It had been the bitch that had woken him up in the dead of the night.
Hubert had not been fully recovered yet, no. But at the very least, the medicine he had taken a few hours ago had given him the strength to follow her.
She had been getting ready to go outside –putting a cape around her shoulders, hiding her face under a cowl- when his eyes had fluttered open. Despite all his words, claiming how he hadn’t cared, Hubert had still tracked her down to see what she had been up to. Even though it was not in his interest to accept, Linhardt had been right. Byleth was after something.
Where he had expected them to be empty, the streets were alive despite the time. It was not like people were openly walking, talking or entertaining themselves, but lurking in the shadows, trying to be sneaky, however failing miserably. All this commotion reminded him of the infamous Black Market, and Hubert was almost sure that was where Byleth headed too.
The woman confirmed his suspicions when she descended into some underground tunnel by a wooden ladder hidden around crates. Surely, Hubert was going to follow her there as well.
The man knew if he confronted her, she would probably let him tag along, save for some scolding for his state –why would you leave your bed? Do you wish to get sick even further?
What motivated him to do it secretly was that she would abandon what she was after to come back later if he accompanied her. The perfect opportunity was served at last and Hubert was not going to waste it.
It was a cramped cave that he happened upon. Humidness was filling his lungs ruthlessly, carrying a scent which was not suitable for ones with delicate senses. He had endured worse than your typical sewer, especially in his well-designed torture room. His mind wondered if the place still existed among the walls of the Palace of Enbarr while eyes focused on Byleth’s movements.
Of course, things would be a lot easier if he had his magic. Then Hubert could make her footsteps glow, cover himself with the cloaks of invisibility when it was needed, or simply light a damned fire to see where he stepped. A rat passed alongside him when the man arrived into a vast sewer, reminding him of Edelgard and her fear of such creatures.
No matter how hard Hubert squinted Byleth was nowhere to be seen. At least the sounds of bartering, laughs and other things were echoing loud enough, showing him a way in this maze. How reckless of them, he thought. But then to think again, the guards were also looking forward to the very idea of this market. Idiots, if only they had supported Adrestia in the war there would be no need to trade with Sreng under the shadows. Lucky for them, it was Byleth the Archbishop now instead of the previous creature with a false identity.
Or maybe unlucky for them. Who knows…?
A beam of light was escaping through the ripped holes of tulle curtains into the sewer, scaring the rats and rodents alike away. Hubert climbed the stairs, and pushed the fabric up for a better look rather than the blurry one it offered.
Lots of people were there, crawling like a bunch of ants. He didn’t know Aviris was being host to these many numbers. Surely it got more crowded in the recent days, but here was a throng that reminded him of Garreg Mach festivals.
Eyes scanning the people, Hubert tried to catch a glimpse of the reason that dragged him here, though he had none. Blindly, he ventured forth only to be stopped by a hand. It was a stranger, covered by a black hood and a naked iron coloured mask, offering him one that was the same. The man accepted it without a comment, then put it on his features while blending into the crowd. Yes, Byleth had mentioned it was not a totally innocent market.
Candles and candelabras were lighting the narrow tunnels and vendors, leaving Hubert wondering if they had ever started a fire here in former years. The panic it would have caused brought a smile on his face, as he hated both Fhirdiad and Sreng people.
Some sellers had their special rooms, and some worked behind locked doors. If Hubert was a villager that knew nothing about the world, or maybe a simple mercenary, he would be impressed by this underground city, as lively as Aviris could never be. But back in Adrestia, he had been to so many black markets, most of them were in the forgotten dungeons, ruins and only for people that deserved to be invited. Of course, as the Marquis’s only son and having lots of achievements of black magic, his presence had been asked for almost all of them.
While looking for his target, another hand flew up to stop him, and caught him at his wrist. With disgust, Hubert turned his face to see the brave soul who tremendously desired to die in pain.
Fingers with wrinkled skin clasped around his cream like, smooth flesh save for a few freckles. From the looks of it, she was a fortune teller. Hubert did not have the time for such nonsense, and there was also no coin on him to offer for her services either. So simply, he tried to free his hand but the old woman clung on harder.
