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Drumming Song

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Byleth meets Macuil and Indech officially that evening, over tea. They’re in Rhea’s room so that she can see them as well. Evidently, she was the entire reason they’re at the monastery in the first place.

“I’m sorry to rouse you both from your solitude,” she said as she had hugged Coatl around his shoulders. His hard eyes and stinging grimace softened at her touch, and Byleth would swear he may have even been smiling. “I’m sure Cichol told you why I asked you here.”

“He did,” Coatl said. “I find it hard to believe you, out of all of us, are in such a state. You seem to be healthy now.”

Flayn had grabbed Byleth’s hand. “It is all thanks to the hard work of our professor!”

All eyes were on her, then. Rhea and Seteth were smiling at her fondly. Coatl seemed to be examining her, while Horos... Byleth wasn’t sure what was going on in his head. He seemed detached, out of reach. Byleth wasn’t sure if he wanted to be at the monastery, or go back to where they had found them.

“Thank you,” Coatl said, “for taking care of our sister.”

Byleth wretches her eyes from Horos. “It is thanks to her own strength that she is as well as she is.”

Rhea shakes her head. “Please, let’s sit. Cethleann and I prepared tea.”

And so now Byleth is sitting nearly across from Horos, trying desperately not to steal too many glances at him. He seems like he isn’t sure of where he is. Flayn poured him a cup of tea, but he hasn’t touched it, other than to hold it. He’s got it wrapped in his hands like it’s some special trinket, but he hasn’t even looked down at it.

Rhea, sitting on her left, places a hand on Byleth’s. “Professor, allow me to properly introduce you to my brothers.”

Her smile is far brighter than Byleth has ever seen it, even in the past moon while Seteth was gone. She gestures over to Coatl next to her, who sips his tea and offers Byleth a pointed gaze. “This is Macuil. He was my tactician, my closest confidant.”

Coatl, Macuil, sets his teacup down. “Your babysitter.”

Rhea pushes him teasingly. To Byleth’s right, Seteth chuckles. On Coatl’s other side, Flayn encourages him to fight back, but he merely smirks. To Flayn’s other side, Horos continues to stare. It is entirely domestic, what Byleth would picture from a normal family.

“And Indech,” Rhea says. She gestures to Horos, and he blinks. His eyes focus and he offers Byleth a smile.

It lightens up his face, softens his eyes and causes that drumming sound to come back into Byleth’s head. She thought she’d gotten rid of it, whatever it is. It had left her alone, after dinner. She had eaten with her students, wanting to catch up with the ones that had been gone. She didn’t know what the drumming sound was, she thought perhaps it was the start of a migraine, but it had vanished after eating. Now it’s returned. Returned with Horos’s soft smile and gentle gaze upon her.

“Indech is a master battle strategist, in his own right,” Rhea says with a smile.

Horos laughs. “I tend to think of my strategies in the moment, rather than beforehand.”

Coatl snorts into his tea. “And how many times have you almost died for it?”

“It’s worked out for him so far,” Seteth says. “He’s here, isn’t he?”

He is here, Byleth agrees, and he is doing something to her that she cannot explain. Perhaps she needs to see Manuela, but she also cannot help but think Manuela is the last person she should be seeing.

Horos smiles and claps a hand on Seteth’s back, causing Seteth to spill a bit of his tea. “Ah, Cichol. I can always count on you to back me up, eh? You miss your little brother?”

“Of course,” Seteth sets his teacup down and uses his napkin to wipe up the spilled tea. “I have missed both of you, more than you know.”

“As have I,” Rhea says with a smile. She clasps Coatl’s hand in hers and gives them both a smile. She, like Horos, hasn’t touched her tea. Perhaps he also prefers cold drinks. “I am so happy to have you both here. Please tell me you’ll stay.”

They both turn silent, again. Horos hides his expression by leaning into Seteth, using his shoulder as cover. Coatl merely sighs, using his free hand to pinch the bridge of his nose.

“I cannot speak for Indech,” Coatl mumbles, “but you know that I detest humans. It is bad enough Cichol has had me travel with them for nearly half a moon.”

Rhea pouts. It occurs to Byleth then that she did mention, some time ago, that she was the youngest. “Macuil, please. At least until I pass.”

