“Hey,” a gruff voice called. “Time to wake up.”
Moonlight spilled through the window of a small room, casting phantoms on the wall that danced with those born from the oil lamp in the corner. Among the shadows, a green-haired girl watched as Byleth stirred awake. A bed was a luxury that she seldom enjoyed, sometimes preferring to rest on a firmer surface since it was what she had grown accustomed to. Somewhere between feeling groggy and alert, she started toward her father as he collected their few belongings into a pack. Byleth had always kept her belongings light enough to keep at her hip aside from some personals she left in a small pack on the supply wagon. Bring nothing of value, lose nothing of value, her invisible friend recalled. Byleth crossed the cozy space as she ran her fingers through the knots in her choppy hair.
Her father turned to greet her and was met with a look that anyone in the company would have dismissed as the usual aloof expression she wore, but her father knew her well enough to see something stirring in her eyes. “Were you having that dream again?” he asked. The invisible girl froze. How much did he know?
“I was dreaming about a war,” Byleth admitted, reaching for the silver gauntlets and knee guard. The girl beside her sighed in relief. Her existence wasn’t a secret—to her knowledge, anyway—yet she could never shake the feeling of guilt from her frequent intrusions. She wasn’t sure why, but the less people knew about her, the more at ease she felt. Byleth’s father would probably laugh if she had told him about a mysterious girl perched atop a stone staircase that seemed to reach the heavens.
He raised an eyebrow. “Why do you do that?” He gestured to his daughter.
“Dream about the war?”
“Wear just one knee guard.”
The younger girl stifled a laugh as she watched Byleth cross her arms, shooting a look that could kill to the man in front of her. She turned around, rolling her eyes, began to lace her boots.
He cleared his throat. “Massive armies clashing on a vast field, right?” He turned to finish clearing away their things while she scanned the room for any items they may have missed. She glanced at her father that he understood as a ‘yes’. At the age of twenty, she had mastered the art of nonverbal communication.
“There hasn’t been a battle like that in over three centuries,” he continued, circling the topic back to her recurring dream. “The Crescent Moon War. Or was the War of the Eagle and Lion?” Her father stopped for a moment to sift through his knowledge of Fodlan.
“War is war,” Byleth shrugged, draping a cloak over her shoulders.
Her father chuckled. “In any case, just put that out of your mind for now. The battlefield is no place for idle thoughts.” The pair could begin hear stirring outside, indicating the company was at least awake. “Letting your mind wander is a sure way to get yourself killed.” His daughter nodded in agreement as the child behind her grimaced. Despite the years she had spent by Byleth’s side, she never felt welcomed by the battlefield. Even skirmishes churned her gut, shaking her fragile frame with a momentary feeling of despair.
Byleth adjusted the medallion on her waist and looked up at her father. “Almost ready?”
Her father nodded, glancing at the golden emblem. “I’m glad you still carry that thing,” he said. “Your mother would be touched.” His voice trailed. The green-haired girl had eyed the piece of jewelry before, its familiar design filling her with curious warmth.
“Our next job is north of here in the Kingdom.” he quickly added, eager to change the subject. Byleth and her companion recalled that they were in a village on the outskirts of the Adrestian Empire. Despite having grazed mountains, crossed plains, and visited the capital of each country, she had never received a proper geography lesson of the continent she roamed. She swung her sword and followed the convoy to their next meal, not paying mind to where she laid her head at night.
Voices swelled beyond their window and they turned their attention to the entrance. Mornings of travel had a particular routine. The father-daughter pair was usually the first out to the stables to check in with their men, ensuring everyone was adequately prepared for the journey ahead. It was uncommon for more than handful of them to gather before setting out, usually the excited newer members, much less the dozen or so they heard outside. “Good grief, is everyone already waiting for us?” her father grunted.
A moment later, one of the younger mercenaries came through the door. He was green, having just completed his first job a few months before. Byleth and her guest found these members endearing and entertaining. The older mercs were known to haze the new recruits, often sending them to run undesirable errands or deliver unpleasant news to the captain or his intimidating daughter.
