember Manuela’s supports. I don’t think I got all of them on any of my runs, I didn’t use Manuela much. I think she likes complaining about her problems?

“...Would you like to talk about it?” I hazard. 

This turns out to be the right thing to say, and Manuela goes off on a rant about all of the boy problems she’s ever had that continues right up until we reach the gates of Garreg Mach. I mostly zone out at this, but Sothis appears to be listening raptly, commenting in my head on Manuela’s tales.

“Thank you for listening,” Manuela says. “I just realized how long I’ve been talking. And I didn’t even ask you about yourself at all...”

“No worries,” I say. “I don’t have much to tell anyway.” I could try to make up a backstory for Byleth, but since Jeralt is around, I’m worried I’ll say something that contradicts whatever he knows of Byleth’s past and get found out.

We walk up the stone steps to the gate.

“Good evening, professors,” the gatekeeper greets us, saluting. “Nothing to report!”

“Happy to hear it,” I say, feeling genuine joy at the gatekeeper’s mere existence. He is just so delightful. “Have a good night, sir.”

“You as well!” He waves. 

“The gatekeeper is just so nice,” I sigh.

“Is that your type, then? I wouldn’t have guessed...” Manuela is smirking as we walk through the entrance hall, and I almost smack her arm before remembering that she’s like my senior or whatever and I should probably show some respect.

“I cannot emphasize enough how uninterested I am in men at all,” I blurt out. Huh, I guess that’s the first time I’ve come out to someone as Byleth. 

Manuela just sighs indulgently. “You say that now, but you’re still so young. There’s plenty of time for men to disappoint you as well.” 

Ah. “I like women,” I say, feeling the exact same level of panic at saying the words as I did the first time I said it out loud as a teenager. “Um.” Manuela is frozen, blinking at me in shock. At least I’m not trapped in a car with her, like I was when I impulsively came out to my mother that one time. So I just start walking towards the dorms and shout over my shoulder on the way. “Have a good night.”

“You worry about the silliest things,” Sothis comments.

“You sound like my mom,” I grumble. “I have anxiety, that’s how it works!” 

I fully intended to go straight to bed when I got back, but I forgot how early I left. Curfew isn’t for another...

“17 minutes,” Sothis says helpfully. 

“Thank you.” Yeah, so curfew isn’t for another seventeen minutes, which means students are still milling around in the cloisters and hanging out with their rooms’ doors open. I can hear laughter coming from Ashe’s room when I walk by. I’m glad his friends are still keeping him company. 

I decide to go to the library and pick up some fiction books so that I have something to talk about with the nerds in this place the next time there’s a tea party. “Sothis, whose birthday is next?”

“Lorenz’s birthday is on the 13th,” she reports. “And Edelgard’s is on the 22nd of this month.”

“Boo, I’m running low on bergamot.” And as I mumble that to myself, turning the corner to the stairs leading up to the library, I bump into someone shorter than me, who squeals at a supersonic pitch.

“Ahhhh! Ghost! I mean— Professor! Uh, good evening! I wasn’t expecting to see you here!” Lysithea bows. She looks like she’s about to cry, poor baby.

Wait, I remember this support.

I’m getting a support? Like an actual support from the game?? Wow!  “Good evening, Lysithea,” I greet her. “Where are you headed?”

“Oh, I left something in the dining hall, so I'm on my way to fetch it. But you don't need to come with me or anything like that. I'm fine on my own—really!”

“...Are you sure?”

Wrong dialogue option. Lysithea pouts indignantly. “Of course I’m sure, I’m not a child that needs a grownup to hold her hand everywhere just because it’s dark!”

I wait. Lysithea glances at me, and then sighs, elaborating. “Everyone I come across asks if I'd like some company. They all seem to think I'll be scared wandering alone at night. So rude and presumptuous, you know? I'm perfectly capable of being on my own!”

“Right, of course.” I nod, and then start walking in the direction of the dining hall. Lysithea speeds up to keep pace with me. “But accepting the company of people who care about you is nothing to be ashamed of. I asked Professor Manuela to walk back from the village with me this evening so neither of us had to go out alone in the dark.”

“Are you afraid of ghosts, Professor?” We walk past the Golden Deer Classroom and continue down the path.

“Hm... I’m not sure if I believe in ghosts, but I do believe that the cover of darkness can hide dangerous things, so it’s always safer to be walking around with others.”

“That makes perfect sense.” Lysithea nods vigorously. “Wh— Hey, you’ve walked me to the dining hall!”

“I just happened to be walking this way.” I shrug.

“Well, thank you, Professor,” she says softly. “And thanks for never treating me differently because I’m younger than the rest of our class.” She retrieves the book she’d left in the dining hall and we start walking back.

“You’re a good student.” I pat her on the shoulder a few times. “Now tell me how learning Swarm Z is going.” 

We reach Lysithea’s room just as the bells chime ten o’clock. “Good night, Professor! Thanks again!” She slams her door shut behind her.

“You’re welcome. Good night.”

Curfew is pretty lax here. As long as the doors are closed and it’s quiet after ten, the professors aren’t expected to do anything. I just have to walk up and down the dorm building halls for an hour, and after that the monastery patrols take over. I think the summer camp I went to as a kid was stricter than this. 

I walk the halls of the dormitory and think about the mission. I don’t want us to kill Ashe’s dad. But by bringing Catherine, who he has a particular vendetta against, that pretty much removes any possibility of a peaceful resolution. How can we unfuck this rebellion thing in a peaceful manner? What even prompted this sudden rebellion in the first place?

I need to talk to Dimitri, I realize. I need to talk to all of the Blue Lions, honestly. Not Catherine, because she’s intimidatingly hot and also way too loyal to Rhea for me to want to trust her, but all of the students, who grew up in the kingdom and know more about their politics than I can figure out.