All of them shout some form of shock then. Seiros!; Rhea, please!; Auntie, you cannot be serious! Byleth just... watches. She has seen Rhea this past moon make remarkable steps in her recovery, but she has also held her at night while she struggles to keep the fragments of her mind together. It’s jarring, to see her so vulnerable. Rhea, who has led her own church for a thousand years, the picture of poise and confidence, reduced to nothing more than a gibbering mess. Her fingernails digging into Byleth’s arms, leaving crescent moons and red lines and she tries to reign her draconic instincts in. Perhaps it is something she can overcome, perhaps it is not.

They are all silent for a spell. Quietly, Macuil begs, “You cannot be serious, Seiros.”

“I am quite serious,” Rhea says as she plays with her teacup. Byleth imagines it is around the temperature she likes, now, but she does not raise it to her lips. “You two have not... seen me, these past few moons. I imagine Cichol has not told you of my behavior.” The fact that Seteth does not meet her eyes, chooses instead to fiddle with a scone on his plate, speaks wonders. “I would ask the professor to show you her arms, but... to ask a lady to disrobe in front of three men would be quite rude.”

Byleth wouldn’t mind, truly, except that she knows it would embarrass Rhea. So she keeps her jacket on. Uses Rhea’s excuse of propriety to help save some face.

“Suffice to say I have been having trouble... containing myself.”

Coatl’s eyes narrow, he examines Rhea as if she would turn in front of them now. “Seiros, please, you speak as if to imply this is something you cannot overcome.”

“Macuil, I know my own body.” She releases his hand and cups her hand around her tea. Byleth wonders if she should leave. “I have pushed myself too far, after my imprisonment. I acknowledge that it may not come to pass, but... it is quite possible I may lose control of myself. Should that happen, I do not wish for you to attempt to bring me back.”

Ah, so that’s it. Rhea wanted to be with her family, in case her final moments were peaceful. She wanted them around as well, if they were not, because who else would be able to defeat her? Perhaps the monastery staff themselves would be able to, but it would be a difficult battle. Challenging, for sure. Byleth isn’t certain how strong Coatl and Horos are, if the years have caused them to wane or if they’ve only polished their strength, but surely they know Rhea’s weaknesses.

It makes Byleth’s stomach ache, to think about.

“You cannot lose hope just yet, Auntie,” Flayn’s little voice, shaken by the harsh topic, brings them all back to reality. Horos turns from hiding behind Seteth to placing a gentle hand on her arm. “You have made such incredible progress!”

Rhea smiles at her. “Cethleann... yes, that is true. I am much healthier, thanks to Cichol and our dear professor both. I only want to be prepared for the future. For all possibilities.”

Coatl stands, rattling their table, upsetting their teacups, and nearly throwing their teapot onto its side. “I did not come here to kill you,” he spits. He kicks his chair back, nearly knocking it over, and storms to the door. “I came here because Cethleann begged me! Told me Seiros was near death, and that we needed to be here for her as a family!” He turns back towards Rhea. Despite his stance, his jabbing finger, he does not sound angry. “You are not near death, Seiros. I see you sitting there, perfectly fine. Perfectly sane. Perhaps I ought to return to Sreng where I can live in damned peace.”

Flayn stands from her chair, far more delicately than Coatl. “Uncle, please, you must not leave!” She runs over to him and wraps her arms around him. “Even if I must hold you here myself, I shall!”

He doesn’t seem to know how to respond to that. Quite honestly, none of them do. They stare at the scene before them, Flayn adamantly holding onto her flustered uncle, unsure of how to respond. Even Seteth is flabberghasted.

Finally, Horos speaks up. “Just a moon, Macuil,” he says. Then, he looks at Rhea. “We will stay for a moon. And then we will say our goodbyes.”

She closes her eyes and sighs deeply. “I... I can concede to that. If that is what will give me time with you both.”

Coatl wraps his arms around Flayn, in a loose hug. “Alright,” he mumbles. “Alright. With our darling Cethleann by my side, I can put up with the humans for another moon.

Beside Byleth, Seteth breathes a sigh of relief. It catches her attention, and as she looks over to him, she notices something else. Horos is no longer looking at Rhea. Now, his gaze is fixed on Byleth.

The drumming starts again, suddenly, and Byleth isn’t sure she ever realized it stopped. She and Horos stare right at one another for what feels like hours. What is it that he sees? Does she have a piece of scone on her chin? Has she got some sauce, leftover from dinner, smeared across her lip without realizing? The drumming increases at the thought of looking like a fool in front of him, though she does not let her face tell that she is experiencing this strange sensation.

Suddenly, he looks away, his eyebrows drawn, and Byleth is left alone with her drums.