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The Third Chance

Chapter Text

The balls of flame soaring across the sky painted it in a blazing orange, leaving a trail of smoke behind them. Breathing was hard, eyesight even worse, but it seemed like nothing could stop the Ashen Demon.

That wretched woman. Hubert hated her with every fiber of his existence, it almost felt like his heart could explode from the overwhelming emotion. With every step she took at his side holding the blade of a fallen king, the goddess’ mocking laughter rang louder and louder in his ear; proud of the punishment she bestowed on them upon their heresy. What else could it have been? Surely, it was a no longer a coincidence. She wasn’t a random gift on the Church’s side, no, that night brought her to Remire Village, allowed her to meet the leaders of the three lands, it must have been a foul scheme by the goddess.

Byleth was their curse. The determined steps of the mint haired woman made him sure that at the end of today there was going to be nothing left of the Empire they had cheered so much. But this was not enough to make him give up. No, he was to fight, until the last spark of life drained out of him. For her, for her majesty, the treasured childhood friend, the one whose aim he pledged himself for.

Edelgard.

Through a melancholic expression painted his face, once again he raised his hands for the last straw before the gates of the palace. The professor was coming closer and closer to him, stepping out of the fog and making her features visible. Without stopping, he gathered what was left of him, and sent the most desperate, hopeless shot at her. The woman dodged his best efforts so swiftly and easily, it made him look like a fool.

“We don’t have to do this.” She called out to him with a serene voice, like they were not in the middle of a battlefield. It only served to make him even angrier. “Surrender Hubert.”

“Surrender to some uncivilized beast like you?” He said, and something inside him called out his lie. But it didn’t matter, all he wanted was to hurt her in some way, whether it bechildish insults or physical damage. “Never. To hell with you!” The growl came out of his mouth and echoed through the streets of Enbarr, he tried to rearrange a spell, however, after casting so many that day, his hands and mind felt so numb and useless.

The woman started to run to him, the Sword of the Creator shone crimson in her hand. The last thing he saw before she cut the air above her was Byleth’s pained expression, eyes heavy with pity.

I don’t need your pity.

However the words cut in his throat before going out, his chest burned with the blow. His long legs didn’t seem to be able to carry his body anymore, as he fell on knees and hit the hot stones with his head.

Before leaving this world to linger in the darkness though, Hubert could form one sentence:

“Forgive... Me.”

A plea only and only for her majesty, as he heavily refused to pray to any foul deity before his death like most of the people.

However before his consciousness truly shut down, a very sincere giggle was heard in his mind.

Very genuine, childish and innocent.

***

“My, you really went and got yourself killed, huh?”

It was the harsh blows of the wind that knocked some sense to him; messing his raven locks, bringing dust to pale green orbs and making him wince.

After covering his face with white gloved hands Hubert started to examine the odd situation he got himself into: It seemed that somehow he ended up on the peak of a mountain, with a wooden chair below. There was a mahogany table between him and the owner of the voice that had spoken just before.

Right, the owner.

He couldn’t have a good view of her face, however Hubert could swear that it was a child’s voice. But her silhouette was covered by robes and a hood, confirming his suspicions was out of the question in that moment.

“Oh, you’re struggling due to the wind. Poor thing.” With that, the girl clapped her small hands and the weather calmed, remnants of the peevish breeze disappeared with the clouds that had been surrounding them.

“Where are we?” Hubert asked, trying to make it out from the scenery below.

The mysterious girl clicked her tongue before speaking in a chiding manner: “You have been here for your entire life and you can’t recognize it?” Hubert’s brows arched at the words. “Why, Enbarr of course!”

He responded in a dry voice: “Enbarr didn’t have a mountain that rose in the middle of it, as I remember.”

“But this is my realm.” The girl said, acknowledging his statement. “And things happen, however I wish them to be here.”

Now that the wind was gone, he could face the mysterious person without any struggles. The robes that covered her features generously were just like the ones the priests had worn back in monastery. The loose hood was hanging down from her head, and even though it should have been possible to see from this angle, somehow, he was not able to see her face. Like there was a fog clouding it.

“Who are you?” he asked, trying to sound threatening but couldn’t manage.

“Me?” It seemed like she was trying to find the right words. “I am...your regret.” Confusion washed over his face, and the girl realized it as well. “You have just died.” Now her gloved finger was pointing to the view below.

After hearing those words, his memory came back to him.

Yes, there had been a war that broken out, their war, with Her Majesty, Edelgard. Years ago they had had hopes, ideals for a new dawn, only to be torn to crumbles by a woman, by a demon. Following where the girl next to him pointed with his gaze, he saw that wench in question. She was holding a sword which she never deserved, walking to him.

“Yes, the regret of not killing her back in our monastery days.”

“Don’t be stupid!” The little girl was scolding him. “I am the regret that was caused upon you thanks to your meaningless death.”

There was a lull between them. Hubert watched the professor’s slow, graceful movements, while evaluating the girl’s words.

“I don’t regret dying this way. I have died serving my lady.” Hubert didn’t want to sound like Ferdinand nor Lorenz, so he cut himself off quickly.

Though the girl mocked his response with a snort. “What an honor.”

Another lull passed, while Hubert kept watching the battlefield. Since he was gazing there from above, the mistakes which had been made could be easily picked out. He secretly wished that there was a way to go back in time and take this knowledge with him.

“You know what,” the ghost next to him said, starting the conversation once again, “Had I a body of my own. I would have clung to life, enjoyed it at it’s best, danced till I collapsed, eaten whatever I wanted... Loved whomever I desired.” The last word almost dropped with a strange yearning from her lips. He wondered, if she was an avatar of his regrets then whom it might be that he yearned for. Lady Edelgard?

“You had one of your own. But you didn’t deserve it, no.” Her words could have been taken as if she hated him, but instead the girl was simply stating facts. “Throwing your life away, even though you knew it meant the end of everything for you. How interesting. Humans...are interesting.”

“What now?” He spat. “Are you my punishment? Am I to sit here forever, listening to your melancholic thoughts till the end of the time?” If so, he would simply prefer disappearing into the void.

The girl laughed, humoring her was not an intention of his. “Oh, no.” She said simply, then turned in her chair to face him fully. Strange that the fog was still there, but he felt a powerful stare beyond it.

“Do you believe in second chances?” she asked, in a mischievous manner.

His features darkened. “I don’t.”

“But you should! I am, giving one to you. However remember, I am doing this not because I forgave you, but just to see her smile.”

***

He woke up in the dim of the night. There were sweat drops on his temples and brow, threatening to making their way to his eyes. After blinking a few times, he could select the old architecture covered by the cloak of the darkness.

What a strange dream that was. The little child, the odd aura that lingered around her, Enbarr in flames and his body, laying lifeless before the Imperial Palace. The professor had killed him, they lost the war-

The realization hit him like a nightmare, sending a shiver down his spine.

He should have been dead!

The first thing he tried to do was getting up from the bed he was laid on. But his head hit the pillow as fast as he the attempted, Hubert noticed he was tied to the furniture. There were many leather belts pinning him there like nails to a coffin, making sure he wouldn’t do something unwanted.

A panic spread from head to toe in waves. What happened? Why was he not dead? He saw that damn sword pierce his chest with a burning sensation! Was Her Majesty alive? Was he in the…

Monastery?

For a moment, he stopped all of his ministrations to analyze his environment between ragged breaths. There were countless white beds on his left and right, a vast dome ceiling adorned with heavy chandeliers stood above him with familiar patterns. There was no doubt left now.

He was back in Garreg Mach.

This new information that dawned on Hubert made him shake the bed like a mad man. He was a hostage, in enemy’s hands! Quickly he should free himself from those restraints, nevertheless the more he moved, the more he realized how impossible it was, loud breaths became louder groans; showing his desperation in every way possible.

The huge doors of the infirmary opened and candle lights filled the room, however Hubert was too busy handling the attack going through his body, so he didn’t realize someone was coming until they stood right next to him.

“Oh, poor boy.” A familiar voice said.

Poor? He killed dozens of us, Manuela.” Professor Hanneman answered.

His eyes shot back to his new visitors. There was Seteth, Flayn, Manuela and Hanneman, all of them unharmed much to his dislike.

“When I am freed there will be even more, do not doubt.” he hissed only to be shut down by Hanneman.

“Bold words for a young man not even able to get up from his bed.”

Meanwhile, Seteth brought the candle by his face, then to his right arm. “The ritual is almost complete. Go get the Archbishop, Flayn.”

The Archbishop? The ritual? What in the hell was Rhea trying to do with him?! Now was she trying to mimic the methods of Those Who Slither in the Dark?

“I will never betray Her Majesty! You will not pry any information from me!” It was not words that came out of his mouth but a roar and he was drooling saliva as if rabies got him bad. “I will never bow down before your false god!”

“Well, I wouldn’t be so sure if I were you.” Seteth said, unable to help the annoyed voice.

Hubert did not hear the advisor’s words or sighs as his tantrum once again got the best of him. He resembled a crazy man thanks to his attempts of breaking free, and shot random spells at anything in his reach, scaring the three people away. His old comrades probably would not have been able to recognize him in this state as the man lost all his cool.

I should have been dead!

“I hope the Archbishop knows what she’s doing!” Hanneman yelled from his hiding place.

Seteth replied: “Oh, she knows.” His wind shield was reflecting Hubert’s poorly aimed, however, deadly shots. “We’ve been working on this for a while.” Another miasma hit the wall, and Manuela couldn’t help shrieking.

Finally, after what seemed like years for the three pitiful victims, Flayn’s voice echoed before the room. “Brother, I’ve brought her!”

“At last.” Seteth murmured, while Hubert calmed himself in order to spit at the Archbishop’s face from a closer angle.

However where he expected to see the tall woman, there was a short one. His shaking immediately stopped upon the realization: Was that… Eyes narrowing, a new, stronger anger wave surfaced when he started to pick up her features in the low light.

No, it can’t be… It couldn’t be.

“Are you the Archbishop?!” he growled to the classless woman. She was a mercenary, not fit for such a powerful title! “Is this a joke?” He almost foamed at the mouth, just like the Mad Prince did upon Edelgard’s revelation. Back in the day, he had simply pitied the guy, and mocked him openly. Now what Hubert felt was dangerously close to his fit.

“Where’s Edelgard?!” he demanded to know. “What have you done to her?!”

No answer came. And deep down he already knew the answer, nonetheless he secretly hoped she fled from their grasp. Maybe they were going to use him to find her whereabouts.

“Hubert, calm down.” the wanton told him with her monotone voice.

“I will tear you apart!” was the only sentence Hubert could have formed through his rage. He was so concerned about his lady that all he was able to see was red.

Once again, he readied another spell in his hand, this time angling it to hit her face, oh he was not going to be an easy task, an experiment-

“Stand still.” Byleth’s soft voice changed into an authoritarian one, and Hubert felt an immediate burning on his right arm, his body involuntarily obeying her order. When he glanced at the former professor from sideways, a mischievous grin appeared on the woman’s face much to his horror.

“I think it is working.” she almost sang.

“Try giving another order.” Seteth recommended. Meanwhile Manuela, Hanneman and Flayn were circling him with the other two, curious eyes looking at him like he was a caged animal.

“Hold your breath.” Hubert’s mouth shut quickly, drawing out the air from his nostrils.

Whatever fight he gave didn’t work, he couldn’t take the control of his body. Panicked at the realization of nothing was getting himself to breathe again.

Seteth clicked his tongue. “Is that really necessary?”

“What?” Byleth complained. “There are lots of belts, I can’t be arsed to loosen them all!”

“Byleth he is about to pass away!” Manuela said, pointing him.

“Oh, sorry.” The woman in question cleared her throat. “You may breathe.”

Nothing happened, his vision somehow managed to get even darker.

“Byleth, you’ve got to order him properly.” Seteth was annoyed once again.

It was also Hanneman’s turn to scold her: “For Goddess’ sake do whatever you must before he dies in our hands!”

“Okay, okay! Breathe.”

There, the authoritarian voice again, with the same burning on his arm. Hubert started coughing immediately, looking at his tormentors in a disbelief.

“What… What have you done to me?” he managed to say. “What kind of spell is that?!” Anger raised in his words once more.

“Nothing that you should be worried about.” Byleth said calmly, getting even closer to him. From this angle, her soft, mint hair fell upon his face, tickling and caressing his features slowly.

“Now my little eagle, sleep.”

With that, Hubert’s eyes shut faster than ever in his life.

 

Chapter Text

The new professor had always had an unhealthy obsession with him.

Back in the monastery days Hubert had taken it for poor attempts to get close to Lady Edelgard. He had regarded Byleth as a smart woman but he had been smarter, seeing right through her plan: All of the tea parties, unnecessary gifts; every move of hers had been dedicated to prying information on Her Majesty, and he was just a part of the staircase that would lead the Professor to her. 

The woman had never missed a chance to stare at him. Sometimes she had done it so openly that it had been downright annoying and embarrassing, Hubert even had thought of ways to get rid of her, so long as it meant an end to this shameful charade.

At every opportunity that had been served to her, the woman had asked him to join her class. The stupid wench had never taken “no” for an answer. Oh, how stubborn she was! After few months of denying and rejecting her offers, Hubert had started to scan his environment in order to avoid possible clashes and new proposals poured on him.

It had amused Edelgard to no end at the beginning. At least, Hubert had thought, the unfortunate situation had brought a smile as beautiful as Enbarr’s shores to Her Ladyship’s face. However, even she had grown bothered by the never-ending persistency of the woman. It had brought them together in the monastery library late at night, discussing the conspiracy the Professor might have been scheming.

Though now, Hubert was thinking they could have been wrong and wasted their time.

It had been the dryness of his mouth to actually awaken him that morning. Yet for a reason he couldn’t quite figure out, an intense drowsiness lingered on him. Laying there motionless, his mind wandered and wandered in the lost streets of childhood memories, till one of the monastery guards ordered him to get up harshly.

An unexplainable thirst, head almost going to explode from ache, cold sweat, and fatigue, combined with a severe stomach ache: The first thing Hubert realized about himself while looking in the mirror was that he had been poisoned. His skin was even paler than before, and his legs shook when he tried to stand still. The guards must have been aware of the hardships he was enduring because they helped him to redress.

The second thing he realized was that where there should have been a big nasty scar, was a pink scratch. Strange, he thought, secretly hoping to meet the incredibly gifted healer who had been able to attend to the wrath of the Sword of the Creator like it was a child play.

The third, and the last thing he realized was the rune that had been carved onto his right arm, which almost looked identical to a summoning chamber with weird hieroglyphs, the Crest of Flames in the middle of it. Hubert suspected that this was the cause of the weird events that happened last night, he couldn’t get a proper glimpse due to the dizziness, however.

They made him wear a white loose shirt, black slacks, and rubber shoes. When the head guard began to tie knots around his writs with rope, Hubert couldn’t help the snort that escaped his mouth. “Say, are you so afraid of me that you need to restrain me even after poisoning?”

The knight got in his face, dangerously snarling: “Silence, dog.”

If only Hubert knew that this would be his new nickname, he might have incinerated the man on the spot.

They dragged him throughout the church’s corridors. The sky above was as clear as crystal, the animals warbled cheerfully, and the sounds of what he assumed to be priests echoed through the structure. There was a cold breeze lurking in the courtyard, but it seemed like it was not enough to ruin the awfully high mood the first appearance of the sun brought upon folk.

Except Hubert. He couldn’t recall a single time he felt worse.

It was Seteth’s office that guards brought him to. After announcing themselves, they passed the door and some guards behind thought it would serve Hubert best if they dropped him on the chair like a sack of potatoes. The raven haired man faced his watchers, staring daggers at them before accompanying his glare with a snarl. All he got as an answer was them pointing their lances at him.

The office was the same as ever. Hubert had been here for a few times, not for wandering meaninglessly but finding anything that could help their cause. Every single object in the room was organized handsomely, however even that was not enough to make the place look anything but dingy, thanks to the gloomy grey color dominating the stone floor.

Before him was Seteth; sitting behind the table between them, writing something Hubert couldn’t see. Ever since they set foot in the room the advisor hadn’t sent a single look at him and to be frank, it was driving Hubert mad with every passing second. He wanted to be done with whatever they had planned for him and get back to the infirmary to rest. So he took the reins:

“I suppose you did not summon me here for idle chatting.”

A smug grin appeared on Seteth’s face, still avoiding eye contact: “Excuse me Hubert, but if I were in need of banter you would be the last person I would like to do it with.”

“The feeling is mutual.” Hubert spat.

None of them spoke for a while thanks to their reciprocated despise for the other. Hubert wanted to say lots of things, ask even more than that. However the words couldn’t find their way out, and Seteth looked like he was suffering with the same problem. Once again, the responsibility of starting the conversation was on Hubert’s shoulders.

“Why am I here, can you do me the favor of explaining?”

“Of course I can, however I do not know where to start.” Seteth put the quill on the table, and began massaging his temples. Hubert wondered what might be bothering him and what kind of outcome he should expect.

“You have poisoned me.” he pointed out, focusing on a more important matter as his life could be in danger.

“It’s not something fatal.” Seteth disregarded quickly, “We’ve just made sure that you wouldn’t use your magic for a while.”