I finish my patrols and make my way to Hanneman’s room on the second floor of the main building. He goes to bed fairly early compared to everyone else, but he opens the door for me still fully dressed and wide awake. There are papers out on his desk and a strange alchemical contraption bubbling away. “What is it, Professor Byleth? Would you like to hear more of my theories on your crest and history?”

“I really would not,” I say honestly. “I came to ask you about borrowing your class for a day.”

“That’s unusual. What for?”

“The Golden Deer’s mission for the month is going to be suppressing a rebellion in the Kingdom, and I want to talk to the students from the Kingdom to make sure we all understand the background of what this rebellion is and why it’s occurring so we can try and resolve it peacefully.”

“Hmm. That’s an interesting approach. Certainly not one I or Manuela would have considered.” Hanneman adjusts his spectacles thoughtfully. “I think our classes have Tactics lectures at the same time on Wednesdays, we can have a joint lesson then.”

“Thank you!” I bow. “I owe you a favor in return.”

“Allow me to study your crest on a free day and we can call it even,” Hanneman says. “Have a good night, Byleth. Oh, and one more thing.” He starts to pull the door closed in front of my face. “I wouldn’t tell Rhea about this if I were you. You didn’t hear it from me, but the Archbishop prefers things to be done her way or not at all.”

Ominous! “Thanks for the warning,” I tell him. “Good night!”

Chapter Text

The joint Golden Deer and Blue Lions class takes place in the Golden Deer classroom. There’s plenty of space and the tables they call desks are big enough for six students to share one easily. I pull the desks closer to the front of the room like I usually do for lectures and have the Blue Lions bring chairs from their classroom to sit behind the desks. 

“Cluster together,” I command, while ushering Hanneman to a seat behind my own desk. “We’re all friends here, and this way no one has to yell.” 

I’m expecting the Golden Deer kids to bunch up on one side of the room and the Blue Lions on the other. To my surprise, Dimitri sits down next to Claude at the front of the room. Annette joins Lysithea at the next desk over, Dedue sits with Ignatz, Felix sits with Sylvain, and everyone settles in without as much arguing as I was expecting.

Ashe comes in last and sits down next to Linhardt in the back row. “You know, you don’t have to participate today if you’re not up for it.”

“I’m up for it,” Ashe assures me quickly. “I can’t let my personal feelings get in the way of my education.”

I sigh, but don’t push him.

I lean against my table with a Cool Teacher pose I absolutely learned from TV, and pull out my secret weapon: a bag of candy. I take out a paper-wrapped lemon drop and hold it in my right hand, while writing “Western Church Insurrection” on the blackboard behind me with my left. Below that, I write the subheading “Lord Lonato???”

“Teach, that’s too many question marks,” Claude calls out.

“I have a lot of questions!” I reply. The students giggle, the tension in the room lessening. Thank you, Claude.

I whirl back around and gesture with the lemon drop. “So, Blue Lions, thank you so much for helping us today. Now, as you all know, the Golden Deer are going on a mission into Faerghus territory at the end of this month to help clean up the aftermath of a violent rebellion against the Church of Seiros, led by Lord Lonato. However, none of us are from Faerghus ourselves, except for Sylvain. So, I want us to have a group discussion and sharing of knowledge to understand why this situation is happening and see if we can try to resolve it peacefully. In exchange, we’ll practice sparring against your class tomorrow.”

Ingrid is glaring at me with such deep suspicion I can feel the weight of her gaze on my face. It occurs to me now that this plan might not have been very well thought out. The Duscur Thing is probably going to come up, and at least half of the Blue Lions are still dealing with the ramifications of that because nobody in this universe has ever heard of therapy. “Um, if you feel uncomfortable about the conversation at any point, you have permission to leave the room, no questions asked.”

Awkward silence. I hold the lemon drop higher and wave it back and forth. “Can someone from the Golden Deer tell me the history of the Kingdom of Faerghus?”

“First of all, it’s called the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus, Teach,” Claude corrects me. I roll my eyes as the class laughs. “Faerghus broke from the Adrestian Empire in the War of the Eagle and Lion about four hundred years ago. It’s called the Holy Kingdom because the Church of Seiros helped to found it by mediating between Faerghus and the Empire. And uh... The king was named Loog.”

I throw him the lemon drop. “Great job. Okay, Blue Lions, any corrections?”

Ingrid raises her hand first, so I call on her. “Loog, the King of Lions, led his army in rebellion against the empire in 747, finally defeating the emperor in 751 at the Tailtean Plains.” She seems to shrink a bit after that. “I’m not correcting Claude, I’m just adding on to what he said.”

I nod and toss a lemon drop at her too before picking up a piece of chalk. “What should I write down on the blackboard?”

“Loog, Church of Seiros, split with Empire,” various Golden Deer students call out, familiar with how my lecture classes work. The Blue Lions, who’ve only ever had me for swordfighting instruction, blink uncertainly. 

“Very good.” I write down the Key Words and Phrases. “Okay, so what happens after that?”

Uncomfortable silence this time. I messed up, I messed up. We can’t just not talk about Duscur, but the pain from the Duscur incident is still fresh for so many of these kids...

“Let’s circle back,” I hear myself saying. I have become that which I hate: a person who says “let’s circle back.” Oh well. “Let’s just just jump to the present day now. Lord Lonato’s rebellion. Thoughts?” I tap the chalk against my “Lord Lonato???” subheading.

Everyone looks at Ashe, and then immediately looks away. Ashe sighs.

I throw a lemon drop in front of him. “This one’s free. You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to.”

“It’s fine, Professor,” Ashe says. “I'm Lonato's adopted son, in case you didn’t know. He raised me as though I were his own blood. He was always so kind. I guess all this has to do with Christophe.”

I throw him another lemon drop. “Who’s Christophe?”

“Lord Lonato’s son,” Ashe explains. “He was... executed by the Knights of Seiros as being part of the plot to... murder King Lambert.”

“Makes sense to me,” Sylvain speaks up suddenly. “The Church blames his son for the Tragedy, he blames the Church for the death of his son. What I don’t get is, why now, and not four years ago?”