“Listen, I have no time for this-”
“But you should listen-”
“I have no money, the very reason I am here is to look for a girl than to play foul games.”
“That’s why you should hear me. You’re looking for the green… Haired girl.” Suddenly, the woman’s voice deepened, and she raised her head to meet his eyes; they were both blind. “The bishop.” Hubert felt bemused, trying to analyse the woman to see if he knew her from before. But no, her mask hid her so well, and even though she was an acquaintance how she could recall him was a mystery.
“Everyone thinks that she speaks in her name. But no, she does not serve her. There’s only one master she believes in and it’s him. But beware boy, she’s being watched from the shadows of the Shore.”
What did she mean, he wanted to ask. But a man bumped into him, who also was furiously throwing some punches at a poor vendor, leaving him with lots of questions swirling in his mind.
The crowds carried him like a wild stream to another part of the tunnel, and now Hubert had no clue about where he was. At this point, he completely discarded any ideas of finding Byleth.
Though lucky for him, a hand yanked him back right at the entrance of a tavern.
“Hubert?” her familiar voice hissed. “Is that you?”
The man leaned to the face of the smaller woman, eyes resembling the night sky greeted his. “Byleth?”
“What the fuck do you think you are doing outside your bed!?”
He dodged the question. “I could ask you the same. Sneaking out in the middle of the night… Just what are you up to?”
“I didn’t want to disturb you, that was all.” At that time, Hubert’s lime green eyes fell on something Byleth was holding under her arm. It was the painting she commissioned from Ignatz, covered in white cloth.
“Just who are you looking for?” he asked, but it sounded more like an accusation than a question.
Even though her mask hid, and her cowl shadowed her features, a friction of pain played in Byleth’s eyes for a second. “I am not looking for someone, I am looking for answers.” She then yanked Hubert again to get him out of people’s way. “I also got you a present.”
The woman spread his palm wide open with her little fingers and placed a dagger that was adorned with some foreign runes. The dagger was not curved like the Almyran ones, however it was also so thin and had small holes in the middle of it as design patterns.
“Pretty dashing, but hardly useful.”
“What do you mean? It’s very sharp.” With that, Byleth traced a finger on its edge, leaving a green trail after it. Hubert furiously frowned at that. Yes, she was not a human. A monster, just like the one before her.
The ones that Edelgard had fought against and died for.
The realization made his stomach sick, and left him feeling the fever once again, however Byleth was pretty oblivious about it, trying to drag him out. It was then he recalled his early encounter:
“There was a fortune teller here.”
“Oh, really? Where?” Byleth immediately stopped and turned to him with sparkling eyes.
However Hubert did not answer that question, and kept talking. “She knew that you had green hair.”
“Oh, maybe she’s someone I met before.”
“She told me to warn you about those who watch you beneath the shadows of the Shore.” A concerned glint shone in her eyes just for a second, but it was not a gest that could be missed by someone like him.
“Nah, don’t think about that.” Now, the woman was trying to laugh it off. “She’s just trying to say that there are bad omens around me. It’s… A Sreng saying, it’s about their myths!”
A sharp voice interrupted his thoughts, causing him to look around alerted. Just who had said that? But no matter wherever he looked Hubert couldn’t see anyone that was trying to talk to him. Strange, it was almost like he heard the very sound in his mind.
“What’s the matter?” Byleth asked, tilting her head.
Hubert inhaled, once again giving up on every question that plagued him about her. “Nothing… Just nothing.”
The next day, Byleth kept her promise and didn’t take him with her.
It was not like he was happy with this decision, maybe if it were somewhere else he could enjoy his day off by exploring the city, but Aviris offered little and he had already seen all of it.
Fae’s company kept him sane that day. The girl was lively in a peaceful way, instead of the annoying energetic type –like Caspar. She was a young lady, arriving here from deep Sreng, with knowledge of two languages at this age. There were lots of freckles under her brown eyes, complimenting her beautiful white skin in a dazling style.
No, Hubert was not attracted to her, however he knew not to shy away when it came to this kind of occasions unlike most people. If someone was smart, he would say that; if someone was handsome, he would tell them that. Though the act was more like stating a fact than appreciating people.