Ah, “I haven’t seen any speckled lilies in the monastery greenhouse before. Perhaps you have some secret garden here, beneath the monastery walls.” he stated, making Seteth look at him, irritated.

The mentioned flower was not a normal one, but instead one that involved magic and it resulted in big, golden spots appearing on its pattern. As Hubert remembered, the story involved a doting mother and a daughter with uncontrollable magical power. Though it was true that it caused one to lose their powers for a while, it was basically useless on battlefield due to its effect time, and the fact that mages could always silence their opponents. That and an axe to the head, and dagger to the heart were always more practical.

Normally, one leaf of the plant was enough to restrain magic, however it seemed they had made him swallow the whole thing.

“It’s none of your business, Hubert.” Seteth hissed, leaning closer to him from his table but he couldn’t affect him as he thought he would. “I hope you keep your nose out of the things don’t concern you, as we will start to work together.”

“Excuse me?” Hubert asked in disbelief, instantly snapping out of the drowsiness he had been suffering. “Working? Together?” Pale green eyes widened, before laughter escaped his mouth. “Me? With you? Never.”

“Unfortunately that’s not for you to decide. Not for me either, as I, for one, would love to see you executed immediately.”

Hubert had a very bad feeling, and he asked hoping that it was not the case: “Then, who…” he mumbled, though he said it more like a monologue rather than a question.

“The archbishop as you can well guess.” From his tone, Hubert picked out he was not happy with this situation either. “You are to be her new advisor.”

Now it was Hubert’s turn to lean on the table with a threatening aura: “I am- What!?” What was that woman thinking? “Lady Edelgard-”

“Edelgard is dead.” Seteth quickly cut off, not in the mood for opening that topic today. “You can mourn all you want but it’s better for you to not dwell on it much.”

The man didn’t announce those words in anger, and of course, not in grief. He mentioned her death like an unimportant matter, like talking about what he had eaten yesterday, or a pile of junk to be taken out. Hubert felt a rage burning in his heart, and even though the lily’s poison lurked in his veins he found strength in his arms to throw his tied hands towards Seteth’s face. The man was taken aback with surprise while the guards who were late to react hit Hubert’s face on the table. A burning sensation started to blossom on his right eye, but he did not care.

“How dare such a lowly beast like you talk about Her Majesty in that manner!?” He growled, making the guards press more force on his head. “I will finish what she started!”

“Yes, yes.” Seteth muttered. “Good luck to you on that.”

The head guard interrupted their heated conversation: “Sir, what shall we do with him?” 

“Carry him to the Archbishop’s quarters of course. Be sure that no harm comes to him. And, take these papers to her too.” After handing over some papers, Seteth shooed them away from his office. Hubert caught a glimpse of a green color painting his nostrils prior to their departure, which brought a triumphant smirk on his face. However, the gesture faded quickly once he realized where they were dragging him to now. The hands on him were a little bit rougher than before, but also hesitant probably due to the man’s orders. So what now? Was he to be served to their arch enemy like a spoil of war?

The newfound strength upon Seteth’s insolent words disappeared along the stairs that led to the Archbishop’s room. Never in his life had he been there because of the alarming amount of guards and ancient charms casted everywhere to keep the strangers at bay.

However, as they ascended, Hubert realized that those magical protections were no longer there as he failed to sense them, or was it a conclusion of the speckled lily? Either way, it seemed guards were not being cautious of such things, which made him think his first assumption was right.

A shame that he was trying hard not to collapse when this marked the first time he saw the third floor.

The place was not so big; the famous star terrace was beautifully laid on one side, and on the other there seemed what might be that woman’s quarters, who's double doors were wide open and mumblings about some clothes could be heard from within.

“Should I wear this? No. Hmm… How about this? Is this too much?”

One of the guards stepped forwards and knocked on the door without looking inside. “Your Grace, we brought him.”

A shriek rang through the room, along with some loud thuds. “Wh…Why!? Didn’t I tell you to inform me beforehand?” The guards stared at each other like they were some puppies that had just been scolded by their owner.

“Apologies, Your Grace. Lord Seteth wished to see him in advance.”

“Seteth? Why? You know what, I don’t care. Just bring him in.” Following that, one of the guards shoved him through the door.

The room looked like it had some recent construction on it; first of all, it didn’t seem as big as he had heard, there was an abrupt wall cutting some of the space for an additional room. It was probably the doing of the stupid wench, since the stones that were used on the wall didn’t match the other ones.

Other than that, a simple room it was. A canopy bed was placed on the other end of it, with white nettings and sheets. Before it, a divan could be seen in the same colours. She had a table and chair made from hardwood, and a big bookshelf. There was nothing too personal, but he guessed that she had just taken the place as her quarters.

Speaking of her, the new Archbishop stood before a wardrobe, stuffing whatever dress she had back in a hurry.

Professor looked at them after a few seconds and laughed apologetically. “Hah…Welcome!” Taking courage from her greeting, guards entered the room half carrying him, however Byleth clicked her tongue.

“A-ah, your presence is not needed.” Now she was facing the head guard. “Please take your leave. And close the doors behind you.”

After hesitating again the guards bowed, setting the papers Seteth handed them on her table and left the two alone. With the lack of support, Hubert stooped involuntarily, the poison getting the best of him.

Maybe if he tried hard enough he could punch the woman.

“Aren’t you afraid of me?” he asked, menacing. Despite his poor state.

The answer was quick and short: “No. Wouldn’t you like to sit? It seems like you are having a hard time.” she said before heading to a cupboard.

His legs begged him to do so, body about to collapse, but Hubert just couldn’t bring himself to obey any order from her. At least by his own will.

“Do you still like cinnamon blend?” The dreadful woman asked from where she leaned. Then she quickly shot him a look above her shoulder and saw how still he stood. “How stubborn. Sit.” were her next words, and Hubert’s legs carried him to a chair before her table immediately.

“That’s it?” he asked in anger. That stupid rune burned his skin again. “Are you going to order me around for your fun?”

“If you don’t like the feeling of it then you should refrain from occasions like this.” she responded blatantly, finally rising from where she bent. There was a kettle, a jar and two teacups in her arms. “I simply requested you to sit. You made things hard and acted like I ordered you to conquer somewhere.”

“And I will always act like that.” Hubert added. “I’ll act like that to make you regret not killing me on the battlefield.”

“Well I tried to actually. But my sword wouldn’t let me.” She put some water in the kettle, and started boiling it with fire magic.

Hubert looked exasperated. “What does that mean?”

“I will explain it all to you, I promise-” At that moment she turned her head to make eye contact to him. A frown quickly formed on her features with an aura indicating she was shocked.

“Oh my-” Professor arrived next to him through quick steps, sitting on the little coffee table nearby. Hubert was irritated by their closeness, filled with an urge to flinch back and get away from her. “Who did this to you?”

Byleth’s hand was raised, and almost met his eye where he assumed was a bruise. Almost, it would have if he had not shoved her away as quickly as possible.

She seemed taken aback for a while. “Now that’s a manner we should work on. I mean no harm.”

Hubert ignored her last words. “Your guards are the responsible for that. I hit Seteth.”

The wench arched her brows. “Hit Seteth?” He wished this irritated her but to his dislike, it did nothing but amuse her. “I am sure he earned it.”

After the little examination, Hubert hoped she would go back to her chair behind the table and set some distance between them, however it looked like Byleth made up her mind to stay there as she brought the tea set nearer. They both stood in silence, listening to the flames casted from her small hands until one of them made their way to a speckled lily.

“That’s not needed.” Hubert spoke grumpily. “Someone already gave me the whole flower.”

“The whole flower?” Byleth’s eyes widened. “I told them just one leaf!”

“It looks like they wish to torment me.” And you are the only one who does not. What’s going on in your mind?

“Just… Don’t worry. Alright? I will not let anything like that happen in the future. Including this.” she ended her sentence by gesturing to his right eye. Her words sounded desperately assuring in a strange way. Why would you burden yourself?

Hubert searched her face to read her, to find something ill willed there. However where he hoped to find malignancy, there was just genuine concern. Though somehow this outcome felt worse, he wanted to puke.

“How could I have missed the symptoms? You must be burning-” she said, raising her hand once again to touch his face only to be shoved again. A deep sigh escaped her mouth. “Alright, alright, will you at least let me untie those knots?”

After a second full of calculations, Hubert reached her reluctantly. Her warm, calloused fingers worked wonders around the rope and freed him quickly. His hands immediately made their way to his wrists, caressing the skin until the stinging feeling disappeared.

Later, she suggested he return to his rest. Though he despised being weak, Hubert was secretly hoping she would let go of him. Albeit he was not sure if he could make it back to the infirmary before fainting around the stairs.

When he tried to get up her hand stopped him, which earned her a confused look. “No need to go back silly, you can rest here.”

In a panicked way Hubert checked Byleth, and the bed behind her, then Byleth again. “Here? On your bed?”

“Yes, why?”

“You’re delusional.” he hissed. Simply the man did not trust the foul wench, and upon seeing her interest, a part of him was embarrassingly sure that she would take advantage of him.

The ex-professor took a deep breath, rose from the table she sat upon, and made her way to the bed and pointed at it: “Hubert, come lay here.”

He hated it. He hated it so much. He hated how his body got up eagerly, and walked to the furniture. Inside his mouth, teeth were gritted, and Hubert was glaring daggers at the one responsible for the whole situation. After he dropped himself on the bed unceremoniously, Byleth giggled. Probably at his finally relaxed features.

“I don’t know about you but I can get used to this.” she said, sitting next to him. Normally he would have gotten away but all of his strength was lost between the soft comfortable sheets. Hubert really pushed his body’s limits hard today, and now the poison was demanding him to sleep.

The woman started to monologue while watching him, he was not looking but her stare could be felt. “Maybe we should pick a better way to work this through without lilies.” She rolled up the sleeve on his right arm, and he had not the power to fight back. Following that, Byleth leaned close and whispered: “Don’t use your magic till I tell you otherwise.” The rune stung, making him wince slowly. When he snapped his eyes open he saw a grin on her face.

Later that day, the arms of the land of dreams enveloped him sweetly like a mother he yearned for in his childhood days. But just before he sank into the depths of oblivion, Hubert felt a hand caressing his right eye with the soothing feeling of white magic, lips kissing his jaw tenderly, and then a voice whispering to his ear.

“Finaly mine. All mine.”

Chapter Text

Edelgard was dead.

Beyond the windows, the sweet rustles of the Faerghus beeches were echoed. Once again, the reign of the sun in the sky met its end by the advancing hours. The last lingering lights of the sun fell over the horizon, cloaking the room of the Archbishop in orange.. Perhaps this scenery could bring joy to the hearts of its viewers, however the heart of the young man who curled on the bed, was flaring up in the flames of distress despite the nuances of peace around him.

It was not, and never would be, possible for him to forget the first time they had met. She had fair hair back then. It had reminded him of the waterfalls, soft and wavy.

He used to be a dense boy, or in his father’s words, “a simpleton”; suddenly felt the urge to whirl the locks around his fingers. Everyone had been panicked, the maids, the butlers and Marquis Vestra had worn the most ashamed face to make the Emperor see he had not raised him like that.

Yet the girl, the one should have been frightened by his bold actions, had sent him the warmest smile Hubert carved in his memory.

Since then, Hubert had never felt alone. Never.

Until now.

He had always claimed to be nothing more than Lady Edelgard’s servant, also let her keep his company. Made himself believe in the strongest ways this was a one sided relationship, and he hadn’t sought anything in return. While lying on Byleth’s bed, far far away from Enbarr, the man understood that it was not just him that attended Edelgard’s loneliness, but she also did as well.

They had been so close, shared many secrets others were not qualified to hear. Always together, always side by side, lightened each other’s burdens. Edelgard had been much more than a master to him; his friend, his thoughts, his heart and his only family. Things might not have been romantic, although everything he felt was so intense, so personal.

Hubert had woken up for the second time that day, which he hoped to be the last. Now that his mind was clear, now that his mind was clear and sober, he could bury himself in his sorrows. The room was dark and Byleth was not there. He wondered if she locked the door behind her, however could not find the will to test it out. Not yet.

He rolled on his back on the bed. The mattress was probably the softest one he ever felt. Funny, that creature, Rhea, was so fond of her comfort.

His hand raised and brushed the skin under his right eye. It was not swollen, and he felt much better than afternoon, because of the Professor- no, the sorry example of an Archbishop’s white magic.

Fingers travelled to his jaw, and caressed in feather light movements. She kissed him there, and called him hers. Now what was he going to do with this information? Did she have a weird kink? Or was she delusional in that she thought she loved him? Whatever the matter was he put it on the shelf as a bigger one needed to be clarified. Slowly, Hubert lifted his right arm to the eye level.

There you are.

Never before had he seen such magic. It had weird runes all over which Hubert was not familiar with. A Nabatean thing it probably was, long lost to history. He wondered for a second, would it pass if he carved his skin? Or maybe the man should cut his arm.

Not a normal tattoo that was. When traced with his fingertips, he witnessed how it glowed under his skin, vibrated like a heartbeat. A pitiful chortle made its way out of thin lips. The possibility of him turning into a beast like poor Miklan was swirling in his mind, which he hurried to banish.

Slowly, Hubert rose from the bed. Darkness was falling to Archbishop’s room, yet when he tried to cast a spell his fingers failed him, which earned a disappointed look, bringing the memories from earlier back. So he didn’t have magic, nor a light source. Most marvellous.

A small piece of paper caught his eyes when he started to wander; it was a note left by Byleth, and it was a note left by Byleth and he could decipher it once he came near the window that was illuminated by the newborn moon.. Basically the wench had said she was off to the dining hall, and he was most welcomed to join her. Even though he felt no rage, the note slowly got crumpled into a ball in his hands. One really must be delusional if they thought this would work. His stomach protested this decision while his stubbornness refused strongly.

Hubert decided on taking a tour at the chambers. As every prisoner, a part of his mind was endlessly making plans on his escape, but there was another problem if he succeeded that: Where was he going to run? What was he going to do after that? Have a farm? Settle with a village girl that was not bright on the mind? Waking at every little noise, fearing the guards found him?

Edelgard did not depart this world alone, no, the Emperor also took everything of him while doing so. Hubert was even less than nothing without the girl’s company, as he had built every single thing of him around her, from what he had eaten to when he had slept.

Hands caressed the spines of books, raising the dust while doing so. The stupid woman’s shelves were full of romance novels and a few worthy academic writings of note. A pout made its way to Hubert’s face with a mocking aura. To think that we lost this battle to someone this dull-witted.

Eyes scanned the pile of papers on the table. Now that it was dim, Hubert couldn’t understand what they were about, although he was sure they must not be of much importance, since she left them to be found by anyone so recklessly.

Next, his ear was touching the stone walls, hands periodically knocking on them to see if there was a secret room, or a mechanism. Though to his disappointment nothing changed in the room, nor a mysterious door appeared right before him.

Feet carried him back to the wardrobe, on the other side of the room. The dresses she had thrown before were still in a poor state, he realized while frowning, looking like a parent that was disappointed by their daughter’s mess.

When his attempts of rummaging the pile and searching for a hidden closet didn’t bare fruit, Hubert made his way to the room which stood out like a sore thumb in the place. There was another room across it, although this one had gone through some poor revising, and the space it consumed got extended by the look of it.

To his surprise, when Hubert tried to open the door he realized it was locked. Whatever was stored in there seemed to be the only personal thing belonged to the new Archbishop, which made him even more curious.

On normal days, no locks could stop him warping his way through the walls. However this was not a normal day, and for the first time in his life Hubert could not feel the magic flowing in the very veins of him. Curse the woman and her stupid schemes.

Turned out Seiros had her own bath chamber, he learnt during checking the other room. Though Hubert was not oblivious to this fact, the man always had thought she either had shared it with other high officers such as Seteth, or maybe had it somewhere different on this floor. To think there was such a big sauna right in her quarters, for her and her alone, the woman must really had loved isolating herself from the rest of the people.

Hubert left nothing in Byleth’s room that he did not touch, so he left without hesitation, so he saw himself out after hesitating for seconds. There were no watchmen on the floor as he expected, so the young warlock started waltzing around to his heart’s content.

The first place Hubert headed was the stairs that brought him here earlier that day. First he wondered the guards would stop him if he tried to take them, however then Byleth’s invitation for dinner played in his mind. Did this mean Hubert could walk around the monastery as he wanted? If so, why did that woman trust him this much? Did she think he would inevitably fail if he tried to escape? Or perhaps she knew that there was no place, no person he could go to or seek aid from.

The room on the other side of the corridor was being used as the woman’s personal storage space. When he turned the door handle with loud creak, a dust cloud immediately made its way out of the door. Seemed like no one had been here for a while.

Through the pale moonlight illuminating the room, Hubert realized that somehow this was even messier than her wardrobe. The woman probably hoarded whatever she thought to be important there, without any sense of organization. Every item in the room looked like rebels in their own ways, the anarchy and the chaos it had brought were almost materialized there.

The first thing caught his eyes was the Sword of the Creator left so openly and recklessly on one of the sofas. She really had her hands on a long lost weapon many would sacrifice their lives to have a hold of, yet put it here like it was kind of junk, ready to be stolen. Just where did that confidence stem from? The situation of the unfortunate relic reminded him of himself, as he recalled how the wretch left him with thinking he wouldn’t leave. Was she stupid, or was there something else in her mind he wondered.