“Maybe because Ashe isn’t at Castle Gaspard anymore,” Annette suggests. “He won’t get caught in the crossfire.”

“Ashe may be far away, but what about the commonfolk Lonato serves?” Lorenz points out. “It's a noble's duty to protect his people, not to endanger them by rallying armies in such a feckless and improper manner. Abuse of that kind is no better than slavery.”

“That might be a little harsh,” Claude says. Lorenz glares at him and I brace myself for breaking up another pointless argument between those two. They fight a lot more than I expected from the game and annoyingly enough tend to get into it in the middle of my classes. I am this close to commissioning Bernadetta to help me make a Get Along Shirt for those two.

“A rebellion like this is downright senseless,” Dimitri cuts in, voice sharp. “Lord Lonato knows better. If he had enough allies to back his rebellion, it would be a different matter...”

Well isn’t that an unexpected angle for the Crown Prince of Faerghus to take, I muse. At least he distracts Claude and Lorenz from their eternal bickering.

“So what can we do about it?” I tap the chalk against the blackboard. “We can’t bring Christophe back to life. What can we offer Lord Lonato to end this rebellion peacefully?” My first thought is “Rhea’s head on a platter,” but none of these kids would go for that yet.

“Rhea could apologize?” Claude suggests.

“How do we know Christophe was innocent at all?” Felix says. “Maybe he was part of the group that planned the murders.”

“He still deserved a fair trial!” Leonie calls out.

“I feel like we’re all missing pieces of the puzzle.” Linhardt picks his head up from his desk long enough to yawn loudly. “But I don’t know what those pieces are.”

“People, focus!” I slap the blackboard with my hand for emphasis. “What can we do now? I don’t think The Archbishop is the type of person to apologize to someone she’s already written off as a sinful nonbeliever.”

Thoughtful silence. “Maybe material goods? Like, I don’t know, vegetables and wool and resources?” Leonie suggests.

“People get angry when they’re hungry,” Raphael agrees.

“What if we just let them split?” Lysithea says. “Let the Western Church separate from the teachings of Seiros entirely and worship the goddess their own way.” Some people gasp, but I don’t catch who. Lysithea ignores them. “I don’t see why the church should have equal authority over a part of Faerghus as the ruler of Faerghus itself.”

“That’s partly because Faerghus still does not have a king, as I am too young to take the throne in my father’s place,” Dimitri explains. “The Church has far more legitimacy as a governing body right now. If a territory were to reject the authority of the Church of Seiros now, it would be tantamount to seceding from the Kingdom entirely.”

“That’s stupid,” Lysithea mutters, but quietly. 

Hilda leans back in her chair. “All of this government and politics stuff is such a headache.”

We don’t end up coming to any sort of consensus by the end of the class hour, but everyone enjoys the lemon drops (except the people who don’t like citrus candy) and assures me they found this class useful. 

“It was fun to talk to different people for once!” Hilda says cheerfully.

“I learned a lot,” Mercedes adds. I always feel like Mercedes is humoring me whenever we interact. She’s older and taller and infinitely more mature than I am. The fact that I’m teaching her instead of the other way around feels like a cosmic joke.

“Your teaching style is unlike any other professor I’ve met,” Hanneman says. “It’s very interesting. Perhaps your Crest—”

“I can assure you my Crest has no bearing on how I teach,” I cut him off. “My father and I traveled around extensively when I was young, so I learned from a variety of teachers with vastly differing methods of instruction.” Talking to Adults in this world always makes me break out the vocab words for some reason. 

Claude is raising his eyebrows at me from behind Hanneman. I gesture at him to get out of the classroom. 

“So for tomorrow,” I continue. “I’ll just take my class down to the training hall in the morning?”

“That would be the most logical course of action!” 

Hanneman finally leaves, but Annette hangs back. “What’s up?”

Annette jumps. “Um... I just... I want to join your class!” She bows. “Please!”

I resist the urge to cheer out loud. Since her birthday, I’ve run into Annette while gardening a few more times, and always made a point to chat with her a bit and Raise those Support Points. She’s easy to talk to. I feel like we get along. “We’d be delighted to have you.”

“Oh, thank you so much!” She bows again.

“May I ask why?”

“It’s because... you made learning about history so interesting today,” she explains. “I feel like I’ll be able to learn a lot more things with your guidance. And I trust you!”

I smile at her. “I’m really glad. I look forward to teaching you, Annette.”

“Me too! I mean, learning! I look forward to learning from you!” Annette bows one more time and then runs off in the direction of the dining hall. 

“Congratulations,” Sothis whispers around a yawn. “But you must not get complacent. The discussion today was lively but ultimately futile, as we still have no plan for what to do about Lonato. We will spare the Lord’s life, that much is obvious, but there must be a way to end the aggression and not merely postpone it.”

“We shouldn’t take Catherine with us,” I say, thinking out loud as I walk to the main building of the monastery. “He’ll take that as an insult, since she’s the one who executed Christophe...”

“Or,” Sothis says, “we could talk to her first.”

I stop. “You’re right.” I’ve been avoiding Catherine on account of not knowing how to deal with her, but that’s childish and counterproductive. “I’ll have to find her soon. ... But not right now, I need to prepare emotionally.”

“Invite her to tea,” Sothis orders. I roll my eyes.

I don’t see Catherine around for the rest of the day, and then it’s time for our weekly little Art Club meeting. 

I’ve gotten my hands on a pocket watercolor set (half-pans, not tubes, since tube paints have yet to be invented here), cold-press paper, and a set of chalky colored pencils. I bought Dedue some chalk pastels as a gift (even though I know he’d never switch to my class, the kid deserves nice things) and they’re nice, as soft as the most expensive brand I remember trying in college. We meet at the front gates as usual, and then head off to a spot Ignatz found last week, a grove of trees next to a small pond about a mile out from the monastery. 