What captured him about Fae was how she was into the politics of Fodlan. The young woman studied her lesson well when it came to the recent war, and she bravely told him that she had supported the Empire. She acknowledged Her Ladyship’s goals, and cursed the Church for the damned tyranny of them without showing any fear. And when she smiled at him, he understood that Fae realized he was on the other side of the war.
That was when Hubert let his guard down.
In the night, Byleth came back to the room later than their usual hours, and announced that she found the murderer at the door with a voice which was loud enough to declare it to all Aviris. For a second, Hubert silently questioned if she was drunk or not, to realize the woman was sober enough. Then why…
“Why did you do that?” he asked. She said she had a plan to carry out.
“By the way it was not a lie, I have already found out who they are and who their next target is.”
Hubert leaned to her curiously. “Who then?”
Byleth sent him a scolding gaze. “It’s no concern of yours. You shall sleep in your bed like the sick man you are.”
And at morning, she left without Hubert’s notice.
Another day passed in Fae’s company. Thanks to the Spirits, the night marked the beginning of the festival so there could be no motherly nagging coming from Byleth for him to be out. His lungs were in need of fresh air, so that had been the perfect excuse. As he went outside, Fae kindly asked to accompany him, which he didn’t refuse.
They were sitting on a bench which was placed next to a fairly crowded road. Lots of people were outside, mostly kids and their parents, happily venturing to the plaza of the village to see the celebrations. Hubert did not care for that. All he desired was to get the hell out of that inn, or the man would have really gone insane if he had spoken to Gaspard a few words more.
“Do you think the murderer will be in action tonight?” Fae asked, even though she could not be heard in that chaos the girl leaned to him as giving a secret.
“There’s a high chance.”
“I hope they catch them soon.” Unconsciously Hubert nodded at her. Some guards bowed a little as a greeting while passing, gaining an approving look from him.
“Is it always this crowded here in these times?” he murmured, lips tracing the cup of his coffee –Fae was really taking good care of him, getting whatever he wanted when he needed.
“I don’t know. I’ve just come here last year.”
He snorted. “You must be missing Sreng after meeting so many stupid Fhirdiad people here.”
“No!” she said, half giggling. “Sreng is nothing more than a wasteland. There are rocks, sands and ruins.”
Hubert commented at that, after thinking a little: “It’s really interesting that Aviris is this cold and Sreng is just… A big desert.”
“It was not always like this.” Fae replied, almost beaming with the thoughts swirling in her head. “I heard that- no, read that, once there were lots of animals and flowers in Sreng, coming in thousands of varieties. The snow covered the soil like a spotless, perfect white blanket in the cold days. And when the Lady of Light shone on the peninsula in the summer, the land’s laughter of joy could be heard by its people. These all changed, when their God slept and never woke up.”
He tried his best to not to frown; holy things, miracles was not his thing, as he always listened to the voice of reason. So instead of asking her on this little story, Hubert changed the subject for an off topic one. “God? Do you mean the one that came from the sea?”
Her friendly demeanour changed with that question. Eyes widened in a hysteric way, scattering shards of her fury around. And when she talked, a snarl was the thing that came out of her mouth: “He’s a false one. Not ours! Never can be as glorious as ours! Surely those idiots have mistaken that creature for him.”
Now, that was quite an unexpected reaction, giving after all the things she had said about the Church the day before. Hubert arched a brow, and checked her in a bewildered way. He hummed a little before speaking again: “I took you for a non-religious type, since you expressed a great detestation for the Church.”
“Because their God is also a false one, just like the other.”
Silently, Hubert sighed. He was not a man to discuss whether this deity was real or that one, as he hated each of them with the same, burning passion. Such a waste of time that was to open your hands, begging to nothingness to come and fix your life in your name. Hubert knew better than that, and had always been a man to work for his goals instead of waiting for them to happen by some unknown force.
Of course, what others believed hardly piqued his interest. However with religion, belief was quite a strong matter to ignore. Given to the hands of tyrants, and it could be the greatest manipulation tool ever they had their hands on.