Slowly he got closer to the sword and touched its surface carefully, only to flinch back as fast as possible with a pang of pain in his chest. The earlier words of the wench echoed in his mind, while hands held the scar which was burning like the time he had fallen in Enbarr. What had she meant by saying the weapon hadn’t cut him?

Afraid of getting hurt, Hubert turned his focus of attention to other things stocked. Even though the room was vast enough to build a stall in it, Byleth filled it with lots of things what seemed either to be personal or total junk she couldn’t get herself to throw away. Like this year 1042 version of fishing methods book -where on Fodlan did she find it anyways?

Thanks to the huge windows adorned with religious motifs Hubert could pick out the things in the dark. Like a Blue Lions Brooch, Manuela’s posters from her opera days, Ignatz’ drawing of Jeralt -was that Jeritza’s scythe?

What caught his eye later was a glass cabinet placed in the far corner of the room, protecting its materials in a very secluded way. Thoughts busied his mind while getting close, what could be that much of importance that needed to be kept with utmost care while the Sword of the Creator lied on a random sofa unattended?

Though when he realized the contents, his feet stopped immediately. Eyes widened, face pale, he looked at the cabinet in shock.

Today when her death had been announced for the first time, Hubert had secretly wished Edelgard had been somewhere, alive, tending to her wounds and would get him out there soon. However now looking through the glass, the young man also watched how his hopes crumbled slowly.

A mannequin was there, wearing his friend’s armour, the shield with the Empire’s regalia, Aymr and the crown with the golden horns. Suddenly breathing got very hard, and he couldn’t help himself but to touch the surface of the cabinet with yearning eyes. So it was true, she was deader than the dead. How dare they display her things like she was some kind of war trophy? Store her belongings in this mountain of junk? Without thinking another second, his fingers made their way to what it seemed like the handle of the cabinet, desperate to get her out, free his Emperor from the cage she’d been put so disrespectfully.

“I see you’ve found it.” A voice startled Hubert, making him look back like a wild cat.

“You-” he growled, “What’s the meaning of this!?” Once again, words were being spat from his mouth when he talked to Byleth. In contrast, the former Professor looked calm, almost a bit amused. After seeing herself to the armrest of the closest sofa, her eyes darted to the armour, unfocused as she started to talk again:

“I was the one who stripped her after her death.” she said, reliving the moment. “They told me it was better to bury her with those things, couldn’t get myself to do it though. Instead, I found the most basic piece in her wardrobe, dressed her in that, brushed her beautiful hair and adorned it with flowers.” Byleth’s hand made its way to the green locks on her shoulder, wrapping them on her fingers while looking faraway. Then she said, “She looked so peaceful like that.” with a smile, meeting his pale green eyes staring her knives. “Free of the burden of this earth-”

“How dare you touch her?” Hubert interrupted her, gritting his teeth, hissing through them. “Defiling her with your unworthy touch. Humiliating her, even in death. Tell me, should you take everything from her? Thought you would clear her sins while doing so, in a holy way, in a hypocritical way!?” Gradually his voice got louder and louder while he couldn’t stop his trembling state. If he had access to his magic, he would burn the room right there and then with themselves in.

“She would be happy to be buried like this-”

“You don’t know a single thing about her!” he yelled. “Do not talk on behalf of her, if you weren’t there she would be laying in her bed instead of underground and accomplished her dreams! That was how she could find happiness, until you came along and ruined it.”

He wanted to hurt her, to erase that meaningless grin from her face, to hit, to stab her till she stopped breathing. However since he wasn’t able to do so, the words were his only weapon, yet no matter how much rage he put into them the woman could not help but to chuckle. Why, why was she that immune to him? Did she think of him like a child on the edge of their tantrum? Regardless, after hitting her cheek with her finger thoughtfully, Byleth started to talk again: “Perhaps I do know a few things about her.” The wench stood up, Hubert’s eyes tracing her movements carefully. She got to a locker while kept talking to him: “Perhaps I do not. But I know a few things about beliefs. People tend to believe that it’s either you move onto your next life, or linger the realm of the mortals with regret. I too believe in ethereal peace of one’s spirit. I simply did not wish her to torment herself in the castles of Enbarr forever. I didn’t wish her to be the Flame Emperor that haunts and frightens the local folk at night, but I wished her to be Edelgard. I wished her to be stripped from whatever mortal duties still burdening her shoulders. I wished her to be the kid she could never be. I also… Wished you to have this.” Professor walked by him, and handed him a cloth made by a blazing red fabric. Before unfolding, Hubert realized what it was. How could he not? It smelled right, just like her.

Edelgard’s coat was between his fingers. Everything that had happened today somehow cruelly materialized her death more and more; like the very universe they lived on wanted him to come to terms with the fact.

“You can also keep the things in the cabinet if you want. I have kept them just for you.”

Why? Why? What was it that she wanted with him? Why was it so important to gain his favour, going even that far as handing him a Hero’s Relic?

But instead of voicing any of these questions, Hubert just said “No.”. He clearly didn’t want anything, especially things related to the war, remind him of her death. And he would never lay a finger on Aymr, since the relics and crests were the things had started all of this mess.

A ball of light popped from Byleth’s hand, illuminating her smile: “Then let’s go and put it in your room.”

“No need.” Hubert cut the nonsense quickly, and left the storehouse in a rush. Some of the items in the pile were smashed under his hurried feet while a pair of calmer ones followed him out.

Byleth called out to him when Hubert arrived to the staircase: “Where are you going?”

Didn’t they talk about it just now? “To my room.”

“And where would that be?” Actually he never put thoughts on the matter. It could be either in the infirmary, or in their old dorms and he couldn’t care less. All he wanted at that moment was fleeing away from the woman’s grasp. However Byleth didn’t intend to let him, so she tilted her head, ordering him to follow her. Hubert, reluctant to make the wretch use their bond, stuck to her in a poor spirit.

The woman led them back to her room, lighting all the candles and chandeliers easily with swift hand movements. When she had attended the Academy, her poor attempts on magic hadn’t gone unnoticed by him. Byleth was either a quick learner, or a very lucky person to have the Crest of Flames.

The woman stood before the locked room, a playful glint dancing in her mint eyes. Hubert cursed silently, already figuring out what was beyond the door. Turned out the wench restored the place in order to share her chambers with him. Eyes shut in exasperation, Hubert tried to swallow the protests building in his stomach, but found he was failing from the very beginning.

“So, do you like it?” Byleth asked in an expectant way, making his mental state return to Archbishop’s chambers once again.

A light ball percolated in the middle of the room; she put some ridiculous effort to make it look good while her own chambers was decorated so modestly. There were enough plants that would make Manuela envy, enough books to convince Linhardt to be his roommate, and enough coffee sets to host the entire academy for breaks.

On the left wing of the room there could be seen a very comfy looking bed –but it was not bigger than the Archbishop’s. He even had his second floor built like an attic, though Hubert was yet to see what was there.

Fingers squeezing the bridge of his nose, Hubert slowly approached the bed, putting the coat he had just been hugging down on the clean sheets. A few seconds later Byleth was next to him, and he started talking more to himself than her:

“I should have been dead instead of her.”

“Well, that was the intent.” the whore said, sitting on the cushion. “But the sword didn’t cut through you.”

“How did that happen?” he asked, voice calmed in a defeated manner.

“I don’t know. I slashed you, you collapsed, but you didn’t die. Instead there was a little, pinky scar on your chest. I think it is still there.” Hubert nodded approvingly. “It can’t be healed, and it can’t vanish. I don’t know what kind of scar that is, but I intend to figure it out.” Another mystery about crests, how great that was.

“I am actually happy with the outcome.” Byleth continued. “I didn’t want to kill you but you gave me-”

“Byleth, what is it that you seek from me?” Hubert interrupted her restively. These all were too much for a day, making his head ache with pain.

“Always straight to the point, huh?” the woman responded, averting her eyes. “Well, there are lots of things that I seek from you, but let’s start with the one that will satisfy you the most.” Hubert frowned, listening carefully. “After we took over the palace I toured in your office.”

“How pleasant.”

She kept talking, ignoring him: “I saw your research about, in your words, ‘Those Who Slither in the Dark’. Seriously, you are very bad at naming but I’ll ignore that for now. Shortly, I seek your help.”

“Why me?” Hubert asked, words full of exhaustion.

“You’re the expert.” Byleth said. Very well, consider me convinced for that matter.

“I understand you seek my help on that, but why put a spoke in your own wheel?” Arms wide opened, he showed the room. “Why would you burden yourself with these? Demoting Seteth and making me the advisor…”

“I thought we could be friends.” There again, the expectant look on her face which disgusted Hubert to no end. Him, friends with Her Majesty’s murderers? Never. “About the other part, well it was not on my plans, but I and Seteth are not getting along nowadays due to our political stances.”

“So you thought making a complete stranger and enemy your advisor was a better decision.”

Byleth smiled. “No, I simply thought making someone reluctant and impassive due to their hate towards me would be better.”

Hubert grimaced. What would Edelgard do, or wish him to in this situation? Clearly it would be her heart’s content that he used this new position to accomplish her incomplete dreams.

But suddenly, he realized he couldn’t.

“Forgive me, Professor.” Hubert said, making a retreat. “Forgive me Professor, but I cannot be the loyal dog you ask of me. Take my head for it,” Now he was at her outer doors, “But I’ll never see it done.” Then the young man started to run for his life, while not being sure where his feet were carrying him.

He expected to see the woman run behind him, shouting at him, yet there were no sounds. If he was going to live without his magic forever in a damned village, so be it then. Anywhere was better than being next to her.

Hubert expected resistance. Looking at every guard’s face while passing, he waited them to stop him by force. However no one cared, raising his suspicions. Something was off, there was no way they would let a war criminal slip from their hands.

Though when Hubert caught a glimpse of the moon, he suddenly found himself in sitting position.

Next to Byleth. In the room that supposed to be his quarters.

He flinched back hard, wondering what kind of sorcery was that. In the meanwhile the wench was smirking, looking at him like he was a caged animal that entertained her.

“So it works!” she stated, clapping. “It’s a part of our bond! I can call you anytime next to me even when you are on the other side of the world.” Though it was said by sheer joy, a threat was hidden beneath the words.

Hubert hissed, heart full of will to cut his arm and be done with it. This meant there was no escape from her, and answered his previous questions about why she had been so reckless about him.

“Come now,” Byleth said when she stood up, startling him once again. “You must be hungry. Let’s grab something for you.”

Despite all his protests, in the end Hubert had to follow the woman down to the dining hall. No one was there besides them, however that didn’t relieve him as he recalled memories of Edelgard from the very place. Byleth engaged in all the talking during the time he ate his food, and after that thanks the spirits they went back to the chambers. Before separating though, the Professor gave him the faintest hug like she was bidding her farewells, while they were literally in the same room.

That night, Hubert allowed himself to shed tears for the first time in years. He cried silently, clinging to the red coat, burying his face in it trying to fill his lungs with her smell, seeking comfort from the one who vanished.

Chapter Text

He had tried to kill her once.

In one of the many lonely evenings, Hubert snatched a knife from the dining hall without anyone noticing. Following that night, when the woman had gone to sleep he appeared right above her like death itself.

He should have known it wouldn’t work, but the low chances had not held him back.

His movements had suddenly stopped when Hubert had intended to cut that fragile looking neck. And no matter how hard or desperately he tried, Hubert couldn’t make his hand land any fatal blows.

The wench hadn’t woken up, or at least that had been what he had thought, since the woman was known to have slumbered for years. Yet after attempting to murder some monks in the cathedral and failing again as miserably as the first time, the knife he had stolen disappeared from his quarters.

Since then, Hubert had found himself falling asleep in random places, and not waking up till the next midday. And once the young man had had a grasp of what had been going on, he had asked the woman if she had been drugging him. The answer had come with a shrug as it had not been not important: “Yes.”

So in her mind set, it had been definitely better to make him sleep more than half of the day then let him wander menacingly. Eyes in a darker shade of green than his sending him an authoritarian glare, saying it would be better this way till he stopped acting like that.

At that moment, by the former Professor’s expression Hubert had understood she had known of his little murderous scheme, yet had not directly addressed the matter.

It wasn’t that he didn’t want the Archbishop dead or some inhabitants of the church, however the main intention behind his totally innocent acts was nothing but being free of the woman’s grip, secretly hoping these would cause a death sentence on his behalf.

Previously, the thoughts of suicide had started to sing to him like a lover’s song. Back then, under the grey lights filtering through the clouds, Hubert had watched his newfound knife, tracing the most delicate parts of his pale skin with it. Every time he had been closest to the freedom of his soul though, a pair of eyes almost materialized before him. Other worldly beautiful, cold, amethyst eyes; looking at him in a very disappointed way.

That had marked the first and last time of these kind of acts.

Also Hubert was not a man to die without leaving a permanent scar on the enemy, however since the art of killing had been ripped from his hands, new methods needed to be pursued.

He needed time to forge a plan. Lots of time.

For now, Hubert could sit and sulk, jeopardizing his new boss’ plans to the very fullest.

The two of them almost spent their entire day in the Archbishop’s quarters, running daily routines. Byleth had fetched him another table and placed it across from her. This way Hubert was forced to see her face all of the time. How unfortunate.

After the war, or in wench’s words after all the commotion they had caused for nothing, lots of work had been piled up due to the poor state of Fodlan. The finance was in shambles, the chaos that anarchy brought was all over the peninsula, nobles did not know what to do and homeless people did not know where to go. Everything was a complete mess; the borders, the system and power separation. All of them were waiting to be addressed by one woman, who seemed to be much too calm for it.

She often gave him her letters for him to correspond, generally ones sent by nobles all across the land; all of them were both furious and curious, needed her urgent guidance.

As replies Hubert had written scandalous things, however Byleth always checked them before sending, correcting as well. Yet there had been no scolding coming from her, apparently she thought he would give it up after a time.

Well, he would proudly disappoint her.  

Sometimes Hubert found himself angry, his rage directed at her. While the wretch had handed him all the documents needed to be filled, she was reading those cheap novels from the dawn, till the dusk. He didn’t understand what was so great about them, or how she could keep her cool and busy herself with unnecessary things in a dire time like this. Serves the people of Fodlan best, Hubert thought. This was the leader they chose to support instead of his Edelgard.

However one day, when the scribbles of a quill on paper had caught his attention, Hubert had asked her why she cared that much, that much to take notes. It had turned out that the books were actually writings on various governmental systems around the globe and her personal studies, with romance novel covers to delude possible intruders.

“Thieves invade homes looking for hidden sections, behind locks and safes.” she had said. “I prefer to hide things by giving them a mundane look, right in front of their very eyes.”

Clever girl.

There was definitely something going through her mind for the future of the states, but she preferred to keep her silence for the time being. When Hubert had confronted her on the matter, Byleth had simply disregarded it by saying, “People are not ready. I am not ready.”

Not ready for what?

Normally Hubert refrained from wandering around the monastery grounds alone due to the constant abuse the guards imposed on him -and he was not able to fight back as the men had full armour, weapons while he wore a thin shirt with a poor cape that couldn’t even block the cold and not have access to his magic-, however after studying them for days from the terrace he had gotten a hold of their daily exercise routines at the barracks. This meant free time, and an escape from the third floor.

Hubert knew he could always go and make a report about those individuals to Byleth, and she would see them punished. Yet this would show people how dependent he was to the woman, and he heard his new moniker “Archbishop’s dog” enough for the next century.

It was one of the last days of the Pegasus Moon. The snow that had started after his awakening finally seemed to calm down. The cold air filled his lungs with a stinging pain, and the remnants of the ice covering the stone roads were trying to seep their way in to his black boots.

Hands clasped behind, eyes focused on the horizons, the man’s thoughts strolled around and around about Byleth’s words. What could she mean by not being ready? What was she planning? What was going to happen to Adrestia? Could he manipulate her to follow Edelgard’s plans if he tried?

One thing Hubert realized about the girl while working with her was, no matter how dense she looked, the former Professor was actually pretty sharp.

Or somewhere deep down she was sharp.

Maybe not sharp at all but a fool that simply looked it.

He didn’t know. The case was too unpredictable. All Hubert could say was he had a hard time reading her intentions, and the woman often surprised him.

Training grounds that once belonged to the young students of the Officer Academy were empty, and probably hadn’t been used for quite some time. Back in the day, the place had been always so crowded, whether it be rainy or snowy days, nothing could stop the foolish, brave hearts of the noblemen’s children to prove themselves on the battlefields. Hubert had watched them from the shadows, thinking who could be of use for Her Majesty’s dream.

Now none of these mattered, the young man thought while tracing the carvings of a wooden sword.

“I have never seen you wielding a sword.”

Hubert took a deep breath. After being startled by the woman’s sudden entrances for more times than he could count, her unexpected presence didn’t cause that much shock.

 “I was not needed to wield one. My magic bested even the ones with crests.” he said, as he studied the swords without turning to face her.

When she talked again, her voice rang closer: “You must have mastered a second weapon. Don’t tell me a smart man like you only relied on his magic.” Since Byleth was a former mercenary, whenever she talked about weapons an amused tone could be heard in her words. Hubert faced the wench by looking over his shoulder. She was leaning against a column, wearing a white linen shirt with fawn leather trousers and boots were, looking like anything but an archbishop.