“So uh, class today was interesting, Professor,” Ignatz says as we walk down the hill. Bernadetta and Dedue have no interest in contributing to a conversation, but Ignatz gets nervous if it’s too quiet for too long, unless he’s painting. 

“Indeed,” says Dedue, to my surprise.

“Oh! Thank you both.” I turn to Bernadetta. “We had a combined discussion class with the Blue Lions today in preparation for our upcoming mission.”

“Ooh, wow... Two classes in one room together? That sounds.... Terrifying.” Bernie shudders.

“Maybe we should do something with the Black Eagles someday, too. Can’t leave you all out of the loop,” I muse. 

Bernie squeaks. “Make sure to tell me when, so I can... definitely come to class that day!”

“We just talked about our mission and how to deal with Lord Lonato,” Ignatz says. “It was kind of fun!”

Dedue nods. I think this is probably the most I’m getting out of him on the subject. 

We reach the pond and settle in. Ignatz unfolds his easel and placing his half-finished oil-on-panel landscape on top. Bernadetta flips open her journal. Dedue takes out his pastels and drawing pad. 

I’m working on watercolor sketch cards of all my students so I have personalized birthday gifts for the future. Lorenz’s birthday is in a few days, so I wet my brush with the pond water and dab it in the violet paint.

For the next hour, the only sounds are the birds singing in the trees, and pencils scratching against paper. It’s relaxing. It’s calm.

Sothis pops into my head to let me know an hour has passed, something I asked her to do for me since I found out she has a built-in clock. “We should start packing up if we want to be back at the monastery in time for dinner,” I say, standing up and dusting the dirt off my knees. “Does anyone want to share what they’re working on today?”

“I’m still not done,” Ignatz sighs, frowning at his pond painting. 

“I only have preliminary sketches for a larger piece,” Dedue says.

Bernadetta pulls her journal closer to herself. “I’m not sharing if nobody else is going to!”

I take out my watercolor card. “I’m still working on the birthday cards I started last week.”

“It looks nice,” Ignatz says diplomatically. The discussion peters off there, though. We pack up our supplies and start heading back.

“Um, Professor,” Bernadetta begins, twisting the buttons on her jacket nervously. “I was wondering, um... can I invite someone else to join this club?”

“Uh, sure. The more the merrier! Who is it?”

“Um, uh... Lady Edelgard.” She rushes the words out like she’s afraid I’ll punish her for even saying Edelgard’s name. 

Dedue stops walking, and Ignatz flinches. Bernadetta wilts at their reactions. “Ahhhh, I knew this was a bad idea, stupid Bernie, why did I even suggest—”

“Bernadetta, calm down, no one said anything yet,” I interrupt. “Why did you ask?”

“I ran into her on my way to the gate today, and she asked me where I was going, so I told her, and she said it sounded like fun and could I ask you if it would be okay for her to join, and I said I’d ask, so I asked, I’m sorry, ” Bernadetta wails. “I shouldn’t have told her anything! I’m sorry!!”

“Bernadetta, it’s okay!” I try to calm her down, but I’m wary of touching her still. It seems like that might scare her more. “And um... I don’t... mind Edelgard joining this club? So long as she sticks to drawing, there shouldn’t be a problem, right?”

Ignatz nods. “I don’t have anything against her personally, but the fact that she’s the leader of the Black Eagles leaves me a bit uneasy. Still, if Professor Byleth thinks it won’t be a problem, then I agree with the Professor.”

Aww. I turn to Dedue. “And what do you think?”

Dedue shrugs. “My opinion on the matter is irrelevant.” He starts walking again, and I have to walk faster to keep up with his long strides.

“But...” I prompt.

“But, I am also uncomfortable with Lady Edelgard joining, for the same reason,” Dedue admits.

Bernadetta sighs. I wonder if she actually wants Edelgard to be here, or if she’s just afraid to oppose her. “Okay, I’ll talk to Edelgard after dinner today and see if we can come up with something that’ll work for everyone. What if I invite Dimitri and Claude too, so it’s fair?”

“His Highness cannot draw,” Dedue says bluntly. “His strength makes fine detail work difficult for him, so he avoids it.”

“Well, it’s never too late to learn!”

Ignatz shrugs. “I’m not that close with Claude, for all that we’re in the same house. I’m sure he’d find it interesting?”

We return to the monastery by dinnertime, and I have a new mission.

Chapter Text

I need to talk to so many people, I think as I get in line for dinner. The house leaders, Catherine, birthday tea for Lorenz, and then Seteth asked me to do something on my next day off, and the combined Blue Lions/Golden Deer training class got moved to next week because Hanneman had to cover for Manuela on the day we first scheduled it for, and there’s just two more weeks until the big mission and we have to do at least one practice battle before then... Everything is piling up into an unmanageable mountain and no one’s invented color-coded planners yet. I want to scream, but I can’t. 

“Calm down,” Sothis scolds me. “You will be fine.”

You can’t promise that! I tell her furiously inside my head, and then smile at the dining staff who give me my Gronder Meat Skewers. I miss pizza, I think as I stare at the Skewers. They taste pretty good, but not like home.

“How’s it going, Teach?” Claude greets me as I sit down. Edelgard and Dimitri nod at me from across the table.

Asking people for things is the second worst type of conversation to have, I decide, right after arguing with people about things. So I will put that off as long as I can. “It’s going well,” I say. “How are you?”

“Better now that you’re here.” He winks, and I roll my eyes.

“Edelgard, Dimitri, how were your days? Highs and lows?”

“My highest point of the day was beating Felix in a sparring match for once,” Dimitri says, and lowest point was...” He frowns, and I can suddenly see the shadow of post-time-skip feral Dimitri in that expression. “I’d rather not share, today. It’s... a personal matter.”

“Of course. Please don’t feel pressured,” I say quickly. I can’t help but wonder, though. Is it related to the Lonato situation? “Who’s next?”