“Jeralt! Sir!” the young man gasped, eyes wide through his helmet. “So sorry to barge in, but your presence is needed.” He seemed to brace himself for a repercussion, having not yet learned that, despite her father’s intimidating appearance, he would never bring harm to one of his own.
“What’s happened? Is everyone alright?” Jeralt responded, mindful of his tone to not scare the impressionable man. Stoicism was one of the few physical attributes Byleth shared with her father, although she wore hers more frequently than he did his.
“We need you outside. There’s an invasion headed for the village.”
Byleth’s lip curved downward and she thought of her unofficial home falling victim to local bandits. It wasn’t the first time and would certainly not be the last; however, she couldn’t help but feel uneasy when the lives of the villagers she knew by name and the children who shared stories of her bravery were on the line. The girl next to watched as the duo collected their belongings and headed for the door.
Beyond the crowd of mercenaries stood three well-dressed young adults, presumably not much younger than Byleth. The smaller girl hovering beside her grinned when she realized the colors of their uniform alluded to the colors of the elegant regalia she donned. Byleth noticed their injuries immediately as they caught their breaths, revealing their inexperience in combat. “What do a bunch of kids like you want at this hour?” Jeralt sighed, sharing the same thought as his daughter and the ghost next to her.
“Please forgive our intrusion,” the young blonde in blue began, quickly lowering himself into a bow. “We wouldn’t bother you were the situation not dire.” Jeralt chuckled at the blonde’s formality. These are noble children, the girl beside Byleth thought. “We’re being pursued by a group of bandits. I can only hope that you will be so kind as to lend your support.” He was gripping a damp, rosy handkerchief to his palm.
“They attacked us while we were at rest in our camps,” a silver-haired woman added.
Jeralt glanced at the green-eyed man as he spoke. “We’ve been separated from our companions and we’re outnumbered. They’re—”
“Can we get a healer over here?” Byleth’s father called over his shoulder, noticing the gash soaking through the woman’s arm and the stub of an arrow peeking out of the boy who just spoke’s hip. The trio shared a look as a Byleth and a priest stepped out of the ranks.
Byleth approached the blonde man, taking his hand in hers as their palms glowed a warm green. Her companion flashed a grin at her hidden talent. It was rare to see a mercenary practice magic and even more rare to find one who tended to the wounded as well as they handled the blade. After all this time, there was still more to learn about the mysterious visitor to the throne. The healer finished with the third noble and disappeared behind the wall of armor behind them.
“I’m impressed you’re staying so calm considering the situation,” Jeralt snickered. “Either this is well-rehearsed and you’re one of them, or you’ve found yourselves in this situation before.”
A roar of mangled cries and the glow of torches emerged from the horizon and Jeralt swore under his breath. “We’ll take care of this,” he said to the strangers before him. “Byleth,” he called, nodding his head toward the stables before turning to face his men. “About your business. Prepare to leave at dawn.” A murmur rippled through the crowd as it dispersed.
“Wait, where are you going?” the woman in silver and red called, stepping toward Byleth and her father.
“Cleaning up. You can stay here and rest.” Jeralt responded flatly.
“Absolutely not. We insist on joining you.” the blonde chimed in as the green eyed man in yellow shot him a side-glance. “It is the least we can do to show our appreciation.” Jeralt sighed, gesturing for the trio to join them.
“Don’t get yourself killed,” he badgered, “our healer won’t be able to take care of that. Neither can she.” Jeralt gestured to his daughter as she stared ahead, ignoring the four pairs of eyes on her.
She had met nobles in passing, primarily before or after completing a job, and it was odd to see them out of their element. It was known that nobles were trained in swordsmanship at a young age as a formality and nod to tradition; however, she had never seen one in combat. She entertained herself to the idea of the young leaders focusing more on their form over staying alive as the green-haired girl nervously combed her fingers through her hair.