“Lance.” Hubert answered bitterly.

A brief smile played on her rosy lips. Then the woman went to the holder that had training lances, and threw one in his way. He caught it in the air by turning at the right time, thanks to the honed reflexes the war brought.

“You’ve been looking for a chance to hurt me.” The Archbishop said, ironically in a cheerful way. “I give you one, right now.” He frowned when she took a lance in her hand too. Was she challenging him?

His doubts were confirmed when she said “Hurt me.” with a wolfish grin, however he didn’t know what to do. The situation was quite awkward, and he was sure the woman would throw him to the ground if he struck first. But then the smirk disappeared from her face, replaced by the familiar features of the so called Ashen Demon. “Or I’ll hurt you.”

Without giving him time to process things, Byleth started to rush in Hubert’s way, lance pointed at him. He scarcely dodged that blow, retreating to the other corner of the training grounds, lance gripped in a tighter way. He didn’t have the slightest idea how to strike this woman whom he had never seen wield a lance before.

The time he dodged her again, a laughter echoed in the grounds: “Are you planning to run like prey till I tire myself?” she said, clearly trying to provoke him.

Once again he dodged another blow, but then swung his lance when she got behind him, saying: “If you insist.”

Gracefully, Byleth leaned back just at the right time with captivating reflexes, hardwood of the lance missing her skin by inches. The woman jumped back a few steps, smirking, clearly impressed by his response.

This time Hubert was the one to run to her in order to catch the wench off guard; and it almost worked. His first strike was blocked, and got their lances locked. However he swung a kick to her stomach by playing dirty, then dealt a blow on her right arm, throwing Byleth off balance. The wench almost looked as she was going to fall down, but then with the end of her lance she threw some snow right into his eyes.

With a pain that stung Hubert backed a little. “That’s not fair, Your Grace.” he ironically remarked while cleaning the mess from his face.

“Fair? I thought you liked playing it unfair.” The woman retorted, while trying to catch her breath. “After all you were into the idea of killing me in my sleep.”

Against her mockery, Hubert rushed to her side without thinking. No surprise the woman hit his legs easily and knocked him off, as his movements were fuelled by anger. Before letting him get up though, Byleth straddled his hips with hers, lances locked once more.

A wicked grin was plastered on her face: “What a lovely position we are in, don’t you think?” To Hubert’s horror, she started to wiggle her hips. Eyes widened, looking at the scandalous woman in shock. “Got to admit, I find this rebellious side of yours a little arousing.”

What was that pervert thinking? He felt every inch of him frozen, as the harlot began grind right on his manhood, and what even worse was how his cock eventually started to respond. With lust filled eyes, she was checking him like a lioness eyed her prey. “That crimson shade really suits your face.”

Feeling both frustrated and humiliated, the alarm bells rang in his mind louder and louder, trying to pull himself together. After taking a sharp breath Hubert raised his hips, which provided him to catch her off balance.

The man directed all the power he had left in his arms right to the lances to roll the wench off of him, nearly sent her flying.

“Whoa-” With a loud thud, Byleth met the ground, groaning while holding her butt.

In an embarrassed state, Hubert straightened himself but not standing up since he realized some part of him down there having other ideas. Cheeks redder than the Adrestian flag, the young lad started to watch his crotch, waiting him to calm down.

 “That hurt.” the woman next to him complained, still in a lying position.

“You asked to be hurt and I have granted your wish.” Hubert said, splashing some snow right at her face, which raised a giggle from her. Though her happiness only annoyed him while boiling his blood with anger.

Thankfully at that time the doors of the training grounds opened, saving him from the any possible shameful comments coming from the woman about what had just transpired between them.

First the blonde strands with a hint of green showed themselves at the opening of the door, then the familiar face of the second son of the merchant Victor appeared. Warm brown eyes peering out from behind his lenses scanned the area, then he flashed a big smile after the orbs found what they were looking for.

“Oh, Professor! They told me I could find you here.”

“Hello Ignatz.” Byleth replied, standing and gussying up herself quickly. Her joyful expression was changed to one that was more serious, as the woman looked like she knew why he was here.

Which Hubert was completely oblivious.

The archer boy’s eyes fell upon him later. The browns that had been genuine just a while ago, now were cold and distant; hesitant “Um… Hello, Hubert!” he said, trying to make it sound cheerful yet failing. Hubert did not respond, instead he checked his crotch to see if the bulge was visible.

After being so openly ignored Ignatz turned his focus to Byleth once again: “I have finished your commission. Would you… Like to see?”

“Of course.” the wench replied, an intimate beam on her face. “After all I have paid for it!” A silent chuckle escaped from her lips at the end of her sentence. Her head turned to him then, before bidding farewell.

“Let’s fetch you a lance and a shield next time. Clearly you need some weapons to avoid those bullies who call themselves knights.”

So she knew.

_________

 

Later that night, Hubert found her silence maddening.

It was not because he needed an explanation, no thank you, since the last thing he wanted was to put himself in weird situations with someone like her, but how she acted like nothing had happened was beyond him.

That was why he left the room that evening. Normally, wandering the monastery at such a late hour was not his thing, ironic compared to the times he had been a student there. Tonight however Hubert couldn’t handle the tension.

Of course, the nights were even colder than the days. The dry air caused him to feel benumbed, as he was not used to harsh weathers. Most of his life was spent in Enbarr, in the Vestra Mansion, and next to Edelgard. The air was humid there, winters were gentle as the winds carried hot breezes from the sea.

Nonetheless he was not a man to display his weaknesses, so no matter how freezing it was, Hubert did not cling to the grey cape around his shoulders.

The books in the library were all checked by him already, some in his younger days and some in the current time, with different aims. Back then, Hubert had only cared about finding ways to help Edelgard, while what only mattered now was saving his own tail.

So he began to visit the library of the Abyss. Compared to the rest of the monastery, some familiar faces could be seen there. Like the Ashen Wolves; Hapi always made sure to greet him only to be ignored, Yuri didn’t care for his presence, Constance seemed to avoid him at all costs and Balthus gave up on his efforts to have a decent conversation after yelling “Hey pal!” at him several moments and never getting a reaction.

Chit-chatting, that he didn’t have time for, nor cared.

Tonight the place was dull, silent. Thank the spirits that weird woman of questionable beliefs who occupied the library was nowhere to be seen. Her presence especially irritated him since she acted like it was her home.

Feet carried him to the shelf he left last. Hopelessly looking for something, anything, to save him from the curse that was casted upon him. There should be a way to lift it, as every illness had its cure. Though whatever he checked, wherever he looked at, nothing as such could be found.

“It is a very peculiar magic.” A familiar voice echoed in the lull of the library, arching Hubert’s eyebrows through recognization, and making him face its owner. There he was, the green haired crest scholar, sending him a very genuine smile. “You are searching for it, aren’t you?”

Hubert bowed his head down to stare at the book in his hand, then put it back to the shelf. “Indeed I am.”

“Well you are not going to find anything about it there. I would be surprised if you found anything at all.” Hands clasped at his back, the man started to walk to his side, his face was illuminated from time to time under the candle lights while doing so.

Hubert’s brows knitted. “What does it mean?”

“This means,” Linhardt started his sentence, finally standing next to him, “It’s a magic of forgotten times.”

“That I figured out.”

“You know what is even stranger?” The heir of Count Hevring gathered his attention on himself as he checked one of the books, “It was Byleth who came up with it. Not Seteth.” Did she? How interesting. “I was there when they tried to cast it upon you, I have never seen anything in my life like that. Even Seteth was surprised to see the Professor came up with it.”

“Did she tell you where she found it?” In the meanwhile, a few priests came to the library with boxes in their hands. Some of them began to fill those with books as Hubert frowned while watching. Yet he put the topic aside as a more important one needed to be addressed as quickest as possible.

“Nope, she shrugged it off, saying she learnt it from one of the books she had when working with treasure hunters. Total nonsense if you ask, but don’t tell her I said so.” Linhardt put his fingers on his lips, gesturing him to shush in a mischievous way. “Don’t want to get on her bad side. Look what happened to you.”

Remembering their previous encounters, Hubert dryly answered: “I am not sure if this happened to me because I am on her bad side, or oddly favoured.”

The man chuckled. “Maybe both? But seriously though, I am happy that you are finally awake.” By what he learnt from Seteth, Hubert had spent one month in slumber due to the completion of ritual.

Putting those matters aside, the young warlock questioned something else: “Linhardt, why are you here?”

“Me?” the heir of the Count Hevring repeated as he seemed to be surprised of the sudden change of the topic. “Ah, we are founding a research department with Manuela and Hanneman, with the Church’s investment. It will be like one big academy with lots of branches, and an open library for everyone.” he pointed to the men who were busy carrying the books. “So we basically take them, copy them and bring them back. The library in the monastery is already finished, and we are planning to finish this one in two weeks, I guess? That leaves us to Seteth’s famous collection of banned books.”

Those were nice stories, yes, but there was another matter Hubert still felt so bitter about, and couldn’t act like he didn’t care: “Linhardt, why did you leave us? Why did you leave Edelgard?”

A pout replaced the cheerful, excited expression on scholar’s face immediately. What? Did you expect me to stand here, talk about things like nothing happened, like I didn’t lose everything in the war you betrayed us for?

Linhardt had almost been the first one to flee to the monastery when the news of the revived Professor had flown across the land. This rebellious play had been followed by, of course, Caspar, Dorothea, and Bernadetta. And finally, Ferdinand had turned his back to them at Myrddin, disappointing Hubert to no end. 

“I told Edelgard that I wanted to avoid bloodshed.”

“Then you could do so.” Hubert answered in a cold manner.

Linhardt wrinkled his face to protest. “No. No matter how much I plead I was put right in the middle of the battlefield.”

“You betrayed us, betrayed your country, betrayed your Emperor.” Words came out of his mouth, blaming.

“I have never sworn my allegiance to Edelgard in the first place. And don’t forget you were the ones that dragged me into that ill begotten war against my will.” Linhardt took a deep breath, gaining his cool once again. “Besides I didn’t have my father’s support; nor Caspar, nor Bernadetta, nor did Ferdinand and Dorothea. Five individuals don’t change the tides of wars Hubert, you were already doomed to lose that war, and you know it. Don’t take it out on me. I want to help you.” he ended his words, displaying Hubert’s runed arm.

Deep down, some part of him knew Linhardt was saying the truth, yet couldn’t find in his heart to forgive him. So bitterly, he kept the conversation going: “How will you do so?”

“I know how it works. Back then, I had quite the time to study it, and ask questions to Byleth.” The scholar reached out to his arm, rolling up the sleeve to take a better look. “This is working in one way. She can warp you anytime beside her, but you can’t. She would know wherever you are, whatever you feel.”

Disturbed, Hubert asked while Linhardt traced the tattoo with some kind of amazement on his face: “Can she read my thoughts?”

“Luckily no.” Now, that was a relief. “She can command you only on a physical level, she doesn’t have an access to your mind. Which means she can’t brainwash you, or make you forget things, feel things, etcetera, etcetera.”

“Is there a way to lift this?” Hubert asked, desperation ringing in his words.

“Three ways,” Linhardt said, giving him hopes only to smash them brutally before they could bloom: “Your death. Her death. Or you have to find someone with the same crest and beg them to lift it.” So all of the chances were out of question. Most marvellous. 

With despair, Hubert buried his face in his hand. However the words of Linhardt hadn’t come to their end yet: “Hubert, you must listen. There’s something odd with the Professor. I believe she knows things and keeps them hidden from everyone. There’s no explanation to how she could have found the magic to cast these strange runes. I have never seen anything quite like it in my life. It even had Seteth shocked. I believe she has more secrets even than Rhea. You must keep an eye on her-”

“Professor Linhardt, we are done sir.” One of the priests called out to him, interrupting their speech. The frustrated man faced them and nodded, then met with Hubert’s eyes once more. “Please consider what I said.”

After that he left, leaving the young, unfortunate mage all alone with all of this new information, in the dark.

 

 

Chapter Text

What Linhardt had said hardly mattered.

There were a few reasons for that. Firstly, it was no surprise that the Church had their secrets, along with the Archbishop. Secondly, Byleth was not a person to scheme things out of malice, her current intelligence did not seem high enough for that.

The third and the biggest reason of his was, he did not care for the future of Fodlan.

Six years ago those people had made a choice to stand with the Church, demonized his most precious friend, and turned their backs to the truth. Whatever happened from now on was on them. If Byleth somehow brought on the doom as the worst case scenario, Hubert would sit back, laugh, and watch those traitors turn into ashes in the eternal flames.

Even if that meant he was going to burn as well.

As a man of principles, Hubert kept slacking off during his so called work hours. Byleth did not seem to mind, and he found himself more confident about taking strolls since now he had lances and a shield tied to his back.

Spending time in the same room with the woman for hours was suffocating, and it got even more irritating because of their last encounter. Trying to not to think about it was one thing, but being made to face her caused Hubert to remember that wanton memory and disgusting himself to no end.

While an escape route was always welcomed, he was starting to run out of places to drop by and entertain himself. Now that he knew getting rid of this foolish rune was impossible, the visits to the libraries came to a halt.

With Manuela, Hanneman and Linhardt’s departure things became so dull in the Monastery –not that he had talked to any of them however at least they were some fragments of his past, of his old self. Luckily there is Shamir, Hubert thought. While everyone else spared him second glances and agonizing stares, Shamir always kept a neutral face; which made spending time with her easy. She did not pity him, nor empathized with him, nor asked unnecessary questions about the war.

Since Hubert was a mere human in the end, seeking the companionship of others was inevitable if he wished to put some distance between himself and that woman, so he started to share his meals with the archer. Though when Catherine felt like spending time with her Hubert found himself left alone, but at least guards were intimidated by his presence once again.

As it should be.

However Shamir alone didn’t sate the boredom he was in. Never once in his life, Hubert hadn’t passed a day without work. And now being here, with nothing to do due to his stubbornness, seconds started to feel like days, almost weeks.

So he allowed himself to spare some glances over the things the harlot was working on. Of course, this information was going to be used purely for malice, he assured the part inside him burning with guilt.

As a former mercenary, she did splendid work-

No, he was not going to pamper her.

As an Archbishop, she messed it all up.

The finance plan was not bad for beginners, however it could not be called sufficient to lead a kingdom, or an empire, or whatever abomination she did wish to call this country. It simply looked like a poor replica of the old one made by the descendants of the Church. Moreover, for spirits know what reason the proposal was only made for a short span. Perhaps the wench had something else in mind, but how wise was it to make Fodlan wait in this dire state?

If she asked Seteth for help the man would probably be happy to oblige. His face that had taken pride walking alongside Byleth during the war was still clearer than ever in the young man’s mind. What changed, Hubert wondered.

What changed?

Then pale green eyes darted towards the tattoo on his arm. Could that be the reason of their recent dispute? Linhardt’s words were also ringing in his ears upon thinking about it: Even the former Advisor had been shocked when Byleth brought up the rune.

Yet that was only normal so; Rhea had had lots of secrets as well, and Seteth had been oblivious to each of them.

The beginning of the Lone Moon marked the change of the weather, but also brought another change to Hubert’s life. It was one of the days he was not sure what to do, which was mostly all the time. Crumbles of depression loomed over him since his mind was busy remembering the days this whole charade had started, how eager he had been and Edelgard. Sipping his coffee quietly, Hubert grimaced.

Then suddenly, Byleth barged into the room with her trademark idiotic smirk, gaining some irritated glances from him.

“Get ready!” she announced cheerfully. “We are taking a trip.”

“A trip?” Hubert’s eyebrows arched involuntarily. “Are you leaving Fodlan in this state?” He should be the one who was happy, yet her recklessness pushed even Hubert’s limits.

An offended look formed on the woman’s face. “No, of course not! I’ve already planned a temporary finance plan till our return. Seteth will handle things.”

So it was like Hubert had guessed. However still, he did not understand the basics of this trip. “Where are we going?”

“I had some reports from the villages near Sreng and Eastern Church region. We should go and check what the deal is.”

Hubert frowned, didn’t she even know the first things from the book of being a leader? “Why not inform Margrave Gautier and Edmund? Remind you, you are no longer a mercenary but the head of a state.”

Byleth took a deep breath. “I know but these ones are cases I should handle. Besides I am going to check a thing or two. So get ready, we are leaving in two days.” Hubert had no choice but to sulk.

“Do I have a say in this?” Clearly he would have preferred staying in the Church than clinging to the harlot’s side, ten times over.

“No.” she cut quickly and left the room in the same speed.

_________

Defeated, Hubert began to pack things.

Never in his life had he travelled in small numbers such as two. There were always some guards, some soldiers or some knights surrounding him and Edelgard. Now, he was supposed to take this trip to the far end of Fodlan, without his magic, and with the biggest trouble magnet he had ever known.

She said this was supposed to be a cover up mission, that they were going to abandon their names and identities. How she was supposed to cover herself up with that mint hair was beyond him however, he had no option but to obey.

An alchemy table had been placed in his room, which he had never used and regretted that decision greatly now, hoping Byleth had more potions. A few clean clothes the woman had handed him before, a few armour parts… And done. He prepared a ridiculously light bag.