“I’ll go,” Claude jumps in. “High point was sharing research witht Linhardt and actually making some progress in figuring out several major questions about our beloved Teach’s role in this monastery.”

“Great,” I say, forcing a smile. My one fear, coming true before my very eyes. At this rate they’ll probably figure out my real identity before the White Heron Cup. Or unlock the Abyss! I don’t know where this investigation is going to end up leading them, but I’ll try to think positively about it. “And your lowest point?”

“Hm... I guess Lysithea kicking my butt in training today. She made me fight her again, axe against sword, and I barely won that one.”

“Lysithea improves so quickly,” I agree. “She’s terrifying. I’m so glad she’s in our house.”

Edelgard scowls at this. Maybe she tried to get Lysithea to switch to the Black Eagles or something. “Edelgard, highs and lows?”

Edelgard sips her water. “Highest point was seeing Bernadetta leave her room for once.” She gives me a significant look, then continues, tone light and casual. “Lowest... I saw a rat on the grounds today and may have overreacted a bit. I don’t like rats much.”

“Understandable.” It sounds like she’s hiding something, but I still don’t know her well enough to call her on it. 

I don’t particularly want to anyway. I’m still feeling overwhelmed, and the sensation spreads through my body to the ends of my fingertips, making my left hand shake slightly as I pick up another skewer. Ughhhh. I’d been experiencing less intense anxiety in this universe, despite the considerably higher immediate threat level of the surrounding world. I assumed Byleth’s body nullified any physical responses I could have to stress, but the way I’m feeling now, like my worrying is strangling my insides, means it’s all in my own horrible head after all! Fun.

“Professor, are you alright?” Dimitri asks, snapping me out of my thoughts. 

I blink. It appears that the three of them had been talking for a few minutes while I was zoning out. “I’m fine. There’s just... a lot going on.” I’m surprised Dimitri was the one who said something about it, considering how fragile his own mental stability is on a day-to-day basis.

Claude looks worried, which is terrible. Might as well bring up the Art Club stuff now. I poke my dessert pastry with a fork. “So Bernadetta said something interesting to me today,” I begin. “Edelgard, you want to join the Art Club?”

“If you’ll have me,” she says, lowering her gaze.

“Why do you sound like Teach just proposed?” Claude snickers. 

I glare at him and speak louder. “ Anyway, I am extending the invitation to Claude and Dimitri as well, because Ignatz and Dedue both said they would be more comfortable in a club with their house leaders present.”

“I apologize, Professor,” Dimitri says, “but I cannot draw.”

I smile tightly. “So I’ve heard. But here’s the thing: it’s never too late to start!”

“The strength my Crest gives me makes it... difficult,” Dimitri sighs. Who does he think he is, Equius Homestuck? He has the color scheme for it. I’m getting distracted. 

I put my fork down. “If you practice doing delicate work, your aim and precision in battle will improve as well, and you might find a new way to express yourself and relax.”

Dimitri looks conflicted. I turn to Claude. “And what do you think?”

“I’d love nothing more than to spend more time with this lovely trio we have here,” Claude says, winking exaggeratedly. “But while I don’t have Dimitri’s excuse of superhuman strength, I am also not much of a visual artist myself. Not to mention that I have projects of my own I’m working on in my spare time.”

“It’s an hour a week, Claude, I’m sure the mysteries of Fodlan can spare you for that long. You don’t have to draw if you don’t want to, although I think it’d be good for you to try it out.”

Claude leans back in his chair as far as it can go without tipping over, crossing his arms behind his head. “Well, if Teach is asking, how can I say no?”

My shoulders sag in relief. “Dimitri, are you in?”

Dimitri still looks uncomfortable, but it’s three against one now so he has no real choice but to concede. “I suppose I can try it out once. You mentioned Dedue was involved in this activity? Then I’m sure it will be a worthwhile pursuit.”

“Great!” The frantic racing feeling eases a bit. One item off the checklist. “Glad that’s settled.”

I put it out of my mind until I walk into Hubert on my way back to my room. I’m looking around to see if I can spot the elusive Catherine anywhere instead of watching where I’m going, and end up crashing directly into Hubert’s surprisingly solid chest.

“I’m very sorry,” I apologize immediately.

“No harm done,” Hubert replies, adjusting his jacket. “Actually, perfect timing. I’ve been meaning to talk to you, Professor.”

“About what?” I never talk to Hubert. He doesn’t speak up much in Swords class, and I don’t tend to run into him very often otherwise. I can’t recruit him to join my house, so I didn’t bother trying too hard to bond with him. Since I don’t really know how to interact with this kid, my anxiety spikes further.

Hubert doesn’t seem to notice my fidgeting, and continues. “You see, Lady Edelgard has taken something of an interest in you.”

I blink. It’s Hubert’s C-support! But I’m not in Edelgard’s house? How did I unlock this? 

“Wait, is this about the art club thing?” I blurt out. There goes the script. “Are you worried about her participating in an activity you’re not invited to?”

He gives me a long, appraising look. “One of my many duties is to determine potential advantages and potential threats to Her Highness. If you prove yourself useful to Lady Edelgard, then all will be well. If you pose a threat...I shall have to dispose of you.”

Hm. He’s scarier in person, sure, but still not that scary. I have a goddess living in my head, what are you going to do, kill her too? 

“Art Club will be useful,” I assure him instead of saying anything stupider. “Edelgard can develop closer friendships with other students in a non-competitive settings, express herself creatively, relax and decompress. Not to mention that bonding more with Bernadetta would make it easier to get her to participate in class events and things, which would be great for you. I don’t believe Edelgard will be in any danger on our nature outings, and she is more than capable of protecting herself against any situation that could arise.”

Hubert looks taken aback by this. I don’t think he expected me to have an actual answer prepared.

I smile at him. “Please don’t try to threaten me in the future. It’s disrespectful.”