“How about you? Do you miss Enbarr?” His eyes widened. Hubert knew that Fae had understood how he had been in favour of the Empire, though this, was a very close shot. The girl should have sensed his confusion, since she smiled warmly. “It was just a guess.”
“Well, that was a very good guess.” he said, smartening the hem of his cape in an annoyed way.
“You didn’t answer the question.”
The words spilled from his mouth quickly: “I do, every day.”
There was understanding in those warm, brown eyes. “At least you’re lucky. They forgave you.”
Hubert chuckled darkly. “Forgave me?”
“Look at you, you are free. Got your work back as one of the most prestigious knights in the whole continent.”
If only you knew. “There’s nothing free about me Fae.”
His tone must has shown that he was bothered, since she changed the topic: “How about Hyleth? Is she like you too?”
A sarcastic laugh escaped from Hubert’s mouth, turning a few heads to them: “Her? Oh, she’s free. She’s the freest person in Fodlan, if we should talk in honesty.” Even more, that bitch was also his very warden, holding those invisible chains around his neck with the most satisfied grin.
“Would you like to go to a more secluded spot?” Bemused, Hubert checked her in askance. Did she offer that with romantic gestures in mind? If so, he was far, far older than the very girl. Though, she explained herself soon after in a hurry: “To watch the festival. I know a place with the most beautiful angle to see the plaza.”
“Fine,” Hubert said, giving it a little thought, more like a parent taking his excited kid to a circus. Fae beamed at that, and they marched into the alleyways. They were walking in a line, with Hubert being in front, listening to Fae’s directions from time to time.
His mind was busy with Byleth. What was she doing? Did she succeed? He had never seen her today, was she… Safe? Not that the man was concerned about her, just what would happen to him if she died? Would Seteth behead him? Would he flee?
It was when they came upon a dead end he let those thoughts go. Inhaling deeply, he looked over to the roof of the nearest house.
“Are we climbing?”
“Maybe I will. But not you.”
The sweet, dearest young Fae’s voice suddenly turned into a deep, animalistic one. A sneer could be heard in that, making Hubert’s hair stand on end. It was then the desperate young warlock understood how pathetically he walked into a trap. However, that realization brought him nothing as the creature did not waste any more time by idle chat, claws ripping a hole in his back, crushing his ribs without effort and squeezing his heart. Blood started to flow out of the man’s mouth, fear consuming his mind; there was a wish, an uncharacteristic wish to survive.
A wish, which was granted.
Just like the pain began, it was gone in an instant. Hubert blinked a couple of times to see they were a few steps away from the point where he was supposed to die. His clothes were perfectly fine, no blood spouted from the mouth, and no pain haunted his poor lungs. The strange occasion reminded him of the encounter with the local hunters, however back then he had Byleth to save his arse.
Without knowing, his steps had come to a halt. Mind was going a hundred miles a second to find a way to escape. A chill ran down his spine when eyes met with hers, and with the cold grin plastered on her face.
Though this time before Hubert met with his gruesome end, a shackle of chains was heard, and in the next the bloody hole was not on him, but Fae’s chest. The tip of the sword that ripped her glowed with a familiar red blaze, offering a little comfort to Hubert’s racing heart.
“Sneaking upon an unarmed citizen, Fae? That’s a really awful thing to do.” Byleth showed up on the other side of the alleyway, a big smirk shone in her face. In the meanwhile, Hubert retreated a few steps back now the thing’s steady focus was solely on her new opponent. The girl snarled, and grew some horrific horns right on top of her head. Sounds of bones that were crushed echoed in the street, her jaw opened in an unnatural length to show razor sharp teeth. With disgust, Hubert backed even more steps and got his newly gifted dagger ready. He had no idea if it came to that would this work, but he was going to fight till his last breath. Even though the creature was like nothing he had seen before.
The next things happened in an instant.
Fae hurled at Byleth, which Hubert waited her to reciprocate with the famous Sword of Creator. However instead, Byleth backed it and held her free hand to Fae. The wicked grin she bore turned into a confident smile -like she knew what she was doing, like it was all planned, and then unleashed a pale green dust full of magical mosquitos upon her. The girl retreated in an instant, holding her neck, hyperventilating like she forgot how to breathe. Then at once, she collapsed.