On the day of their departure, the wench pulled a new trick from her sleeve:

“Do you know how to ride?”

Great. “Of course, is there a noble that does not know how to ride?”

Byleth shrugged. “Plenty.”

If he got to be frank, it was not like he despised animals. No, Hubert had no problem on that matter, and had been quite fond of them as a child, but this affection hadn’t gone more than being one sided. Probably due to his menacing aura, the horses always felt unease around him. The memories of many riding accidents playing in his mind, he spoke: “Not one of my expertises however I know the basics.”

A frown formed on Byleth’s face. “Basics are not enough.”

That was how they ended up in the stables.

For a long time in his life, Hubert had not needed to ride a horse, nor a Pegasus, nor a Wyvern. Warping from here to there, blinking and rematerializing in front of his enemies’ eyes; magic had been the very reason of his confidence at everything. When the energy flowing in his veins had felt insufficient, he just had taken the carriage. Despite riding being one of his secret joys, he couldn’t be patient enough to rectify his relationship with animals, or understand them.

Plus, even if he had overcome this hardship, his fear of heights still lay before him.

He gave Byleth a good show by almost strangling the mare to death. Thanks to his fear of falling down and got stamped on, hands clung to the neck of the horse desperately, and since the animal got scared by his actions they had started to run in circles in the yard.

“Travelling with two horses is out of the question for now.” Byleth said, while trying her best to not to laugh at him. “But we should practice on your riding skills when we come back.”

Hubert muttered bitterly at that: “If we come back.”

When they began their journey, the sun was setting down around the mountains covering Garreg Mach. Hubert’s efforts to learn what was going on had been futile, and his protests did not mean anything; if the woman wished him to come, he was to submit, or she would probably find a way to drag him out. At least a promise to clear things when they had settled down was given to him.

The first point of their destination was The Saints Tavern that had been erected within the valley that lead to the Monastery; the place had been built by a pragmatist merchant one year ago in order to benefit from knights that had looked for warm beds, decent meals, potions and, of course, women. That last part was a total blasphemy considered the proximity of the tavern to Garreg Mach. Yet they ignored the situation.

“So what?” Byleth said when she was confronted by Hubert. “People have needs.”

An answer that was befitting to a mercenary, fantastic.

It did not take too much time walking from the Monastery to the place; the former Professor had insisted to not take a horse with them. Basically, the reason for that decision was how healthy and flamboyant the mares of the Monastery looked. The plan was to buy one from the stable next to the tavern.

It was cold, but not as cold as the distance between them. Hubert, feeling humiliated by being dragged around like a ragdoll didn’t even spare simply “Yes” or “No” to anything Byleth said. Once, he had taken pride in serving, now it was his biggest torture.

The place was not flashy, just as he expected. Tables and shelves were adorned with wooden carvings, and carpets that showed the Crest of Seiros were hung on the walls. The warm breeze that caressed Hubert’s skin made him shiver, and relaxed his muscles which tightened due to the unfortunate weather.

After they entered the hall, a small woman appeared at the front door with logs under her arm. Presumably she was at her mid-sixties, yet when she flashed a big grin the woman looked no older than 30.

“A-ah, travellers.” she sang excitedly, putting the wood to the hearth, racking up the fire.

After taking off her hood, Byleth called out to the woman: “Griselda, hello.”

Instantly her face turned towards them, checking who was the person that had talked. A few seconds later, the brown orbs got wider with the hint of familiarity.

“Ah, little one! I have not been seeing you for ages!”

Hubert frowned, didn’t this woman know who she was?

“The war got the best of us.” Byleth said smiling while walking to her. He also followed the so called Archbishop.

“I wish I was busy too!” Griselda complained, “But we don’t have too many travellers coming here nowadays.” Disappointment was formed on her tiny features. Then, she and Hubert made eye contact. “Oh, is this lad your husband?”

“No.” Hubert snapped quickly as to save the teasing from the wench. However Byleth ignored them:

“Pity. This place used to be so lively.” Hands on her waist, she eyed the hall. “Anyways Griselda, we are here to revive this place. Hey, can you go out and get us a mare?” She turned to him.

Hubert rolled his eyes. “Why me?” It was so cold out there.

“Just do it.” There was an odd determination in those mint eyes, so Hubert didn’t insist. No need to waste time on a war he lost from the start.

So he found himself outside again. The errand boy, who was probably the son of Griselda, was there, waiting for him expectantly. Just how bad was business here nowadays?

Hubert didn’t know that much about the horses, so he left the picking job to the boy, Maurice. He introduced him to an auburn one, looking just like one of his old friends.

Friends that had betrayed them.

“So you’re coming from Garreg Mach or going to Garreg Mach?” the boy asked when Hubert was petting the stupid animal.

“The former one.” he responded, not meeting his eyes.

Curiously, Maurice asked another question: “Have you seen the Archbishop?”

So they don’t know. “Yes.” He had seen both of them, met them and fought against them.

Even though his answer was curt, it made the young lad excited: “What was she like? I heard that she was as beautiful as the Goddess herself!”

Hubert snorted at that. “Have you seen the Goddess?”

“No-”

“Then?” This was ridiculous. One thing he hated more than the Church was the ones that were blindly following them.

After that fruitless conversation, Hubert made his way back to the inn, Maurice following him. He saw Byleth leaned on the counter, something like paper in her hand, asking Griselda questions.

“…Try to remember.”

“If I saw someone like him I sure would remember. Oh, they came back!” the woman pointed at them. With a frown, Hubert tried to check the contents of the paper in Byleth’s hand however from this angle it was not possible to see. In the meanwhile, Maurice got back to the counter and eyed it:

“Are you looking for him?”

“Yes, have you seen him, Maurice?”

“I did, yes.” With that, Byleth’s face lightened with a childish cheer. Just whom were they talking about? Hubert got closer to her.

“When and where?”

Instead giving the reply Byleth had asked for, Maurice answered the question with another question: “Why are you looking for him?”

Griselda happily warbled: “Is he your husband? He is quite handsome!”

“Griselda, you should stop assuming people are my husbands.” Now that reply brought a faint shade of red to Hubert’s ears. “As to answer, for personal reasons. I will not kill him.”

After hesitating a bit, Maurice talked: “He was in the woods. Like one year ago, maybe more. I saw him hunt. Never in my life have I seen a person use a bow like that.”

“Okay, that’s him.” Byleth said, nodding. Though before Hubert could catch a glimpse of the portrait had been drawn on a canvas, the wench folded it with a cloth. Could it be the picture she commissioned Ignatz for? “Do you know where he went, or… Maybe you interacted with him.”

“No, we did not talk. And I don’t know where he went.”

“Alright, thanks for your help.” The green eyes, covered with disappointment met his. “I fetched us meals. Would you like to eat here, or in our room?” she whispered to him, in a suggestive way.

“Our room?” Hubert was freaking out.

“You see,” Byleth said, trying to get him away from the counter, “There was only one room and-”

“Lady, what are you talking about? Every room is free.” Maurice yelled behind her, ears surprisingly quite sharp. Byleth stared at him for a little time, cursing silently.

“Please secure us two rooms!” Hubert shouted at the boy.

“’Two rooms’ is a luxury.”

“I don’t care,” Hubert said, panicking, “We are either sleeping separately or I am going back to Garreg Mach.”

“Fine,” Byleth replied in a defeated manner. “Fine.”

The little stunt the wench had pulled had distracted him from the awkward conversation he had stumbled on before. Hubert was now sitting on the farthest corner of one of the long tables, trying to put maximum distance between him and her. However wherever he went, whenever he changed chairs with the stew Griselda handed him, the harlot followed right behind. Byleth might be dumb, but not this dumb, so the only conclusion could be she was ignoring his efforts to stay away from her on purpose.

Finally Hubert got sick of this tag game, so he gave up.

“I gave her a list of food and potions that she will fetch for us before we leave –oh and, we will leave before the first light.”

Hubert pointed another matter, irritated: “Are we riding the same horse?”

“Yes.” Her smile could be heard in her voice. Clearly, she found the idea amusing.

Hubert spoke in honesty: “I don’t want to be that close to you.”

“Well you can’t ride-”

The young man inhaled, then raised his head from the meal he was picking at in a very annoyed manner: “How about a carriage?”

“It would just slow us down.” Byleth contradicted, while shoving a whole slice of bread in her mouth at once, horrifying her new Advisor. “It is not suitable for mountains.”

“Mountains?” Hubert frowned. “Don’t tell me we are climbing the mountains.”

“It’s the fastest way to get to the Sreng region.”

Exhausted much, a long breath left his nose: “How about visiting the Edmund territory first? For sparing the hardship, Your Grace?”

Immediately Byleth pressed a finger on her rosy lips, telling him to be quiet. Then she said her next words with a visible concern in her mint eyes: “Don’t call me that! We are on a covert mission, remember?”

“Yeah, yeah.” Hubert answered, rolling his eyes, so done with this meaningless trip of theirs before it even started.

After devouring another few spoons of her meal, she started to talk again: “There’s a butcher in Aviris. They have killed six people up till now. That’s why I am trying to get there first.”

“Six? And what’s the Gautier boy doing?” Hubert said disapprovingly.

“He has already sent there some guards to the area, however the killings are done frequently and the murderer is some kind of expert from what I heard. They couldn’t even get one clue. Sylvain asked me for help.”

The village she was talking about was almost at the border of the Fodlan, the valley which was leading to the Sreng region. Naturally the population was high, being a mixture of people of the Kingdom and Sreng.

Hubert exhaled in a defeated manner. “I think he was asking for your knights Byleth, not you.”

“Nonsense! I am aiding him by sending my best knight.” With that, she puffed her chest in all absurdity. The irritation made his eye twitch.

“And do you have any investigation experience officer Byleth, pray tell?”

“I don’t. But come on, you will be the mind, and I’ll be the brute force of this case!” Now the wench began to show off by flashing her muscles, looking just like a moron while doing so. Hubert pinched the bridge of his nose at that statement.

“How about the Leicester Alliance one? What’s the deal there?”

Byleth’s mouth formed an “o”. “It’s the Silverkeep village.” Now this was interesting, the whole town was an important finance source thanks to all the mines they owned. “They’re trying to cover it, but people are doubting a possible corruption going on there.”

“Then you should go there at once, don’t waste your time on some meaningless heroism.”

Byleth frowned. “Saving people is not ‘meaningless heroism’. I can always take the money they somehow stole back from the hands of the people, but I can’t bring the lives they stole back.”

Hubert snorted, the hypocrisy. “Is this coming from a mercenary?”

“I am no longer that person.” Words were murmured in a cold manner.

“Well no matter how many fancy titles you take, you will stay the same. The emotionless mercenary, who butchers people without showing any hints of sympathy.” A bitter smile played on his features. “That’s what I think, and I will die on this hill.”

It seemed he finally pulled the right strings and scored some points, because the woman looked so annoyed, and she almost snarled her next words: “Well, good luck at that. We are going to Aviris first and that’s the end of the discussion.” After that the wench stood up to leave.

“Trying to atone for the sins of your past, huh? How sweet.” With that, Byleth brought her fist down on the table, startling Griselda and Maurice at the same time, however couldn’t even make Hubert flinch. In fact, he was smirking for real after weeks for the first time.

Later that night, when he finished his meal alone and in peace, and dodged every single question the inn owners asked about the commotion earlier, his feet carried him to his room. Once in a while it was good to not sleep in that cell he shared with that woman. Now, lying on the white sheets he thought how calm the night was and how soothing the lull felt. He could rest-

Well, he could have, if it were not for the knock on his door.

Brows knitted, the man raised from the bed, menacingly walking to see who dared to intervene his moment of break. Of course, it was no surprise to see the mint curls and puppy eyes when he peeked a look at outside. The excitement could be read on her features. With one breath, she blurted what’s in her mind out: “Would you like to sleep together-”

Hubert shut the door in Byleth’s face in an instant.

Couldn’t he have peace in his life!?

Chapter Text

An array of bright colours danced on the marble floor, right under the huge, stained glass windows. The choices of golden patterns, statues; and red flags gave a warm ambience to the ballroom, where people were forbidden to enter unless for an important event.

But Hubert had been there many times; as a child, to play, and as a gentleman, to plot. He stepped under the light, waiting for the familiar tingling on his cheeks the heat caused, however nothing happened.

Enbarr… How had he come here?

Echoes of steps and giggles reached him, which belonged to some random children. Exasperated, he turned back to scold those kids in a sense of duty as they were in a forbidden area. However the scene that greeted him was none other than a memory.

It was his younger self and Edelgard, running carelessly, laughing while playing tag. She still had dark hair, marking the times when they had known no sorrow.

At the corner of the room, another kid stood. Hands clasped behind, warm brown eyes hidden under the waves of a shade of copper. Being excluded showed its effects with the hints of a childish sadness and hesitancy on his face.

“Back then, you didn’t like him.” A voice spoke, but the owner of it was nowhere to be seen. Slowly, Hubert nodded.

“It was a childish jealousy at first; I didn’t want to share Her Majesty’s friendship with anyone else. Then… After the things she had to face, it turned into a form of hostility.” Somehow speaking so openly of those matters relieved him a little.

“However, things could not stay the same forever, as the only thing that doesn’t change is simply, itself.”

Soon, the familiar figure of his mysterious dream on the verge of his conscious emerged right in the middle of the room out of the dust. She was looming in the air, her face still was obscured by the strange mist.

Right, his regret was making its visit to torture him more.

“Yes,” He began to talk again, as to not yield to his mind’s propaganda. “Him and I… Got closer.”

The next words were sung in harmony by the bystanders: “The war has that effect.” The echo of their voices made the little kid giggle.

A mischievous tone could be heard in the regret’s voice: “But it would be belittling your feelings if you just say you got closer, no. You came to care deeply of him. You, loved Ferdinand.”

Suddenly the fire of fury lit up in his chest, making him clench his fists and squint. A strong desire to deny those claims was burning his heart, however no words came out of his tightly pressed lips, yet even reached to his throat. The girl mockingly laughed at his poor effort that went in vain.

“Rage, gloom, and doubt. All emotions, stemmed from one way of act: Betrayal. You are angry at him because he let you down. You’re sad, because your love couldn’t compete with his ideals. And your almost non-existent trust is shaken, as he wounded your open, care free heart. Now, now. Such a monster, isn’t he?”

She was flying in circles around the room, waiting for an answer. When none came, simply loomed over him, her eyes couldn’t be seen but at that moment, Hubert was sure they were judging him from behind the pitch black fume. When the voice began to talk again, it was colder than the nights of Faerghus, making clouds cover the sun outside and scaring the remaining children:

“But you didn’t give him much choice to begin with; imprisoning his father, taking his lands; his pride, making him fight a war that never meant to be his and kill his friends, in your name. Asking for his loyalty, but when were you supposed to compromise as well, Hubert? Or, was it easy to love an emotionless, obedient puppet that you could shape as you desired?”

***

Hearing those words felt almost like taking a punch to his throat, it hurt and made him hyperventilate. Breathlessly, Hubert woke up, immediately covering his sweaty brow with his hands.

A gentle voice called for him, from a close angle: “A nightmare, huh?”

Drowsiness made him nod unconsciously, then however he realized the odd situation: He should be in a tavern, laying on his bed, alone. Then whom-

Snapping his head with a little more force than necessary, Hubert faced the stranger that had snuck up on his mattress. Seeing mint waves with matching amused eyes made him flinch from the bed and fall onto the floor.

“What are you doing here!?” he shouted, trying to get up from the mess of blankets he got himself into.

“Laying.” she answered, nonchalantly. Hubert, managed to stand up finally, checked her in pure rage.

“This is an invasion of personal space. I will-”

“What? Sue me? I am the law itself, darling. I am the Archbishop.” Those words gained a literal snarl from him. Menacingly, he started talking in a low voice:

“You are so lucky that I have this rune on myself, Professor, or you would have already met your father that you’ve wished to see again so badly.”

She grimaced at that. “Ouch. But that means I’d also be seeing Edelgard.”

Furiously, Hubert showed her the door. “Get out!”

“This is my room actually.” A disgusting grin formed on Byleth’s face. “I’ve warped you here.” Pride flowed from her words.

Hubert groaned loudly, then saw himself out. Just to make things worse, he came across old Griselda while trying to get back to his nest.

The woman had an unreadable expression on her face, a few seconds later Hubert learnt it was a money related issue: “Just because you slept in the same room,” she paused, and blinked a few times, “I am not going to pay you back the fee for the other one. Got you clean sheets and water already!”

That’s not my concern, you fool. Hubert passed the woman without any comments, and arrived at his destination in a terrible mood.

After what felt like a few minutes, they were ready for their departure, meeting downstairs. Byleth was busy with loading their things on the saddle, while Hubert just stood there with his most menacing aura. A bitter feeling still burnt his chest due to the stunt the whore had pulled earlier, and it seemed like the flames of it were not going to fade soon.

Soon they were on the horse together; Byleth on the front, and Hubert at her back. It was when the Saints disappeared in the mist, Hubert spoke:

“You said we would leave before the first lights.” Not had they missed the first lights, it was almost the morning when they started their journey.

“I did, but you were sleeping like an angel.” Was she humiliating him, or simply didn’t have any dignity? To his horror, Byleth revealed something: “You were muttering in your sleep.”

Eyes widened, Hubert had a reminiscent of his earlier nightmare: The girl, the ballroom, Enbarr, Edelgard…

And…

“What did I say?” 

“Ferdinand.” Eyes shut, he took some sharp breaths. Great, Byleth was definitely the worst person for him to share things with, yet he had done. Brows wrinkled, Hubert tried to clear the image of the warm, brown eyes from his memory, yet the bitch didn’t seem to let him to do soon:

“Do you miss him? I can arrange a meeting-”

“I don’t,” For a second, he let the air fill his lungs freely to calm himself before talking more: “Want to talk on this matter, dwell on this matter nor to do something about it. And it would be better for you to not to speak of him too unless you wish to get on my nerves.”

Where he expected her to tease him more, she was comically thoughtful: “Understood.” Not before too long though, Byleth broke the silence before it could strike its roots: “Hubert, why are you holding the reins with me? Don’t you trust my riding skills?”

Ah… His hands also were also on the belt, simply because Hubert didn’t know where else to put them as he avoided directly touching the woman. “I am sure you have the most excellent riding skills Professor, however-”

“You don’t want to touch me.” the woman completed. “But I can’t ride it like this.” she then said, with a tone that clearly showed her annoyance.

“Well, I can’t too.”

“Please don’t be childish.” Byleth pleaded, with a groan. Hubert, whose muscles were also tired, sighed in defeat and enveloped the harlot’s tiny waist. Strange, even though how strong and intimidating she looked, now all he could feel was some sort of fragility in his arms. Was the Blue Lion’s dear Professor always this small? Also, was she always this soft when she was the head of the enemy armies?

Upon climbing a hill, her back made full contact with his chest, and her bottom… Nested right on his crotch. The familiar tingling brought back the memories of their duel, painting his cheeks and ears in red. Hubert cleared his throat, and called her:

“Perhaps I should have been the one to sit on the front.”

Byleth shot him a confused look over her shoulder. “And why is that?”

“I find this position… Inconvenient.” Hubert answered, meeting her eyes, gaining a snort from her.

“You can’t. You’re simply too tall for that.”

“Maybe you are the one who’s too short.” As to punish him, Byleth rolled her hips right on his lap, making Hubert desperately try to get away.

“Now you’re doing it on purpose!” She giggled at that, happily, and lively.

***

By the night, they were at the woods that covered the region between Galatea and Charon. Here the forest grew thicker, and the light barely touched the ground. They decided to call it a day and set up a camp as the closeness of the river was ideal.

When the tents were prepared, Hubert went to pick up some wood while Byleth was busy with hunting. In the end, she managed to catch some rabbits and Hubert convinced himself to not try to run away.

It was when Byleth fired the logs they both sensed movements around the trees. He straightened up to take a good look of the area while the wench slowly unsheathed her sword. The footsteps were everywhere, which meant they were surrounded. Involuntarily, Hubert gripped his lance, cursing silently as the possibility of him engaging in a real battle without his magic played in his mind.

“It’s not bandits.” Byleth whispered after seconds. “So calm down, and let me do the talking.” A snort escaped his nose, out of the two of them he should be the one to do the talking.

“Good reflexes.” A man called from the northern side. Shortly after, all of them were stepping out of the shadows. Those were men, with bows in their hands, pelts covering their belts and shoulders. So the local hunters, Hubert thought. He wondered if they were working for House Charon, or the Galatea.

“Good evening, gentlemen.” Byleth called, as she sheathed her sword back in its scabbard. Hubert followed her and retracted his own weapon.

“Good evening to you, ma’am.” Blond hair grew both on the scalp and the face of the man who was talking. His ice coloured eyes studied them, then the encampment a little, before speaking again: “I have to ask you what it is that you’re doing here. This lands belong to House Charon.” And surely, they did not want any bandits in their borders.

Thanks to the cloth that covered Byleth’s hair, no suspicion regarding their real identity raised: “We are hunting.”

“Oh.” The man’s brow knitted. “Are you working for House Charon as well?”

Another guy spoke: “I have never seen those.” Hubert tensed due to the amount of the bows readied to be fired. He shot an uneasy gaze at Byleth’s side, hoping she wouldn’t mess this up.

“No, sir.” Her voice was calm, and confident. “We are just passing by. Selling the pelts around the towns.”

Eyebrows raised, the man asked another question: “Do you have the permission to do that?”

“Indeed we do.”

“Liars! Old Erik never lets people to wander around the region.” one of his companions called. Now, all of them were raising their voices:

“Yes, they are too heavily armoured for a simple hunt!”

“No way Old Erik would let them.”

Byleth too raised hers in order to be heard clearly: “Alright gentlemen, but we are acquaintances with Erik so no need to dwell about it.”

The blond man who seemed to be the leader of the group silenced the others, and faced them again: “But you should have sought the permission of his daughter, Alva too.”

Byleth responded, looking a bit exhausted: “We got that too.”

Suddenly, Hubert lost his balance by an unseen force that came from behind, next, his right arm began to burn. It was a wooden arrow that pierced his skin. The leader’s laughter rang around them after these words: “You could have sought her permission if she was alive.”

So the bitch messed it up. When was she going to give up on that little game and reveal their identities for their sake he wondered, and got his lance readied. Or were they doomed?

However when he turned to face the other group, everyone looked so calm like nothing happened. Confused, Hubert checked his arm, where there should have been an arrow, ugly scar and pierced red cloth, was nothing to be seen. No burning, no ache, everything was perfectly normal.

“…No way Old Erik let them.”

“Alright gentlemen, but we are acquaintances with Erik so no need to dwell about it.” He shook his head as the conversations repeated. Could it be a vision?

“But you should have sought the permission of his daughter, Alva too.”

Quickly, Hubert opened his mouth to answer, but Byleth was faster:

“We could have asked if she were alive.”

That seemed to settle the matters, as the men retreated convinced and satisfied, leaving a confused Hubert behind. Hand flew to his right side immediately, checking, looking for something but couldn’t find anything no matter how hard he rubbed. Never in his life had the man experienced something like that, and was even more bewildered to see the change in Byleth’s answer. Was the wench having the same visions too? He approached her cautiously, as she sat and began to hide one of the rabbits she caught. The flames lit her pale skin, and exposed her expression where Hubert looked hard to see something off.

Perhaps testing the waters first was a better idea: “How did you know about his daughter?”

Byleth answered, without meeting his eyes: “I was a mercenary, remember?” Ah, yes. She and her father were travelling around almost in her entire life.

“We are lucky that you met with him then.” he said, sending side glances. The woman raised her head from the work.

“I told you I would handle the things, didn’t I?” Maybe only he saw that thing, and it was just about a possibility of the future. Regardless, Byleth seemed clueless.

And her fake reasoning was enough to trick Hubert. The memory was put to the back burner to revisit later.

Soon after, they were eating the meat Byleth cooked. Honestly, the taste was quite unpleasant but Hubert had had worse during the war. Also, he was not a man to simply complain about food like a child, so he endured.

They of course, had some delicious food packed by Griselda. However their arrival to Aviris probably would be around midnight, so those needed to be saved for later. Come to think of it, the muscles on his legs were faintly aching due to horseback riding.

When she finished her meal, Byleth calmly asked: “Would you like to take a bath?”

Hubert’s face was wrinkled. “In the river?”

“Yes. We can’t bathe tomorrow, and the day after I want to start to investigate as soon as possible.” That marked five days for him without washing.

“Fine,” he mumbled, then suddenly wondered: “Are you going to wash yourself as well?” Byleth nodded in response. “We are taking turns then. I’ll go first.”

A glass jar the wench enchanted light in was taken by Hubert upon his leave. Funny, normally he had never needed such tools for himself as a wielder of great magical power. Day by day, Hubert felt worse about this, like he was crippled, as his wings had been cut. Maybe he should have been already accustomed to the situation, however the desperation only grew more.

The current of the river looked a bit wild, and it was only normal in winter. Soon, the rain shall take the place of the ceaseless snow. If they were in Enbarr, he wouldn’t tremble this much while getting naked, however here, on the borders of Faerghus, the cold harshly bite his skin and made him shiver.

Thanks the spirits the water was much warmer, making him almost moan at the contact and relax. When Hubert arrived at the centre of the stream, he dipped his head fully to wet the raven black locks. Finally the young warlock was alone after this long day, which meant he could take his time to think about the vision that had been bestowed earlier.

Breathlessly, he reached for the surface, making the water droplets flow on him. His pale hands made their way to the curls that fell on his brow, sweeping them back.

However a whistle coming from the woods interrupted his time and made him flinch. Byleth was in the shore, clapping: “Such a beautiful display.” she said while stepping out of the shadows. To his horror, the fool was almost drooling like an animal in heat.

“What are you doing in here!?” he yelled. Now she was right next to the river.

Her response came in a playful manner: “What could you mean by that? Of course, I will wash myself too!”

Teeth gritted, he shouted another thing: “And who’s guarding our camp!?”

“Ah, come on! You saw those hunters. They wouldn’t let people come in and go easily!” After the grey cloak slid from her shoulders, a panic grew on Hubert’s chest. Quickly, the man swam next to a boulder, covering himself like he was under enemy fire.

“A-are you serious right now!?”

“Of course.” she said, giggling. “Oh you’re being adorably shy. Haven’t you ever seen any naked woman?”

“I’ve seen but none of them was trying to jump on me!” Hubert leaned his back to the sturdy surface, desperately wishing to disappear. Oh how he was in need of the warping magic…

“That’s their loss!” Splashing sounds reached to his ears, as the woman dove in the water. Her next words came from a place much closer to him: “Hubert.” It was hard to not to mistake her voice for a siren.

“Do not come any closer! This side of the rock is mine and you’re going to stay in yours.”

“Ah, come on! Don’t you want to have a peek on my boobs?” Images of her naked, wet mounds played in his mind, setting his cheeks on fire.

“Do you not have any dignity!?”

She hummed a bit before answering: “I don’t think so.”

Still hugging the rock, Hubert started to sink into the water. Even though she wouldn’t be able to see any part of his body the mere idea gave him goose bumps. “Must you be always so vulgar?”

“I am just honest with my feelings.” Afterwards, some water was splashed above the boulder. “Fine. I am not coming there!”

A few attempts to engage conversations made by her then, but the man couldn’t hear a single word as he was buried in shame. Feelings, she had said. What feelings? The feelings that took a sadistic joy over torturing him? Ear tips all red, Hubert couldn’t motivate himself to move one inch and simply waited for her to leave, even though he knew it was bad for his health to stay in the river so long in this weather.

“Won’t you get out?” Byleth called to him. He indeed wanted that, but also was quite sure that the woman only sought a show where he was going to get dressed before her eyes.

“You go first.”

Amused, she teased him more: “Oh, so you are looking to see me naked?”

A snarl came out of Hubert, who did she think she was? “Never in a million years.” The answer he got was a snort.

He faced the other side of the woods till he was sure she left. That damned woman. That stupid woman. The humiliation made him feel so pathetic. He was nothing more than a slave, an entertainment source, a thing to be mocked, a collared dog and the fact shamed him to no end. Nothing of the young, successful warlock was left. Did she laugh at him when he was not around? Took pride over how she ruined his life with her bare hands? And now she was taking him with her to this meaningless journey, like a little girl showing off with her favourite toy around. Hubert bit his lip and fought back the tears that tried to make their way out. No, he was not going to give in.

At the time the man came back to the encampment, pale green eyes caught a little flicker in the logs. Byleth sat before the tiny fire she created once again, and her hands were in her mint waves, probably trying to dry them with magic. When Hubert’s footsteps were heard, she turned by him and flashed one of the most genuine smile he had ever seen, contrasting the thoughts that had plagued his mind before.

Could she be sincere in her feelings?

A place next to her was taken by him, to be close to the flames and get warm. Curiously, she made a remark: “Your hair is still wet.”

“Yes, because someone has taken my magic away.” Her hands made their way to his hair in an instant, caressing, and tousling a bit like a caring mother’s. The warm magic that radiated from her not only dried his hair, but also soothed the anxiety that took over him. Now feeling calmer, Hubert shut his eyes and enjoyed the sensation for once.

It was when she put out the campfire with a single movement he made a move to retreat back to one of the tents, however Byleth’s hand on his shoulder stopped him. With confusion Hubert’s chin raised, eyes met the cream toned face which was washed under the moonlight, creating almost a halo around her. She looked a little bit concerned and hesitant at the same time.

“Can we sleep together?”

Hubert’s answer was curt: “No.” Though when he tried to get up again, Byleth’s fingers clung tighter.

“I… Am afraid of the dark.” Quickly he turned by her again, one of his eyebrows raised. “It was after Zahras.” she began to explain. The time she got her divine powers, right. Now to think of it, the woman always had lots of candles lit and light balls conjured around her when she was asleep.

“Can’t you conjure some wisps?”

“I can but it is risky when we are asleep. I don’t want to gather unwanted attention on us.”

Hubert took a sharp breath, and began to think. It was not like they were going to sleep in the same bedroll, and even if he rejected she would high likely pull a stunt like in the morning. So he sighed, then nodded, and seeing her so happy made him a little sick on the stomach.

Thanks to the amount of soldiers Garreg Mach had, all of the tents’ sizes were big –for if sharing was needed. Hubert found a spot which was the farthest from Byleth, and prepared himself to sleep.

But of course, the wench was not feeling like that: “Shouldn’t we be closer?”

“This is the most you can get.” he blatantly answered.

It could be understood that she was pouting from her voice tone: “But this distance is too much. It almost feels like you are in Enbarr and I am in Fodlan’s Throat.”

“Don’t be so dramatic. If you keep complaining I will go back to my tent.”

“Alright, I am shutting up!”                        

Though the harsh nights of Faerghus were not something even the strongest hearts could fight against, so they ended up snuggled up to each other unconsciously, seeking the other’s warmth in their sleep.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

 

 

Chapter Text

The sweet chill that lurked upon him woke Hubert up.

Yawning and nuzzling his head in the softness of their blankets, he opened his eyes to the new day. Slowly, the man looked around; the tent seemed larger, emptier, and incredibly cold because of the missing warmth around his arms.

His arms…

Hubert leapt up from his bedroll in alarm when the pieces of memories rushed back to his mind; they had slept together, cuddling up like lovers. Looking over his shoulder, the flushed man checked if the number one trouble on his mind was at somewhere, hiding. But no, thank the spirits she was not there.

Taking a deep breath, Hubert spruced himself up, made sure he was not looking so flustered, then reached beyond the curtain that covered the entrance. He should scold her for not respecting his personal space once again. However the image of a woman with coal-like hair crouched down upon the cinders of last night’s campfire started to register a threat in his mind. Slowly he straightened up, trying to make as little noise as possible, at the same time thinking of Byleth’s whereabouts.

Though at that moment, the intruder turned her head and their eyes met; Hubert, whose efforts to be sneaky went in vain, stood frozen.

A playful glint could be traced in the woman’s black eyes, which resembled the void itself. Her pale face complimented the pink, puffy lips curved with a grin. These features, this familiarity, was that…?

“Byleth?”

“So you woke up.” she said with a chuckle. Hands raced to Hubert’s face to rub his eyes to make sure he was seeing right, yet nothing changed.

“Your hair… And your eyes…” The rest of his sentence hung in the hair, as meaningless mutterings made their way out of his mouth.

“Black, yes.” Intrigued, Hubert left the tent.

“How?” he said, walking towards her.

“A magic trick. It would suit better since this is a covert mission.” Yes, the green hair was a rare case even in Fodlan. But that did not particularly sate his curiosity. So he kept bombarding the woman with new questions:

“What kind of magic?” The only one that included change of appearance belonged to Those Who Slither in the Dark.

Byleth shot him a stare. “Well, normal kind of magic?”

His voice was firm, and accusing when answering: “I am not familiar with the one which helps people to change their hair, or eye colours to their heart’s content.”

An exhausted breath left the wench’s nostrils: “It is because you only care about the kind of magic that let’s you blow something up.” Fair enough. That was one argument he was not able to fight back against, but that didn’t mean he would just disregard this matter completely, no, it was just that he was not going to pry furthermore for time being.

There were more important matters for their current time, like, how he was going to get accustomed to her new appearance without freaking out every time he saw it.

Also, was it just him or did she look like him?

***

A storm raged outside, carrying the shards of frost and freezing winds through the shattered windows. The snow that fell into the empty hall was all dusty and black, like the grey clouds hung on the horizon. The ground shook from time to time, making the debris fall with it. The room was empty, save for two people

Hubert knew this vast room that could almost fit an army in it, oh he knew it very well. He had seen Emperor Ionius for the first time here, and bidden his farewells to his dearest friend, to the one true leader he had followed. The place was a shelter of so many memories of his, some sweet, some sour, some prideful and some painful.

At the end of this room, a throne sat; it was huge, and looked lonely as always. There was a girl on it, a little girl with brown hair; trembling, lost in the big red coat that someone made her wear.

With a slow pace, Hubert got closer and closer. When she was in a better view, the traces of the tears she had shed caught his eyes. There was fear in her features, fear of a lost child.

Without thinking, Hubert kneeled before her, ready to serve. It was her cracked voice that made him raise his head and meet the amethyst eyes.

“I am so afraid.” she said in an unsure voice. “I don’t want to die, not yet.” Her little hands gripped the hilt of Aymr, making the axe glow red.

“Don’t be, Your Majesty. We will triumph for sure.”

In a panic, she spoke other words, hyperventilating: “What if we can’t?”

“Then I’ll protect you until the very end; till my knees grow weak and the air fills my lungs for the last time.”

“Will you?” she said in a cherished voice. Then her hair went white, but the childish features remained. No more she trembled, but eyes lit up with fire:

“Will you, Hubert? Funny, then why are you still alive and I am dead?”

With that, the Sword of the Creator tore her body in two as well as with the throne, revealing a woman who had a horrifying smirk plastered on her face, tongue licking the blood off of her lips.

There, the Ashen Demon stood, craving everything he had with that insatiable famine of hers.

***

A loud bang at the wooden door brought him back from the lands of dreams. The person who had done it was persistent, as they kept knocking without any pause. Normally Hubert would mind it, but now he was just grateful to be saved from that nightmare.

“Hey, are you awake? Please answer me. Oh, damn! I told you that I wanted to start the investigation as soon as possible!”

And his saviour was the very reason of the thoughts that haunted him to begin with.

Inhaling wearily, Hubert forced himself to talk: “I’ll meet you downstairs in ten minutes.” Since the answer he gave satisfied her, the everlasting rapping at his door came to a halt.

They had arrived to Aviris in the dim of last night, and immediately had separated for their beds.

The Sreng region had a cold that would even put the one of Faerghus to a shame, and even his inn room had a freezing chill. If it had been a common night, sleep would not visit him due to the chattering of his teeth, but hell, nothing was regular with this journey of theirs and the fatigue that had captivated his body made him sleep like the dead.

So when Hubert sneezed while dressing in his clothes, it was not a surprise.

After making sure he was wrapped up in many layers of fabric, he met the ex-Archbishop-new-Knight-of-Seiros at the grand hall. A part of him was unsure if he could face her without being haunted by the nightmare, however with the coal black hair and eyes she looked like a different person.

When Hubert arrived, Byleth was talking with the inn keeper. The young warlock took his time by skimming through the place before going near them, freezing each one of the customers’ features in his memory. After all that psycho could be one of them, planning their new murder in their head.

“Oh, this is my partner that I’ve talked to you about!” The wench pointed at him cheerfully. A sigh left his lips while walking up to them. Eyes stern, the man studied him with caution, then talked:

“We do not get visited by Knights of Seiros often.” A thick accent was carried through his voice, probably somewhere between Fodlan’s and Sreng’s. “It’s generally Gautier and Fraldarius guards here.”

“Do you have many border disputes?” Hubert asked, with genuine curiosity.

“Aye.” the man muttered. “But it doesn’t matter to folk here. There are Sreng people, there are Fodlan people, we are used to each other. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Archbishop that governs us or the war clans.”

A sly grin was formed on Hubert’s face: “Careful, you might get unwanted attention from the Archbishop with those kind of remarks.”

Byleth interrupted with a sharp voice: “I don’t think Her Grace is a person to dwell on such trivial things.”

The inn keeper watched the rest of their back and forth with a neutral face, then he leapt onto the first opportunity to talk: “What are your names?”

In general terms, it was always better to let one speak when telling tales full of lies, and the other to play along; which Hubert intended to do. However when he realized the brief hesitancy in the fool next to him, the anxiety arose in his chest. Was she waiting for him to answer, or simply dumb enough to not plan a simple thing like that?

As for sating his worries, she answered, but he couldn’t decide if her answer was any better than her silence:

“My name is… Hyleth and this is… Bubert.”

Hubert’s mouth fell open at that and for a second he looked completely bemused, then buried his face in his hand questioning how in the world he and Edelgard had lost a war against a person like this.

In the meanwhile, a hand touched his shoulder in a reassuring manner. Seemed like the inn owner read him wrong, because he said “Worry not. Your real names are safe with me.”

Byleth laughed dryly. “Right… Then how about you thinking up fake names for us to use around the commonfolk?”

When Hubert raised his face again, he saw the bald, old man oddly determined to name them, like they were his own children: “How about Berta and Axel?”

“Sounds perfect to me!” the wench sang happily. At least they were not going to be called with those sorry excuses of names around the other people.

The inn keeper, Hubert learnt that his name was Gaspard, served their breakfast then. Although a decent meat lover he was, the broody warlock couldn’t enjoy his meal at all due to the numbness of his tongue. Great, he was really catching a cold. When had been the last time he fell sick? Five? Six? After magic had started to play a big role in his life, Hubert had never felt that piercing cold once, either through trinkets or charms he had directly cast.

Byleth was busy taking notes of what information Gaspard offered, rather than eating. So far they learnt that every week one or two murders had taken place. Some had happened in public and some had happened indoors. No one had ever seen the killer, and whoever that problematic arsehole was, had used different kind of weapons in each of them. The only thing that was similar in their killing methods was the flower petals that were placed around the corpses of the victims.

“So they kill them, and put flower petals on the corpses. Do I get it right?” A very disgusted look was on Byleth’s face.

“Not on them, but around them.”

“I wonder how no one ever saw that killer.” Hubert commented, intrigued. At least that was a decent puzzle that could catch his interest. “If they were to carry out such ritual after each slaughter, especially outsides, someone should have spotted them already.”

“Actually…” Gaspard started, then let his word linger for a second before leaning on the counter, to give them a secret: “A person saw the murderer as I heard. But no one knows who they are, identity is protected by the guards, you see.” He winked at them, then straightened up. “I bet you would like to meet with Head Officer Audibert, he is said to be one of the best of Gautier’s knights. But we have never seen him live up to his name since he arrived, though.”

Hubert and Byleth exchanged a look, then she asked a question: “Where can we find that Audibert?”

“In the barracks. Or in the Chief’s house. Probably in the former as it is still early.”

After saying goodbyes they took their leave.

Aviris was built in the valley between the mountains. The village looked plain and dull with its identical beige houses, and the grey sky. Foliage that grew on the mountain skirts was also the native vegetation, as just a few trees could be picked out in the scenery but a ton of wild bushes. Now it was still wintertime, so white flushes were being seen on the chaff roofs, and leaves.

The barracks were one of the few buildings that had the privilege of having a second floor. It was cozy and lively inside, but the men stopped their work once they had noticed the strangers that barged in.

“Good day, soldiers. We came all this way from Garreg Mach for the investigation of the murders.” Byleth announced. Men exchanged looks, then a much younger one called for the famous Head Officer.

Audibert looked like a man in his late forties. He had the identical auburn hair that was shared in the Gautier region, and as he was luckier than the land’s heir, a fine beard proudly grew on his jaw.

“So, Knights of Seiros.” the man said, hands on the waists. There was a displeased look on his face. “Come in, come in. If you keep that door open any longer we are all going to fall ill before catching that hideous wretch.” Hubert and Byleth entered inside while some of the men laughed a little.

Hubert knew when people didn’t want him around or just basically despised him and this was unmistakably one of those moments. However it was different now, not because of his menacing aura, but people here didn’t want them around because of their gaudy, fancy titles. All eyes lingered on them, snickers escaped their mouths, and those set him on edge.

“So… Names?” Audibert asked, while sitting on a chair which was nearby the fireplace. He and Byleth followed the gesture.

“Hyleth and Bubert.” Ah, that. Hubert almost forgot this malarkey had taken place, and he should definitely grill Byleth for it when he had the chance.

“How much do you know about the cases?” Both Byleth and Hubert simply started to retell what they had heard from the inn owner before. The man carefully listened them, then began to talk to fill the holes:

“Actually there had been eight deaths. Not six.”

“Ah,” Byleth mumbled thoughtfully. “Then that means two more murders happened since I’ve been informed.”

Audibert nodded at that. “Four men, three women, and one little boy.”

Hubert’s brows knitted. “One little boy?”

“Yes, Raphael Berger. The youngest of his family.”

Hubert was agape at that confession. “Pardon me sir but what have you been doing here for weeks? How could you let such a thing to happen?” Not catch a damned butcher even after their eighth kill?

“Listen,” Audibert said, clearly annoyed by this statement. “You’ve not been here so you don’t know how skilled he is-”

“He? Their gender confirmed?” Byleth interrupted in curiosity.

“No, but we assume that it is a he.”

One of her eyebrows arched. “Why, pray tell?”

“Why?” Now another knight was talking. “He once crushed one of his victim’s skull with a rock. No woman can do that without a crest.”

Now Hubert’s partner looked heavily offended. “Oh but I could. And I will if you won’t shut up.”

Barking laughter after laughter, men hardly cared of Byleth’s threat and kept talking to each other:

“I don’t even understand why women are on the field. They should stay in their home.”

“Exactly. We shouldn’t give jobs to them as they are such weaklings.”

The more they talked, the more Byleth froze so Hubert took the initiative and ignored the nonsense going in the rest of the room.

“We heard you have a witness. What do they say?”

Audibert seemed bothered by the leaking of the information. “Just gibberish. Nothing worth noting.”

“Can we talk to them?” Byleth asked, finally getting a grip.

Head Officer shrugged. “Why would you need? I said it’s gibberish.” Did he have to be so difficult?

“Then care to elaborate on the murders?” Hubert asked.

“Yes, and can we see the corpses?”

“We have already buried them.” The man answered in annoyance.

Eyes slightly narrowed, the woman kept questioning: “Bury them? Do you often bury the evidence?”

Meanwhile Hubert pointed another matter: “A lockdown shall take place immediately. Order it at once so the murderer can be trapped.”

“A lockdown?” Audibert leaned back, a mocking gesture was on his face. “At the verge of the Spring Festival? The peasants travel all the way here from the clans of Sreng and the counties of Fodlan just to see that and sell their wares. There will be no such thing as quarantine.”

“A festival?” Hubert said, quietly surprised. How could they carry it out while a butcher was out there, sharpening their knife? “In the middle of this crisis? Are you insane, Officer?”

The man inhaled loudly at that take, and the endless mutterings being echoed around came to a halt. Then, the Head Officer Audibert leaned to them, got so close as they could count the freckles adorned his nose. Hazel eyes above those were unwavered, determined. “Listen you two. I have never been to Garreg Mach, hell ever been to any other place beyond the Fraldarius region. We do things in our own ways here. We bury our dead to not to disrespect them, we do not cancel our traditions just to fear of one mad man. You can tag along, or you can shove those mannerisms of yours in your arses and get the fuck out.”

A hiss escaped Byleth’s mouth: “Mind your words Officer, we have been directly assigned to this case by the Her Holiness the Archbishop.”

“So? You can go back to her lap and report me all you want. Then please ask her where she was after the war broke out, when that slut’s army took my son’s life.”

After those words, they did not linger in the barracks any longer for the sake of not causing a scene. Both of them were angry for different reasons, fists clenched, brows knitted, menacingly walking the path down to Maiden’s Hearth once again. Upon the road back to the inn Byleth called Audibert “a dickhead”, and Hubert couldn’t help but agreeing with her.

The afternoon was spent with what Gaspard could tell them. Byleth seemed to be relieved a little when she heard the reason that knights loathed them this much was because of their failure to solve the case new people had been assigned to it. Gaspard then introduced them to a woman named Fae, who was taller than most of the men Hubert ever met. This maiden had blonde hair that was almost as white as the snow was, and warm, brown eyes which contrasted the icy strands on her head. She was to help them to investigate starting tomorrow.

Totally unfruitful their day was, the wench was determined to make something out of night so convinced- no, ordered Hubert to patrol the streets with them in the twilight. That was why he found himself at the top of a roof, wrapped in a blanket, shivering.

“My god, you really caught a bad cold.” Byleth observed.

Hubert’s voice was bitter when he talked: “Guess whose fault is that?”

“I don’t have the faintest idea.” she said, then reached to him and cast a warming magic. “Let’s get you some herbal treatment tomorrow, and ask for extra blankets.”

“I wouldn’t need a treatment if you simply let me rest tonight.”

“Ah, stop complaining, we have a job to do! Here, this would warm you better.” Byleth shoved him a cup of ginger tea. The hot porcelain heated his hands at once.

“A job? We are literally having a picnic on a roof, Byleth.” To their surprise, the other knights were also patrolling the streets, and this angle was the only blind spot they could find to watch. At least they were on the field, the harlot had assured him before.

“This way we would know if something happened fast, and maybe arrive to the scene before that prick! Anyways, here, have some cookie too.” Involuntarily Hubert took the handmade dessert by her hand. Even looking at it formed a sweet flavour in his tongue, he was sure someone like Linhardt would love it.

Or Edelgard. But not him.

“I don’t like sweet things that much.”

“I know it, but we don’t have so many options so bear with it. Also, lovely Fae put so much effort in them.” Hubert checked the cookie pensively, then talked before having a bite:

“So she’s going to help us with the case.”

“Yes, tomorrow she will summarize the killings and take us to victims’ families.” He bit a small piece of the dessert. It immediately dissolved in his mouth, revealing the sweet flavour. He was right, this hardly fit his tastes and without saying anything he just put it back in Byleth’s bag.

“That Gaspard of yours was quick to expose us as Knights of Seiros.”

“It was just her. I trust him.”

Hubert frowned. “What if he is the killer?”

Byleth tilted her head, curiously. “Do you think he is? Must be a good actor if he is. Maybe Dorothea’s ex-colleague, or something.”

It was true that the man looked like a complete, clueless fool. “Yes, a total bumpkin he is.”

Silence fell for a while between them. The night was so dull, so mysterious, and hiding a hideous person in its wings. Hubert couldn’t refrain from talking again: “There sure will be a scene in the festival.”

“Yes there will be.”

“We should probably talk to the Chief and convince him to cancel.”

“Why care? That’s on them.”

Hubert snapped his neck at her after hearing those words. “Are you aware that you are the Archbishop? Those are your people.”

Byleth briefly smiled, then leaned back. Hubert followed the gesture. “I keep forgetting.”

“Ah, but you were so full of yourself while calling yourself such fancy titles as ‘Her Holiness the Archbishop’.”

A chuckle escaped the woman’s lips. “Honestly, it felt like I was addressing someone else.”

Another lull, however this one to didn’t take long when something dawned on Hubert: “Come to think of it,” he said, half shocked at this revelation, “Audibert doesn’t want to cancel this festival, because the stakes of catching the criminal is highest at that time.”

“Exactly.” Byleth said. “I think we are dealing with someone smart. Do you think they would act on that night, with so many guards out and at their best, or wait for it to end?”

Hubert hummed a bit. “I want to hear your answer to that instead.”

“My answer would be let’s solve the case before it comes to that.” Masterfully dodged, he thought. Then crossed one leg on another, watching the alleyways before Byleth pointed out something else.

“The stars are looking so good from here.” Raising his chin, Hubert observed the dome above them. Yes, it was a worthy scene to look at, but nothing compared to Enbarr’s. “You know,” she said then, “I didn’t have much time to watch them, or praise them.”

Brows knitted in wonder, Hubert asked: “Weren’t you a mercenary though?” He could understand the theme of an Archbishop that couldn’t find time to observe the sky. But an aimless sell sword? Who also camped outside?

“But I wasn’t alive at that time.” Byleth said, mysteriously. “Those years were spent in tranquillity. Only one thing was so vivid, a person… Whom I felt alive next to.” Curiously, Hubert thought who was this person? Was she talking about Sothis? And what had she meant by those words?

Though when he opened his mouth, a much more different question left his lips: “Byleth, how did Edelgard die?”

The question seemed to catch her off guard as the void like eyes widened for a second, then turned to the sky again. Dryly, she spoke: “It was Dimitri. He… Reached out to her but she didn’t accept. Pretty dramatic that was actually.”

“So she preferred to die instead of surrendering.” Hubert melancholically murmured. “That was like her.”

Byleth deeply inhaled. “Dimitri was going to forgive her. I went to the battlefield aware of this fact. Sometimes he can be stupidly naïve, so I was thinking of exiling her after a trial, and finding a way to convince Dimitri. But they weren’t needed at all.”

A grimace formed on Hubert’s face. “She wouldn’t face such humiliation, and die with her honour instead.”

“Honour?” Byleth snorted. “I was going to place her next to Petra, in Brigid. Just like you did to Petra. Does she feel humiliated too?” Was it on intention or not, Hubert didn’t know but sometimes Byleth really knew how to make her words sting. “War has heavy consequences Hubert. Edelgard started hers knowing that. Just like you did too.”

Not a day passed since his awakening, Hubert could stop thinking if they did a mistake. Where would be they now? Would he be enjoying a late night reading with her? Or what would happen if Byleth wasn’t assigned to them as a professor?

Like she had just read his mind, Byleth meet his eyes and talked: “Don’t dwell in your past so much.”

“Why am I not dead?” he muttered, like a plea.

A logical answer came from his supposed-to-be executor instead of one full of pity: “I don’t know. I really intended to land a death blow. But it didn’t work.” Then her milky looking hand reached to his chest in the dark, caressing his scar above the layers. Upon her contact, a tingling began to burn his skin.

Maybe more questions would escape him; about this scar, tattoo, and everything if a scream didn’t pierce the sky.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

They were the first ones to arrive at the source of the noise.

It was a young man, who looked barely older than Hubert himself. He was crouched down at the corner of the street, trembling to no end, eyes fixed on something beyond the alleyway. And when they got closer, they stumbled upon a murder scene. A body lay cold in the mist of the night, covered by pink rose petals.

While Byleth approached the corpse, Hubert cautiously had a look around. It seemed like whomever was responsible for that was long gone. After making sure no threats loomed around like a pawn of the lands of nightmares, he came near the former Professor to analyse what had been done.

One of the flower petals was between Byleth’s fingers, carefully observed by black orbs. Soon after though, it began to turn into green magical dust, making both Hubert’s and her eyes widen. He grabbed one of those too, only to see it meet the same end. There was a blood stained tear on the victim’s light brown jacket but it was too narrow and the scar didn’t seem deathly at all. Slowly, Hubert squinted.

The Professor conjured a light ball then, carefully moving the corpse to the source of the beam in the meanwhile. Though when they faced turned the body to see his face, Byleth flinched a little.

It was because of the state of the face was in. The skin was all grey like ash, and dried out like a desert. His partner in crime solving got up at once, going next to the poor fellow that was still in a fetal position.

“Did you see who did this?” Her voice echoed in the silence of the night. However the man was busy with shaking, and definitely not able to answer. Hubert kept listening to her efforts to get a word out of him while protecting the area. After all, criminals were famous for how they returned to the crime scene sooner or later. And he really was about to catch a glimpse of someone at the end of an alleyway, if it not were the guards that showed up distracted him.

“Officer…” Audibert said with a clear loathing, eyes locked with Byleth’s. Then his head turned towards Hubert, sparing the same glare. “Thank you for securing the scene. We can handle it from here.”

“Officer, could it be the reason that you bury those bodies as soon as you find them because of the way they look?” Hubert guessed, while glancing at the old man laid at his feet. Had he not seen various monstrosities by Those Who Slither in the Dark, he could have been taken a back a little, maybe.

This remark angered the man, and the other guards seemed getting ready for a possible clash. Audibert raised his arm to stop them from marching.

“We are trying to understand whatever the thing that is causing this crisis, and we are close to solving it. Just take your damn hands off of it and let us carry out our plan.”

“Carry out your plan?” Byleth asked, arching an eyebrow.

Hubert completed the rest of her thoughts out loud: “You mean the massacre at the festival.”

Audibert looked caught off guard. “Do you have a better idea?” he said, huffing. “This thing is not a human, and not a monster that we are familiar with.”

“Why not just inform the Church?” Hubert asked, eyes narrowing. “Clearly it’s something you can’t deal with.”

His answer came from somewhere else: “Black market.” Byleth said, more like talking to herself. “That’s why you don’t want the Church here.”

Black Market? The knowledge was foreign to Hubert, and Audibert seemed caught red handed. “Listen, there are lots of things that the Church bans. Lots of spell books, tomes, herbs… Hell even some medicines. Yes, they might be shady, but they work and we, folk’s men need that. We don’t have the chance to trade with outlanders that much. Alert your authorities and it’s gone. But then you would be the one to deal with the outrage.”

Byleth inhaled in an exhausted way. “Fine, we will turn a blind eye to that market, however I want you to acknowledge that it’s your selfishness that caused the death of those eight-, no, nine people by this night, and you are looking even for more kills.”

“The festival night is the only night we can lure this creature out!”

She ignored him. “We will carry our own investigation, independent from yours. You don’t get in our way, and we don’t get in yours.” Then spared a glance at the corpse. “And don’t bury the body at least for a day.”

As they began to retreat to their inn, Hubert spoke curiously: “It was not within my knowledge that there was a black market here. Where is it, exactly?”

Byleth sighed. “It’ll start probably tomorrow. The preparations are being still made. See, that festival of theirs is famous for that. The Gautiers overlook it as it brings lots of income to them.”

“It’s interesting that the killer chose this period of time to act. It’s almost like they want to curse the people of the village.”

“Or maybe they are someone holding a grudge against the Church. Trying to get attention like this, you know.”

The chill almost cut scars on Hubert’s face, and his nose ran wildly as if to remind him of the state of his health. While fumbling for a tissue in his pockets pale eyes traced the houses that rose in both sides of the vast roads. Some villagers were sleeping soundly in their beds, unbeknownst to the creature that haunted Aviris, and others curiously checking from the windows or doors to see what was going on. However a sudden realization distracted him from this view.

“Say Byleth, why are you this well informed about the market? Surely, both Rhea and Seteth were unaware of its existence.” Which meant the information couldn’t be gained by the Church.

“I knew it, from my mercenary days.” That was a card she loved to play, and to Hubert’s dismay it was a very good one to make solid arguments against.

Though, it was not going to stop him from voicing his suspicion: “Could it be the very reason that we are here?”

The wench suddenly stopped in her tracks and looked at him agape. Then, a brief smile replaced that expression. “Sharp as ever I see.” she said, impressed. Before speaking again, Byleth raised both her hands to jokingly show him that she surrendered.

“I don’t want to lie to you, so yes. But to think that things are weird enough I am glad that we came.”

“What are you looking for?” Hubert asked, determined to not allow her to distract him from the main topic.

“A few necessary things. Weapons, herbs… It is not innocent as Audibert said, you know? A lot of things are being sold there, that even Edelgard would ban.”

A strong feeling told him that she was lying, but a sudden sneeze that escaped him let the matter go.

***

Abelard Denis Authier: The first victim, beheaded by the local carpenter’s axe. The carpenter had a strong alibi. And Abelard had been reported as heavily drunk that night.

The next case was a woman, Rochelle Charland. What made this one strange was how it had been carried out in the middle of the day, outside. The perpetrator had pushed her down a well. Back in the day, people had stupidly claimed it as a suicide, and they were still not so sure if it was a real killing. However the reports showed them her skin had been dried out, and the similar flower petals had adorned her.

Mariela Forton, or the first elder that had been hunted. She had been doing the laundry in a nearby lake before the seconds she had been choked out with one of the linens.

Grosvenor Larose, his head had been brutally crashed under a huge rock.

Liliana Francis Chester, had been stabbed in the heart. And the other four kills had also been carried out by simple stabs. As for Audibert’s remark, those stabs were never brutal like the creature’s first kills. In fact, they could have been healed easily if it not were unusual circumstances.

There was only one witness, a woman who had seen the six’, meaning Brandon Howe’s, death. However nothing useful came out of it, as she just had seen a flicker of green light over Howe, then he had been dead the next minute.

Hubert realized one thing that day, and that was how bad of an officer Byleth was. Once they were asking questions about the deaths, and the next she was having a deep conversation over cookie dough. The only few information they could squeeze was thanks to Hubert, as he had taken the reins and be the bad guard.

“Think of it this way,” she told him, with the dumbest smile. “I make them feel at ease, and when they fall for this trap you bombard them with unexpected questions! And they get caught off guard.”

Hubert frowned, how could she try to sell it as intentional? “Byleth you were drooling over the cake recipes before I interrupted.”

“But they aren’t just normal cake recipes!” The woman stamped angrily, looking totally offended. “They are very specific to this region!” He groaned at that, even Lysithea probably couldn’t hold a candle to Byleth when it came to having a sweet tooth.

“Are… You done?” A strong accent called out to them. It was Fae.

Since the morning, the girl had been more of a help than those useless guards who were determined to sacrifice the people they were sworn to protect for the sake of this and that they wanted to purchase. As a person who had spent his almost entire life serving, and protecting, this idea arose a pure disgust in him.

“Yes, Fae. Thank you.” Byleth said, getting next to her. There was a ridiculous height difference between them, which made the insufferable wench look like a little kid.

She probably looks like a child next to me as well, Hubert thought.

“How did it go?” the girl asked, eyeing them curiously. As a, well, fake protocol they were not letting her come with them as they spoke to victims’ families.

Hubert acted before Byleth: “Not very helpful.”

“Maybe we should take a break-” His partner said, but he interrupted quickly:

“Or maybe we should complete the investigations as there’s only one left.” He stopped in the middle of tracks. “You can’t escape them forever.” Byleth bit her lip hard.

They had been to families, possible witnesses, possible culprits and close friends of every victim, every victim but one. And that was the little kid.

Fae’s eyes widened when she understood those words, and then she began to talk in a tactful way: “My lady, they would welcome you as their hearts desire justice for little Raphael.”

“It’s not that.” Byleth turned to her. “I don’t mind being shouted at, or being thrown things at. I just…” She inhaled a deep breath, “They’re probably still grieving. And I am… I am not the best person to comfort people in this kind of situation, okay? Besides, I may not show it but I also feel pretty bad at these kind of events. I mean what kind of monster goes and murders a little baby?”

For a second Fae looked like she was at loss for words, however then she stepped in between them, and clasped both Hubert’s and Byleth’s hands together. The young man tried to take his hand back as if the wench’s one was a hot iron, however her fingers were already tightening around his. “Think it like this, you’re not alone. Officer… Um… Axel,” she said, as they were in public, and Hubert really preferred it than Bubert, “Could help you with this.”

“This man?” Byleth blurted out. “This man told me that he was not for condolences when my father died. Sothis help us if we ever need him for this kind of thing.”

“Oh, please!” Hubert groaned, then began to drag the harlot to their destination.

The town was getting more crowded each day since they arrived. Today, there were lots of people outside, with different ethnicities, getting their booths ready for the celebrations. With a quick pace Hubert dodged the most of them, and his steps came to a halt before a general goods store, Berger’s. The shop seemed well restored, and got a whole corner of the street for themselves.

“A rich one,” Byleth said, reading his mind. At that moment Hubert realized they were still holding hands and freed himself quickly, wiping it to get rid of the tingling feeling that remained. The woman, on the other hand didn’t seem affected by this little play at all.

Fae opened the door for them, gesturing inwards with her head. It was Hubert that entered the place first, analysing the space before the people in it.

Various wild animal trophies garnished it, there were boar heads, bear pelts, and stuffed deer. The poor creatures still looked so alive that Byleth shivered next to him when she eyed them too.

“Miss and Mister Berger,” Fae called to two people behind a wooden counter. “These are the new officers I’ve talked to you about before.”

Miss Berger seemed like a young woman, in her twenties, while her man was almost in his late fifties. A very beautiful woman she was, with her silk like mousy hair, red lips and spotless skin. There was no remorse could be read in her features; no sadness, no anger, and no indicator of restless nights while the old man next to her looked like a wreck. It must be a strategical marriage, Hubert thought.

After Fae left Byleth said, “Nice… Collection.” as she was eyeing the two as well.

“My little Raphael loved those, he was a good hunter.” The man came next to them, extending a hand. Both Hubert and Byleth shook it while listening: “Name is Matthew. And this is my wife, Acacia. Glad to see someone that are ready to take responsibility unlike Audibert and his bastards.”

“Can I get you a drink?” Miss Berger asked in the meanwhile, still holding her place, studying them with cold eyes.

“Tea would be nice.” Byleth said.

 “What kind?”

“Anything you see fit.” Though before they sat, Hubert saw how her coal eyes fixed on something on the wall, slowly widening. “Can you tell me, where did you get this?”

His head turned to the thing that stole her attention this much. It was a ceramic piece, with golden patterns on it, looking like a lost piece of some bigger mosaic.

“My Raphael found it, why?” Mister Berger asked back, a little bit annoyed.

“I… Would you sell it to me? I am making a collection of pieces like that.” Hubert frowned hard. Asking a man that is grieving to give up on something that resembled their loss? Really, Byleth? Whatever that was in her mind was not going to work.

To confirm his thoughts, the man shook his head slowly. “Sorry, even if you offer the whole Fodlan I will never give up on that.”

Byleth didn’t push the matter, but Hubert could sense a strong disappointment and frustration coming from her.

And she also did not speak even a word during the investigation.

***

They had talked to few various people after that, but Byleth went awfully silent, making things even harder for his half sick self.

Nothing led them to something, literally nothing. There was no connection between the deceased, no message that tried to be given, or maybe simply there was and they didn’t see it. It seemed like a creature that was living in the outskirts of the mountains, and hunted in the village occasionally. But hunting for what? Some kind of revenge? From the killing methods it could easily be said that the thing had a human-like form, and it was totally right on its mind.

They had no chance but to play along with Audibert’s plan for now.

By the time they went back to the inn Hubert’s headache had gotten worse. The cold was ready to enter itx next stage in all its full glory, making every knuckle of his cry in agony.

Tonight, the dining hall was almost full, though their lovely innkeeper reserved their usual space before the counter. Not because he favoured them, but the man liked gossiping away even the chaotic events.

Byleth was devouring her baked vegetables in utmost speed while Hubert played with the food in a reluctant way. She was informing Gaspard, however Hubert couldn’t even hear a single word. At last, Gaspard’s addressing made him out of the tranquillity: “Oh, Bubert, by the way I took the extra blankets back today. I needed them for other travellers. Surely you can handle a warming spell?”

Hubert stared at him with a blank face, having a hard time keeping his eyes open. When did this place become this hot? As he was trying to regain his posture, Byleth’s cold palm met his brow, relieving him a little:

“My god, Hubert you are burning!” Just as he began to fall from his chair, Byleth’s steady arms were wrapped around him. “Gaspard, please carry his belongings to my room.” she ordered, before slapping him lightly. “Hubert, can you walk? Come on, lean on me.”

He was half carried and half dragged among the halls, then unceremoniously dropped to the bed. The wench was above him, black waves tickling his face. He was checking her with half lidded eyes, and in ragged breaths meanwhile she was trying to get him out of his black coat.

After unbuttoning his linen shirt, she disappeared from his sight for a bit. When she came back to the top of him again, was saying things he could barely hear: “Gaspard… Medicine… What a kind man he is… Also water…” It almost feel like her voice was coming from the depths of a sea.

A gentle hand grabbed Hubert by the nape, straightening him a little: “You need to drink this.” she whispered to his ear, holding a cup to his lips. “It will make you feel better.” And he obeyed. A hot, bitter liquid burst into his mouth, making his sore throat ease a little. He then fell back on the pillows, desperately searching for a cold surface.

Deft hands made their way back to unbuttoning his shirt. There was no urge left in him to fight back, even more if she didn’t do that he would tear the white linen at some point. The boots followed that, and the trousers, making him bare save for his underwear.

Hubert’s eyes were closed tightly, stress was washing him over after realizing being naked was not enough to cool him off. Unconsciously, he tried to summon his magic, only to remember it was robbed away from the very healer that attended to him at that moment. Ears caught the sound of splashing water, making him yearning for that cold feeling on his skin.

In the end, a wet cloth finally met his forehead, forcing a loud sigh from him. Byleth giggled, and for a second it sounded so heavenly in the mist he was in. “Feeling good, are we?” Simply, Hubert nodded at that. She wiped the sweat both on his face and neck, then put it back on his brow, in a way that it covered his eyes.

“I’ll try something,” she announced, carrying the hints of some wickedness. “This will relieve you more than a simple cloth.”

Something as cold as ice contacted his skin, making him shiver uncontrollably. After only a few seconds Hubert understood they were Byleth’s hands, caressing soothingly while the familiar tingling of magic danced on his neck.

Slowly, she climbed on top of him but not putting her weight on at all. Her hands were everywhere, on his chest, on his arms, leaving a wet a trail on his skin. The ministrations left him breathless, every time she broke contact a whine escaped his lips. Fingers then made their way back to his nape, grasping tightly, played with his curls while Byleth leaned closer to him. So, so closer, that her breaths could be sensed on his jaw. Puffy lips left a feather light kiss there, then moved to the skin behind his ear to give him a more passionate one. In the meanwhile her other hand was travelling down his abdomen, making him arch in a shameless way. Imaginations drove him a little wild, oh how her cold fingers would feel so so good wrapped around his cock.

And with that, Hubert’s ass that had been in mid-air a second before, fell back on the mattress once again. Just… What was he doing? Flirting with one of Edelgard’s murderers like that?

His discomfort must have been realized by Byleth, as she retreated and climbed down from him. Hubert bit his cheek slowly, and sending a silent thanks since she didn’t push more.

The cleaning session kept going on with the cloth instead, and way less naughty. When she reached to the waistband of his underwear, Hubert’s hand grasped hers to stop Byleth. The woman sounded offended upon talking: “I am not going to do… Any funny things, just cleaning, I swear.” Even for her assurance, Hubert shook his head sharply. It was not because that he didn’t trust her. It was because he wasn’t sure if he got erected, or maybe already was hard, and simply he didn’t want to lose the last of the dignity he had by making her see it bare, leaking shamelessly for her.

After helping him to dress with new attires, Byleth washed the cloth again put it back to its nest. Lucky for him, it seemed she preferred to sit on the couch by the windows and not on the bed.

Hubert blurted out then, with embarrassment, and as the wet cloth blocked his sight. He was in a perfect zone, saying whatever he wanted without making eye contact: “I am sleeping here, and you’re sleeping there.” Hubert showed blindly where the sounds came from.

But Byleth didn’t respond to that: “I must buy you some herbs tomorrow. You have to stay in tomorrow.” she sounded a little bit sad at that. “Shame, I really liked patrolling with you.”

No comments followed that, and soon Hubert found himself in the nest of dreams.

Chapter Text

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!”

She’s lying.

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.”

“Ah, please.”

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.

“What’s wrong?”

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.

 “Understood.”

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:

“Tomorrow.”