Hubert smiles back, looking like he’s not particularly accustomed to doing so. “I will take that under advisement, if you take my words under advisement as well. Have a good evening, Professor.”

“You too.”

Well, I’ve survived two mildly uncomfortable interactions in a row, might as well make it a streak. Sothis, can you tell me where Catherine is?

Sothis sniffs, arms crossed across her chest. “Find her yourself, I’m not your assistant.”

I roll my eyes and go to the training hall, the likeliest location at this point. My luck continues! I see Catherine, demonstrating some kind of move to Caspar. 

I feel like he shouldn’t be moving around so much this soon after dinner, but that’s not really my problem. I smile and wave at Caspar anyway. He’s a sweet kid. He asks after Linhardt a lot, but hasn’t offered to switch classes and join his best friend yet.

“Here to train?” Catherine says, greeting me. “You really are as hardworking as they say.”

I have no idea who “they” could be in this case considering how much of my free time I spend dicking around hosting art clubs and tea parties, but I’ll take it. “It’s really my students that are the hard workers, I’m just helping them as best as I can.”

“Spoken like a true hard worker.” Catherine smiles approvingly. I shift my weight back and flip Byleth’s fluffy blue hair over one shoulder, feeling a bit self-conscious from her attention.

I take a deep breath and remind myself to not stutter. “So, Catherine, may I speak with you privately for a minute? It’s about the upcoming mission.”

“Sure thing. Let’s go for a walk.”

We step out of the training hall and loop around the sauna towards the courtyards.

“So...” I don’t know where to start. “I heard you were in the Blue Lions when you were a student?”

“That’s correct.” We keep walking. I can feel the uneven rocks of the path through the soles of my boots, and I focus on that feeling as I try to come up with a polite way to continue the conversation.

“Meaning you’re from Faerghus originally?”

“Naturally. What do you really want to know?” Catherine says, blunt and to the point, and I flinch involuntarily. Where’s Byleth’s Trademark Stoic Demeanor when I need it?

“I know you turned Christophe, Lord Lonato’s son, over to the Church to be executed,” I say quietly. There are students and servants scattered all over the grounds at this hour, chatting or cleaning or just relaxing in the sun’s last rays, but no one is paying any attention to us, unlike in the training hall where every sound echoes all over the room.

Catherine nods. I continue. “I’m worried that your presence on the mission will be seen by Lord Lonato as a threat, and affect our ability to resolve the situation without unnecessary bloodshed.”

Catherine stops short suddenly. “Have you forgotten, Professor, that your class’s mission is to accompany the Knights of Seiros, and not the other way around? My loyalty is to Lady Rhea and the Church above all else. If you don’t want me on this mission, you’ll have to take it up with Lady Rhea, not me.”

“That’s not necessarily what I meant,” I interrupt. “I was thinking... you could apologize to Lord Lonato? Formally? And that would help a lot. I think.” Oh jeez, I sound like an idiot. I used up all my confidence too fast.

Catherine stares at me, tilting her chin up. “I am an instrument of the Church. It was my duty to deliver Christophe to justice for what he did.” She starts walking back in the direction of the training hall. 

I have to run a little to keep up. “I heard... I heard that Christophe might not have been involved in the Duscur incident. That he was falsely implicated.”

“You clearly don’t have the full story.” Catherine rolls her eyes. “Christophe was my friend at the academy, but I had no choice but to turn him in. I won’t apologize for doing what needed to be done.”

“But can you at least agree that we should try to reach a peaceful agreement first? For the Church?”

“How would that help the Church?” Catherine turns to look at me quizzically, before pulling open the heavy wooden doors of the training hall.

“Resolving a situation peacefully instead of resorting to force would raise public opinion and increase trust in the Church of Seiros’s authority and ability to resolve conflicts.” 

“Hm.” 

I wait for Catherine to elaborate. 

“You should bring this up with Lady Rhea,” she says after a moment. “I doubt she will take kindly to you doing whatever you feel like on this mission.”

I can’t hold back a sigh; there is nothing I want to do less than disagree with Rhea about her orders. She might smite me or something...

“She can try,” Sothis scoffs, hovering over Catherine’s head. “Do not worry, child.  If my daughter threatens you in any way, I will use my powers to deal with the situation.”

Don’t you usually tell me to solve my own problems off the battlefield?

“She is my child, although I do not remember this firsthand. Therefore, she is my responsibility.”

Oh. Well, thank you for that. 

I bid Catherine farewell and return to my room. Lorenz’s birthday, joint training session, and Seteth’s request for my next day off are all still upcoming concerns, and talking to Rhea has been added to the list now, but I got three whole uncomfortable conversations cleared out in one evening. I’ve earned a nice cup of tea.

Chapter Text

Lorenz holds his teacup up to his nose, cautiously sniffing the steam. “What is this blend, professor? I’m getting... Bergamot, with notes of Seiros Tea and lavender? The lightness of the bergamot and lavender balanced with the Seiros... Most unusual.”

I nod and pour a cup for myself. “I made it myself, just to try it out.” It doesn’t taste exactly like the Earl Grey I miss from home, but it’s close enough. “Happy birthday, Lorenz.”

Behind Lorenz’s shoulder, Claude and Hilda are sharing a cake of their own. Claude is making faces at me for some reason. I decide to ignore them and give Lorenz the watercolor I made of him.

“Oh my. This is lovely. I had no idea you were so artistically inclined, Professor.”

Ugh. Lorenz doesn’t set off my alarms the same way Sylvain does, but there’s still that hint of sliminess in how he interacts with women, like we’re all means to an end. “Thank you,” I say instead. 

What the fuck am I supposed to talk about with Lorenz. I could bring up classes or the mission, but I’m honestly kind of sick of thinking about it. Wait, I’m an idiot, we already have one big thing in common.

“So how come you know so much about tea?” I ask him.

“Proper etiquette at tea time is one of the surest hallmarks of quality breeding. And the extent of one's attentiveness is quite often indicative of the depth of one's character.,” Lorenz begins. 