Hubert made a move to get a better look, but Byleth stopped him. He was curious, what kind of spell that was? It looked like a poisonous fume she conjured, as it still reeked on the creature’s head. Mosquitos swarmed her, getting into her body from every opening they could find; mouth, ear, eyes even. She trembled in pain, and as the smoke got cleared, Hubert got closer to her. But Fae’s eyes didn’t see him.
“You, you!” she hissed, focused on Byleth. “Where did you learn it?” He also wanted to ask that, however the way she uttered it indicated that it was a spell that was familiar to her.
When Byleth answered her with silence, Fae got wilder despite the situation she was in. “You! You who carry the scent of a False God! What did you do to him? Where’s him?” Baring teeth, the creature snarled. “You will regret this!”
Cough after cough, she spilled blood. And wherever those red droplets fell, a flower bloomed on the ground. Without any fear, Byleth got closer to her, as Fae got so weak to land any fatal blow. She was cursing them, whispering meaningless things to them, and of course threatening them. However at last, she said an odd thing:
“Soon he will walk these lands, banish your false ones! You will regret it! My sisters will bring him back! Bring-”
“Zur.” The former Professor completed. “Bring Zur back.”
Fae’s eyes widened, then her features relaxed like she was not at the edge of dying. “Yes,” she murmured unconsciously, before leaving this world. “Bring Zur back.”
Those had been her last words.
The situation left Hubert with more questions than before –and he hadn’t thought it was possible to begin with. Zur? Who was Zur? How did Byleth know him? Where in the hell had this creature come from? However before voicing any of these, Audibert arrived to the scene, accompanied by a few guards. Seemed like Byleth had informed him about the occasion before.
“Do not… Tell the villagers about her real identity. Make up a story. I will personally take care of this case from now on.” she told them.
The wench left them afterwards, and Hubert followed her blindly. Sounds of people having fun were caught by their ears. How clueless and happy they were. In contrast to that, the young man felt uneasy, awful. He eyed the back of Byleth angrily before bombing her with questions:
“Who is Zur?” No answer came.
“What kind of spell did you cast?” Again, the only answer given in return was silence.
“How did you know it was her?” So you’re going to ignore me.
Without thinking anymore, he blurted out the next words: “Byleth you used me as bait!” That made her stop and face him. He actually didn’t give thoughts to this that much as the accident was recent, regardless the possibility had started to plague his mind already.
“That was not my intention.” Her eyes did not meet his, it was like she was evaluating something. “I thought she would pick someone new as I have found out her new victim, but I didn’t know it would be you. But I saved you, didn’t I?”
Hubert recalled his earlier vision, how that monster had gripped his heart. One hand travelled to his chest without realizing. “That was barely in time, and reckless.”
“I told you,” she said softly, “Whomever was going to die would be on their own. I expected better from you; walking into an obvious trap just like that. What were you thinking, Hubert?”
“What was I thinking?” he repeated, laughing sarcastically. “What was I thinking, Byleth? I don’t know.” In every word, his voice became louder and louder with the anger he had been feeling since his awakening. “Maybe I didn’t care about anything anymore because I am nothing more than a damned slave, dragging me from here to there like your favourite ragdoll! Did you think I’d be the loyal servant for you? Did you think you are the same as Edelgard?” Now everything he had thought before was being spat from his mouth. “You’re nothing more than a mercenary, nothing more than a mindless puppet for the Church-”
A sharp feeling of cold on his face interrupted his words. Was it… Snow? Did she throw him a snowball!? How dare she!? In a furious state, Hubert cleared it off from his face, to see Byleth smiling. Brows knitted, he barked through humiliation:
“What do you think you-” A ball hit him right on the face again, which was followed by another. Gritting his teeth, Hubert tried to get away from her range. When he hid behind the back of a crate his hand reached to what’s left of yesterday’s snow on the ground. The man made one as big as his palm and got it tighter in order to inflict pain where it landed, before getting out and fighting back.