Jeralt split from the group to retrieve his horse, leaving Byleth with the strangers. She could feel the heat of their gaze burning a hole through her—although, stares were something she had become accustomed to. At her age, the majority of mercenaries were still new to their career. While many of them had not yet seen true combat, Byleth’s hands were stained red with the blood of the hundreds, probably thousands, of lives she had taken. She never thought too much about it and, also unlike mercenaries her age, did not keep count of her kills. Work was work, and she completed her jobs flawlessly. The swing of her sword was a transaction and the opportunity to see tomorrow’s sun was her pay. These notions were never shared aloud, but her omniscient guest didn’t need to speak with her to understand.
Hooves clamored behind them as the bandits’ voices grew louder in the distance. Their attack would have been more effective had they approached quietly rather than alerting their prospective victims of their arrival; although, if they had any sense of tactic they would have been better off joining an army rather than resorting to the miserable life of a bandit. Byleth drew her sword and turned to her father, shared a look, and turned to the direction of their temporary comrades. “Stay close.” she said flatly, taking long strides towards the outskirts of Remire Village. The younger soldiers drew their weapons and followed as Byleth led them to battle.
The child behind her sighed before pressing forward. She didn’t want to participate—not like she actually could—but she would likely berate herself if Byleth never returned to visit her at the throne. The sound of metal on metal sang in her memory as she recalled the dream she and Byleth shared. At one point she considered that might have been a warrior in another life, having witnessed enough bloodshed for both her past and present. No matter, she preferred to keep an arms length from combat.
Byleth scanned the woods as the sky began to lighten. Her sword was stained as the bandit’s leader lay at her feet. She rolled his head under her heel, frowning at the man. “Pathetic,” she spat.
She realized long ago that the one, if only, differentiating feature between a bandit and a mercenary was a contract. Yet, their foul play and tendency to assault the innocent erased any semblance of pity she may have once held for them. Byleth’s invisible guest hovered over the fallen man, examining his fatal wound. Despite her lethality, the mercenary knew the art of a clean kill. It seems that she’s a demon after all. Her eyes shifted to his chest when she noticed a slight rise and fall. That can’t be good, she thought as she felt her blood run cold. She looked up at Byleth who was a few dozen paces away, approaching the girl who rested a large axe at her feet—Edelgard, she had heard one of her peers call her.
“Is that the last of them?” Edelgard sighed, catching her breath. Byleth nodded, kicking up dust as she continued toward the village. Quick footsteps from behind accompanied the sound of wind wisping through the trees as Byleth turned, expecting one of her two other exhausted guests. Her eyes widened as she realized the man charging toward Edelgard was not wearing blue or yellow; rather, crimson spilled from his chest as he raised his weapon. The young girl watched in slow motion as her warning fell on deaf ears. A flash of black and sapphire appeared between the bandit’s blade and the frozen female noble as time came to a halt.
Darkness consumed them once again as a blue figure below turned to meet a familiar stone staircase. A moment passed before a familiar face shifted at her throne, recalling the events a few moments before. The lines between their intertwined dreams blurred as she tried to understand how exactly they arrived… and why. While she was relieved to find Byleth alive in the comfort of her void, her once icy cold blood began to boil.
“Seriously, what the hell?” Byleth seemed disoriented as she glanced around at the blackness before her. Their lives appeared to be connected in some sort of divine way as they pulled each other through their consciousness. If they shared a mind, what would happen should one of them perish?
Tassels shook as the girl who stood above Byleth let out a dark chortle. “It’s like you’re trying to get me killed!” she shuddered. She wasn’t sure what she meant by her words, but her mind was filled with racing thoughts she couldn’t tame. Peering at the flight of steps before her, she exhaled, crossing her legs as she considered her next words. “I suppose if you don’t know the value of your own life, you’re not going to protect it very well, are you?”
The vibrant scene of Byleth throwing herself before Edelgard, shielding the bandit’s attack glowed bright in her memory. She had come to know Byleth as a woman who allowed fate to run its course, meticulously calculating her next move and weighing the potential outcomes of each scenario before committing to it. Learning opportunities weren’t hard to come by as a mercenary—at least through witnessing the misdeeds of others. Gears turned in the girl’s head as she tried to rationalize Byleth’s last moments before they found themselves swimming in the dark again.
She felt her a word escape from her lips as she resurfaced from the depth of her thoughts. “Sothis,” she suddenly spoke.
“Sothis?” echoed a familiar voice. Byleth began to ascend the stairs, heels creating the only sound besides their breathing.
“I was not able to recall my name until just now,” Sothis admitted, standing to meet Byleth at the foot of the platform. “And just like that, it came to me. How odd.” She received an empty gape in return.
Sothis scoffed. “Wipe that look off of your face. Do you think me a child?” Byleth knew better than to respond. “A mere child who forgot her own name? That ‘child’ just saved your life!”
“As I understand, I’m less than a child?” Byleth tested the waters, unsure how to proceed with the angry child standing before her. Sothis grinned.
“Apparently,” she agreed. “Why else would you throw yourself before an axe to save a stranger?” Byleth opened her mouth to answer, but no words came. It seemed that she didn’t quite know the answer herself.
“Am I… dead?” Byleth exhaled. Sothis wasn’t sure the blue eyes peering at her could get any bigger, yet they did.
“I have stalled the flow of time for now,” Sothis realized, furrowing her brow. “You would have died had I not intervened.”
Byleth paused, seeming to take a moment to process the situation at hand. “Thank you.” she replied with a bow, disbelief on her breath.
Sothis snickered. “Is gratitude so much to ask?” the younger girl admonished, placing a hand on her hip. “I did deem you worth saving, after all.” She paused for a moment, recalling the purpose of their meeting. “Though it is only momentary, time has stopped.”
There was a pause as Sothis realized her next words. “When time begins again, the axe will tear into your flesh,” “… and you will surely meet your end.” Byleth’s face twisted into an expression Sothis hadn’t seen her wear before.
There was a pause. “When time begins again, the axe will tear into your flesh,” Sothis’ eyes fell. “… and you will surely meet your end.” Byleth’s face twisted into an unfamiliar expression Sothis hadn’t seen her wear.
By the way she carried herself, it was evident that Byleth had never feared death. Each mercenary understood the terms of their agreement upon joining the ranks of their company, trading their skill for shelter, a meal, and another day. While she was confident in her ability to see the end of each job and had considered that one day she may accept her end, Byleth couldn’t help but release a sigh of disappointment as she understood that her final moments were stolen by a creature as lowly as a commander of thieves. While the sudden onset of emotion was curious and somewhat distressing, she surely couldn’t reveal the vulnerable position she found herself in.
“I suppose I’ll just wait to die.”
“Are you dense?” Sothis sneered, scrunching her thin brows and shooting daggers at the blunette in front of her. “As though I could stand idly by and watch that come to pass!” Sothis felt surrendering eyes peer into her as she took a step forward to confront the wallowing warrior before her.
Warmth rushed over her as she found her answer. “I must turn back the hands of time.” Byleth blinked fervently as a circle of light appeared between the girls. The rings danced autonomously, symbols from a language and culture long gone brushing the insignia’s circumference. A thin, metallic hum sang, welcoming Sothis like an old friend. “While I cannot wind time back too far, your foresight should allow you to protect yourself.”
Byleth released a heavy exhale, steeling herself to relive—and actually live—her final moments once more. Sothis offered a smile as a gesture of luck. “Please be ready this time.” As quickly as they arrived, Sothis found herself watching Byleth before time resumed. This time, she was looking back.
The sound of sweeping glass accompanied the familiar song of the trees above. “Is that the last of them?” Edelgard sighed, catching her breath. The mercenary stopped abruptly and drew her blade, premonition fresh in her mind, as she shuffled her footing to charge at the broken man who had begun to approach Edelgard once again. Their eyes locked, steel met steel, and her enemy’s weapon sailed through the air. The bandit staggered backwards, glancing at his target while shooting a double take to the woman who seemingly teleported before him.
“Oh hell no,” he croaked, stumbling before eating dirt. “You’re the Ashen Demon.” Edelgard flashed an expression to her savior, but Byleth’s lifeless glare didn’t part from her victim’s. “I’m not getting paid enough for this shit,” he spat, finding his feet in a rush of adrenaline and leaving a cloud of dust in his wake. Sothis watched as Byleth’s knuckles turned white around the hilt of her blade.
Don’t, Sothis reprimanded. Byleth whipped her head in the direction of the girl dressed in blue robes as their stances challenged each other. Now is not the time.
A chorus of hooves and footsteps approached the three as they reunited with the two young men and Jeralt. Edelgard’s focus had not wavered from blank-faced woman in front of her despite the words of gratitude that spilled from her peers. Despite the gravity of this particular instance, Sothis knew that Byleth’s selflessness was not an isolated incident. Behind the stoic walls hid a young woman with others’ best interests in mind; however, Byleth was not necessarily responsible for the woman whose life she her just saved. Sothis pondered whether the act was born from defending clients through years of practicing the mercenary trade or if she had somehow influenced her two-dimensional partner to begin making these decisions without the order from her captain.
“Ah! There you are!” a deep, haughty voice suddenly rang as its owner approached Edelgard and the others. “Now what—oh? Wait a minute!” it exclaimed as brightly as the sun that had begun to crawl over the horizon. Jeralt quickly turned his back to the stranger and Sothis examined the regret the man wore on his face.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” he groaned, covering his face with a hand.
The man dismounted his horse and approached Byleth’s father, a smile stretched as wide as his eyes. “Captain Jeralt! It is you! Goodness, it’s been ages.” Byleth watched as Jeralt inhaled deeply before turning to greet his old friend. “It must have been twenty years since we had last crossed paths. I always knew you were still alive!”
“I see you haven’t changed a bit, Alois,” her father said dryly, entertaining the booming man as he came closer. “Just as loud as ever. You probably woke the entire village around the corner. And drop that “captain” nonsense—I’m not your captain anymore.”
The three nobles looked up at the two men and Edelgard spoke. “So he is the Blade Breaker,” she breathed loud enough for her companions, Byleth, and the floating girl to hear. The men in blue and gold joined Edelgard in tuning in to the conversation unraveling before them. Byleth lightly furrowed her brows, appearing to be deep in thought.
“I found a new line of work. One that has me needed in other places,” he added, a slight taste of urgency in his voice to remove himself from the situation. “It was a pleasure, but we will take our leave now. Good-bye, old friend.”
“Of course, goodbye cap—wait!” Alois perked, standing between Jeralt and his mount. “This isn’t how this ends. I insist that you return to the monastery with us!”
Jeralt opened his mouth to respond when Byleth stepped in. “Garreg Mach Monastery,” she recalled, inserting herself beside her father. They shared a look, which Sothis had recognized as a decision-making conversation between the two.
“I suppose this was inevitable,” Jeralt sighed. Alois’ attention shifted to the blue-haired woman beside him.
“And you must be the captain’s child!” he jeered. “I’d love for you to see the monastery too. You will join us, won’t you?”
“I’m actually with the bandits,” Byleth responded without a beat, pointing to the corpses in the distance behind them.
Alois erupted into a laughter that scattered birds from the trees. “Well it seems you inherited your sense of humor from your old man,” he replied, patting her father’s shoulder. He didn’t seem amused. “Anyhow, Jeralt, we must catch up! Please, join us.” He gestured the larger man toward the battalion of knights approaching them and Byleth watched as her father reluctantly joined the man from his past.
It seems that your presence is requested, Sothis said, turning to look at gossiping trio from earlier. Byleth jumped at the sudden voice and turned to her now visible friend floating beside her. Sothis jumped back when their eyes met.
“What are you doing here?” Byleth whispered under her breath, turning her back to the eager young adults to face Sothis.
Sothis’ eyes widened as she tried to turn her companion back around, her hands falling through as though they were made of air. Don’t look at me! We can talk later. You don’t want to seem like you’re speaking with yourself. Sothis added, knowing well that Byleth was essentially talking to herself anyway.
Edelgard and her comrades approached the duo wearing a light smile. “Your name is Byleth, correct? We appreciate your help back there. There’s no question that you are experienced mercenary. I would expect nothing less from the kin of the strongest knight to ever live.”
“I’m sorry?” Byleth asked, puzzled at the compliment.
“Your father? Jeralt Eisner, The Blade Breaker. Former captain of the Knights of Seiros. Have I missed anything?” Edelgard replied confidently.
“I don’t seem to know what you’re talking about.”
“Ah! I seem to have lost my manners,” the blonde man spoke, clearing his throat. “My apologies. I am Dimitri Alexandre Blaiddyd of the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus. Please allow me to properly thank you for sparing a moment of your time.” Sothis examined the young man, gears turning as she wondered by his name sounded familiar.
The olive-skinned man next to him offered a hand to Byleth. “Claude,” he said smoothly with a dazzle in his eye. “Hey, did I hear that you were going to be joining us at the monastery? The three of us are students at the Officers Academy. I have no doubt they’d enroll you too after hearing of your valiant act.”
“Actually, I was about to request that Miss Byleth return with me to the Kingdom. She would find herself welcome among the Kingdom army and we are in dire need of exceptional individuals such as herself.” Dimitri replied, attention having never left the mercenary.
Edelgard snickered at his proposal. “Truly, the Empire would compensate royally upon hearing that she saved my life.”
“Edelgard? Admitting to falling short on the battlefield and nearly costing herself her own life? Incredible. Historians will refer to this day as the fall of the Adrestian Empire.” Claude laughed at his own joke as his comrades rolled their eyes.
“Did you not flee?” the blonde man questioned.
“I sure did. I know when it’s appropriate to retreat.”
The three continued to bicker as Sothis recalled Jeralt’s brief exposition on the Kingdom the day prior. Blaiddyd! I knew I recognized that name. He must be the crown prince. Ha, you saved the life of a prince! she teased.
All nobles are the same to me, Byleth thought back. Hues of orange painted the sky above, welcoming the new day. Her company had made their way across the plain and was nearly approaching the waiting knights. Their journey to the Kingdom would likely be postponed; however, the house they were to report to would be a fool not to pardon their change in plans after having rescued their prince.
Claude briefly traded a glance with Byleth, removing himself from the conversation with his classmates. “Byleth, allow me to apologize on behalf of Their Highnesses,” he said loudly enough to gain the attention of the other two. “I was personally planning to learn more about you than your name before begging for any favors.” His cool demeanor was off-putting to Sothis. What kind of noble speaks this freely?
“All right, let’s wrap this up,” Alois called from the now combined convoy.
“I’ll get back to you in a little bit,” Claude noted before giving a two-finger salute and making his way to join his classmates.
I’d watch out for that one if I were you. Sothis warned. The young man wore a well-practiced smile and his charm on his sleeve. His disposition was all but sincere upon further inspection, raising the question whether or not he was plotting something devious. There was no doubt that the mask he wore was intended to portray the exact opposite.
I’d prefer him to the royals, Byleth bit back. She wasn’t lying, but Sothis knew she’d rather not become involved in the first place had she not already inserted herself into their lives.
Jeralt met Byleth halfway as she made her way to meet him. “Sorry for the change of plans, kid.” His voice was low. “Listen, we’ll chat on the way there. Our men are joining us for now and we’ll regroup at the monastery to decide our next move.”
As he returned to his horse, Byleth seemed indifferent about the situation. Her father had never delved into the world of the church, leaving much of its teaching to her interpretation. There were very few pious men who worked among them; the remainder gave up on the goddess long ago. Sothis recognized the look on her partner’s face as deep in thought.
I suppose this is our first adventure together, Byleth finally said.
I suppose so.