I get the sense that he can keep going on this topic for a while, so I interrupt with, “I see! Do you grow tea in Gloucester county, or is it imported?”

“We grow certain strains, yes. Gloucester is known for its agriculture and cattle-breeding, and the Count personally works to develop new foods for the Alliance.” 

I listen to Lorenz talk about tea cultivation for a few more minutes. Turns out Lorenz is actually pretty fun to talk to if I make sure to keep him away from the subject of What Nobles Should Be Like. 

Eventually, though, we exhaust the subject of tea, so I throw out another topic of conversation. “What kind of books do you like to read? Sylvain let me borrow The Rose of Enbarr, and I just finished it yesterday. Have you read that one?”

I asked Sylvain for book recommendations after his birthday tea party, and he told me the novels in the monastery library were “way too boring” but he had a few titles in his personal collection I might like. The Rose of Enbarr is about the forbidden romance between a scullery maid and the noblewoman she serves, in a vaguely old-fashioned prose style that reminds me of Sarah Waters. I’m both surprised and somewhat annoyed at how well Sylvain was able to predict my tastes. 

Lorenz shakes his head. I can almost hear the Wrong Conversation Topic noise as he says, “I must confess I do not read much for pleasure myself... It is important for a noble to be educated in subjects that will help him govern effectively, but I suppose my cultural education is... somewhat lacking.” He looks like admitting this is causing him physical pain. Whoooops.

“I’m not too familiar with fine literature myself, but I enjoyed reading The Rose of Enbarr. ” I need to change the subject. “What... do you like? Besides tea?”

“I quite like music,” Lorenz says after a thoughtful pause. “I saw this opera once in Derdriu, and...”

“I think that went pretty well,” I tell Sothis after Lorenz leaves. 

I go up to Claude and Hilda with the leftover pastries. “Do you two want any of this? And did you wish Lorenz a happy birthday today, seeing as he is a member of your house?” 

“Of course I did, Teach, I’m not a monster,” Claude retorts. “I gave him a floral adornment from the marketplace, he likes that sort of thing.”

“Well I gave Lorenz a handmade brooch that perfectly complements the silk rose he’s always wearing,” Hilda contributes. “It wasn’t really my style, but I thought Lorenz would like it. Did you notice him wearing it, Professor?”

“I wasn’t paying attention,” I admit. “But I’m sure it looks very nice.”

“It does,” Claude says. “Hilda’s a genius at jewelry design.” 

Hilda smacks him on the arm. “Anyway! I didn’t know you could paint, Professor! I would love to get a card like that, wink wink.”

“For your birthday,” I promise her. “And since Fe— your birthday is so far away, yours will probably look even better since I’ll have more time to practice.” 

“So your gift for me next moon will just be practice for Hilda's gift?” Claude interrupts with a smirk.

“That’s not — you know what I mean!”

“How many times do I have to tell you,” Sothis hisses for my ears alone, “This moon is garland moon, then blue sea moon, rain moon, horsebow moon, wyvern moon, red wolf moon, ethereal moon, guardian moon, pegasus moon, lone moon, great tree moon, harpstring moon!”

With all due respect, how the flying fuck is anyone supposed to memorize that. Genuine question, is there a mnemonic I can use to learn it? 

“Surely you have the strength of character to memorize the twelve moons without needing assistance,” Sothis says. She sounds so smug. How infuriating.

I’ll just refer to the months— I mean moons by numbers forever, then! 

Sothis sticks her tongue out at me over Hilda’s shoulder.

 

For the joint battle training class we’re having with the Blue Lions, we can’t all fit into the training hall building, so we end up going to an empty field I found in my Art Club sojourns and playing a modified version of Capture-the-Flag on the basis that a full-blown mock battle would be unfair to the Black Eagles, who aren’t participating.  Hanneman and I spent an entire evening coming up with ideas on how to make this interesting but at the same time productive. It bears a very faint resemblance to the game I remember from grade school gym class, but should go over well with these kids.

“It feels kind of strange to be on the opposite side this time,” Annette muses. “I don’t think it fully sunk in that I’ve switched classes until I had to see everyone from my old class again.”

“You get used to it,” Sylvain says.

Annette fits in well with the Golden Deer, but she fits in well anywhere. Lysithea is thrilled to have a study partner she doesn’t want to murder half of the time.

“We’ll have the Battle of the Eagle and Lion later in the year, so this is going to be something more... educationally directed,” I say, fully aware of how completely nonsensical those words sound coming out of my mouth. 

So we mark two circles on the overgrown grass approximately a soccer field’s length apart, and stick a Blue Lions flag in one and a Golden Deer flag in the other. 

“You have twenty minutes to steal your opponent’s flag. You can’t go inside your own team’s circle, you have to defend it from outside. If your flag is stolen before time is up, you can steal it back. Whoever has the flag at the end of the time limit wins. For the first round, anything goes.”

“Professor, are you sure this is fair? Your class has three more people than we have,” Ingrid points out. The “since you stole two of our students” goes unsaid.

“In real battles, you’re often outnumbered against your opponents,” I say. “It’s important to learn how to compensate for that.” Also, if we’re being honest, Linhardt is barely useful in a battle situation if I can’t shove him around like a chess piece on a board. Annette tries, but she doesn’t have Lysithea’s raw power, and Sylvain can’t take class time seriously.

Hanneman flips the 20-minute hourglass over. “Start!” We retreat to top of a low bluff on the edge of the field and watch the chaos unfold.

Felix and Lysithea start sprinting towards the opposite team’s flag immediately, while their house leaders yell at them in despair to slow down and plan first. Mercedes, Dedue, Hilda and Marianne shift into defensive positions around their respective flags also immediately. 

“It’s interesting how even though their actual battle experience is still fairly limited at this point, the students have developed a sense of what role they’re most suited to in a fight,” I tell Hanneman.

He chuckles. “Many of these students have been training for a long time. I heard that in Faerghus, most children start swinging lances and swords around before they can even read. Ah, but I’m sure it was the same for you as well, growing up in a company of mercenaries and all.”

I nod hastily.

By the time the hourglass runs out, both teams have successfully defended their flags. Or, somewhat successfully, the Blue Lions’s pole is snapped near the base because Lysithea refused to let go when Ashe tried to take it from her. Claude still tells her off for being too impulsive, and pulls her, Sylvain, Leonie and Lorenz into a huddle to work out a strategy for the next round.

“Great job, everyone. We’re doing this again: same rules apply, except there’s one more condition now: everyone using a physical weapon must defend their flag, and everyone using magic must attack the opposing team’s flag. You have five minutes to strategize. Go!”

Annette wins the round for the Golden Deer by ripping the Blue Lions flag out of the ground and flinging it over to the opposite end of the field with her wind spell. 

“Incredible job, Annette,” I congratulate her. She beams.

“For this round, switch: physical weapons are attacking, and magic users defending. Five minutes to plan. Go!”

We keep trying different weird ideas, some of which I came up with, and some of which Hanneman came up with. Mostly I want to get them running around and thinking creatively in a non-lethal setting.

“For the last capture the flag exercise, the special condition will be: you can’t speak Fodlanish to each other. You have five minutes to figure out how to communicate with your teammates before this rule goes into effect. Begin!”

I’m impressed at how quickly the Blue Lions work out a hand gesture system, but the Golden Deer really surprise me by remembering and using the “Albinean” I taught them. I feel the intense combination of embarrassment and responsibility that comes with seeing someone apply a skill you taught them. “Oh jeez, something I did had an impact” combined with “what if I taught them all wrong.”

They don’t say anything too complicated, just “attack” and “counter,” “forward” and “back,” but it’s still enough to disorient the Blue Lions. And poor Annette, who’s had exactly a week to catch up on a month and a half’s worth of semi-secret foreign language lessons.

Dimitri waves his arms agitatedly, presumably to communicate “What is this?”

“Golden Deer secret,” Claude replies with a wink. His hair is sticking to his forehead.

A small secret for a big group, I think to myself.  “Claude, no Fodlanish! That’s a penalty. You can’t move from that spot for the next five minutes.” I flip the five-minute hourglass over again. Claude pouts.

We finally break for lunch. I pass out containers of drinking water for everyone as we walk back to the monastery. “It’s hot out today. Hydration is important!”

“Today was fun,” Leonie offers, draining her water in one big gulp. 

“I enjoyed the different goals and challenges,” Mercedes says, voice too serene for someone who nearly set Raphael on fire with a Bolganone. 

“What do you say to having more classes like this in the future?” Hanneman poses to the group at large. He’s met with cheering, which surprises me. I didn’t think anyone felt that strongly about Capture the Flag, But with Wooden Swords This Time. 

“We should invite the Black Eagles to join us, at least once,” Dimitri says. “I don’t think Edelgard would appreciate being left out of the fun.”

No concrete plans are made, however, and the subject doesn’t come up again until the first weekly Art Club meeting featuring all three house leaders.

Bernadetta bunches herself up against the trunk of a tree. Edelgard, perhaps feeling some sense of responsibility for her housemate, sits next to her, which causes Bernadetta to loosen her shoulders the smallest fraction. 

Dimtri and Dedue sit back to back in a way that suggests they’ve done this a million times before, Dedue working away at his landscape drawing and Dimitri attempting to handle a stick of charcoal without shattering it. He's drawing circles all over his paper, but they look pretty circular.

Ignatz sets up his easel and painting supplies with practiced ease, and gets to work like Claude isn’t even there. Claude shrugs and plunks down next to me at the edge of the pond. I glance at him, then get my pencils out.

Since Edelgard’s birthday is next, I have to finish her watercolor sketch card in my room so she doesn’t see me working on it. Caspar’s birthday isn’t until the first of next month, so I don’t have to start that now. Which means I’m sitting on the grass with my sketchbook open to a blank page and nothing on it. 

“Don’t know what to draw?” Claude asks, peering over my shoulder. I elbow him. “You could always draw me.” He’s working on some kind of map I can’t decipher. Which is technically drawing. I guess it counts. 

“Haha.” I roll my eyes. 

Claude takes this as his cue to stand up and stretch a bit. He walks around peeking at everybody’s work, until Bernadetta slams her sketchbook shut with a panicked yelp. “That looks really good, Bernadetta!”

She glares at him sullenly until Claude raises his arms in a gesture of surrender. “Okay, okay, I get the hint.”

He wanders over to look at Edelgard’s page. “Oh, Teach! Edelgard’s drawing— mph!” Edelgard shoves a hand over his mouth. Interesting.

I get up and go over to them. “Professor, please don’t look!” Edelgard yells at me, with desperation and embarrassment in her eyes. I catch a glimpse of a detailed pencil sketch featuring a familiar head. 

“... Alrighty then,” I say after a moment, and sit back down. It’s strange. Edelgard was drawing Byleth’s features, but something about the face reminded me of the face I had before... all of this.

Without thinking too much about it, I start doodling my face the way I used to draw it in my comics: circle outline, round dot eyes, big triangle nose, arched brows. Simple, easy to repeat. I add a few lines to indicate the haircut I’d had before I landed in Byleth’s body with the perfectly tousled hair that never falls in my eyes despite all laws of physics.

“Hmm,” Claude says. 

I elbow him again. “What are you hmm-ing about?”

“This face you drew... something about it feels familiar, but I’m not sure what. It doesn’t look like anyone at the monastery...” It shouldn’t. I looked nothing like Byleth before this.

“Perhaps it reminds you of someone you’ve met before?” 

“Maybe...” Claude flips his map over and makes a note on the back.

Sothis lets me know when the hour had passed, and we return to the monastery without any major fuss. 

“Same time next week?” I ask.

Everyone agrees.