Byleth’s giggling was getting more cheerful and louder, while Hubert calmed through the satisfaction of every hit. The snowballs were flying through the air, like it was not them but a couple of children. In the end, she ran to him with arms wide open, knocking them both on the ground.
“Hubert,” she murmured on top of him, half smiling. “Hubert…” her hand travelled to his black locks, caressing softly. “You know you can talk to me about Edelgard, right? About Enbarr, about Adrestia. I would listen.” So she knew why he had felt attached to Fae. “You might not think it like this, but I care about you, and your thoughts.” Leaning to him, her lips met his cheek. “My sweet, little eagle.” Then continued with his forehead, nose, chin, and finally-
Finally it could be his lips, if it were not for the fireworks that illuminated the sky. Byleth straightened up immediately, sitting on his lap, watching the show with most curious eyes. Every colour glowed on her milky skin, forming the most innocent smile he had ever seen in his life on her face. Slowly she got up and began to run to the plaza, leaving him empty-minded, stunned and mesmerized. Hubert had always been aware of how attractive she was with her feminine curves, but this marked the first time he realized how beautiful Byleth actually was. The remnants of his former anger mixed with these new feelings, making him confused.
Of course, he followed her since he had nothing else to do. It was not hard to spot her, since she was the only one jumping with excitement like a little kid while watching the show. Hubert pressed his lips tight to refrain from laughing, as he remembered how this woman called herself “Her Holiness the Archbishop”.
Some of the people were forming two lines in the centre, most of them were looking like young couples. Byleth held his hand then, dragging him there.
“This festival is also called ‘The First Sprout Festival’.” she informed him, blending into the crowd. A woman after a booth was handing people handfuls of soil. “See? Those soils have magical seeds in them. Couples hold them together; when the magician awakes the seeds if it sprouts immediately then you will have a happy married life! But when it doesn’t sprout…” Now she also got her soil too, looking at him with puppy eyes. “That means bad omens.”
Hubert loudly sighed. “And you want to try it with me.” He could almost see her tail waggling behind. Well, she saved him that night, and he could repay it this way. Though it wouldn’t mean anything to him, so there was no need to get concerned about the stupidities going on in her mind.
They took their place on the line that stayed on their left side, Byleth urging his hands in the meantime: “Open your hands- yes, like that.” The woman placed her small ones in his, then beamed at him. What was left was to wait.
“Good evening, the fine ladies and gentlemen of Fodlan, and Sreng.” The famous chief of Aviris got on a stand. He was an old man with a big nose, thin lips and a half bald head. Also quite short he was.
“I didn’t think I would see someone shorter than you in this region.” Hubert leaned and whispered to Byleth, earning himself a stomp on his foot.
“…I know, I know, you are all excited to see the results of the event. Young ones, I swear every year they got more and more impatient! Then, Mr. Charland!” Oh, one of the family members of the victims, how delightful. The man whom both Hubert and Byleth were familiar with got on the stage, looking a bit down.
“If you are ready, on the three.” he said, raising his hand and conjuring a yellow ball. “One, two… Three!”
With the explosion of the orb, voices were raised around the people. Some cheerful laughter, and some groaning.
“Look, Hubert! Look!” Byleth was saying, looking at the thin sprout bloomed in their hands. She was so happy that it was a little bit contagious. “What should we name it?”
“I don’t know. It’s yours.”
“No, it’s ours! How about Dimitri-”
“Name it that and I’ll pluck it at once.” he hissed. Byleth raised her head, looking at him with annoyed eyes.
“Over my dead body.”
“You are a bad name giver. Let someone else name it.”
“This can’t be coming from you! If I let you name it the poor fellow would be called something stupid like ‘That Which Sprouted in the Night’.”
“Ha-ha. Very funny.”
“I knew you two were lovers!” Someone interrupted their banter, and it was none other than lovely (!) Gaspard. He came near them like a shy boy, a hand on his mouth, gathering every material to gossip about them. “I knew I heard some moans from your room.”
“Gaspard!” Byleth muttered in shock, and Hubert’s face got all red. But the man hardly cared.
“So, when is the wedding?”
“Never.” He gave a curt answer, while Byleth said: