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The Emperor and the Goddess

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As Edelgard buried her ax into the stomach of her opponent, she internally recoiled. No matter how many times Edelgard took part in combat, she never truly became accustomed to it. Of course, her outward reactions to the savagery of battle had dulled with time and experience, but the tumult in the princess’ heart had never fully stopped. This was the harsh truth that she refused to acknowledge, even to herself. For all her outward poise and stately bearing, the princess felt the burden of battle more deeply than anyone.

“You will be stopping here!” yelled Petra ferociously. As Edelgard watched her classmate make short work of the Western Church mages in front of them, she felt a mixture of pride and sadness. Edelgard remembered when her classmate had come to Enbarr a political pawn, a prisoner both scared and alone. Edelgard had deeply sympathized, and had done everything in her power to help the Brigid native. Petra was an unfortunate victim of the political games and maneuverings that Edelgard deeply despised. That the future Emperor had become so adept at these same intrigues was yet another part of herself that she hated.

And now Petra, a visitor to this foreign land, was in a dusty mausoleum, participating as a pawn in a squabble between two different branches of the Church of Seiros. Petra did not even worship Fódlan's Goddess, and yet here she was, conscripted all the same. Petra and Dorothea made a fantastic team, with Petra’s acrobatic swordplay combining with Dorothea’s ranged assaults into a ferocious combination. The undeniable connection between the two women only increased their effectiveness.

Of course, these foot soldiers from the Western Church were not much of a threat to the well-trained students of Garreg Mach. Byleth’s tutelage had made every member of the class a skilled combatant, and the former mercenary was adept at recognizing how to utilize innate chemistry in combat. As Edelgard watched Bernadetta and Hubert rain death on enemies from afar, and Caspar and Linhardt form a dysfunctional yet effective tornado of destruction, she could not help admiring Byleth’s tactical gifts.

It really was her faith in her teacher that had allayed much of Edelgard’s guilt for indirectly involving her classmates in this conflict. She knew that whatever happened, she could rely on Byleth to maintain a cool and dispassionate tactical mind, and lead her students forward.

“Edelgard, on your right!” called Ingrid, who was engaged in battle with two mages. The princess nodded in acknowledgement, before sprinting toward one of the intruders to deliver a devastating blow with her ax. The panicked opponent conjured a barrier at the last moment, sending Edelgard stumbling backwards and causing her weapon to fly out of her hand.

“Not so tough now, huh?” taunted the enemy fighter with glee, only for it to turn to panic. Flames spilled from Edelgard's outstretched hand, incinerating her opponent.

Edelgard felt a presence, only to see her teacher standing next to her, holding Edelgard’s steel ax. “I must admit...” said the princess with a grin. “I was doubtful when you suggested I take lessons in magic, but you were right as usual, my teacher.”

Byleth smiled, her sword swung over her shoulder with a casualness that was incongruous with the battlefield. “After that night in Remire, I didn’t want you to go without a weapon ever again.” She looked around herself for a moment as her students worked toward the center of the room. “I’m so proud of you, and everyone else. The Black Eagles have come so far.”

“Not to interrupt the self-congratulations,” said Ingrid, hair slightly disheveled from combat, “but we still have to stop the intruders closer to the casket.”

“Eh, nothing to worry about!” gloated Caspar, as the rest of the students joined up again, the majority of the enemies wiped out. “With Professor Byleth on our side, we can’t lose!”

Byleth shook her head. “Overconfidence is dangerous, Caspar, and Ingrid is right. We need to get to the casket quickly.” She looked at the steps leading to Seiros’ grave, which were blocked by an imposing figure clothed all in black. “Why has that knight still not attacked?”

 


 

The imperial carriage bounced and jostled over the dirt roads, making Edelgard’s trip a thoroughly uncomfortable one. “Please tell me you have a good reason for this, Hubert,” huffed the princess. “Hiding my whereabouts from Arundel is difficult enough without my retainer keeping secrets from me.”

Hubert glanced at Edelgard, a look of casual, practiced calm on his face. It was hard to believe that such self-control and poise belonged to a mere teenager. “You know as well as I that the walls in Enbarr have ears, Lady Edelgard. If we want to keep the vermin away, silence is our only option.” As their transportation came to a stop, he gave her a disconcerting smile. “I’m sure that once you meet him, you’ll understand why I felt this was worth your time.”

Edelgard descended from the carriage, and quickly surveyed her surroundings. It was a small village, where, even the princess was uncertain. As she looked at the children running around in rags, she tightened her grip on the cloak that covered her silver hair and imperial outfit. These people would live and die in this tiny hamlet, with no chance to ever improve their lot. All because the Goddess had not seen fit to bless them with a Crest. No matter how talented or skilled, this was all they could ever be. If the Goddess loved everyone, did She not love these people as well? The princess shook her head to dispel her meaningless speculations.

As they entered a small shack on the outskirts of town, Hubert opened the wooden door for his liege, and they looked around. Even for the standards of the village, this small shack was decrepit, only truly consisting of a roof, walls, and a dirt floor. Within was a teenager boy, close in age to Edelgard, who crawled into a corner upon the intruders’ approach.

"Stay away!” he screamed. “He’ll hurt you!”

Hubert chuckled darkly. “I doubt that very much, Emile.” He turned to Edelgard and extended his arm. “May I present to you Emile von Bartels, sole survivor of the Bartels massacre.”

Edelgard gasped. “You mean…” She had heard the stories, the brutal killing of every member of the Bartels family by an unknown assailant. The hardened Imperial soldiers who had discovered the killings had stated they had never before seen such brutality visited upon bodies. Edelgard turned to her retainer. “Why have you called me here, Hubert?”

Hubert looked at Emile, whose body and countenance spoke of months of hardship and malnourishment. “Tell Lady Edelgard everything you told me.”

Emile looked at the princess, eyes burning with a fire that Edelgard knew all too well. “My father… he was going to take my sister. He said he needed her as his wife, for her Crest, for her bloodline. He was going to…”

The boy's face contorted and the color drained from it into a deathly pallor. “I bathed in their blood,” he intoned in a haunting voice, “I killed all of the worthless fools, and enjoyed every moment of it.”

Edelgard nodded calmly. “I see why you’ve brought me here.” She turned away from Emile and Hubert and looked at the wall of the shack. “You are not the only person who has suffered because of Crests, Emile.”

The princess remembered the months following the experiments, when she would lie in bed, imagining all the brutal ways she would torture and mutilate Duke Aegir and all those responsible. The thoughts sickened the princess, because a small part of her took glee in it, even now. Though her anger had been honed into a vision of a better world, she could not help looking upon the boy with pity. If she had been given the opportunity Emile had…

Edelgard kneeled before Emile. “Nor are you the only person who has been twisted into a monster.” She took off her gloves, revealing the marred, shattered fingers that lay beneath. At this, Hubert turned away, unable to look. She extended her arm to the boy. “Come with me, and we’ll make a world where monsters like us are never created again.”

Emile considered for a moment, before taking the princess’ scarred hand.

 


 

Edelgard, of course, knew the answer to her professor's question. She had told Jeritza to monitor the Western Church, but doing so risked bringing out his violent alter-ego, the Death Knight. The Flame Emperor had given strict instructions that his role was solely to defend and observe, but everything with Jeritza was…complicated.

Jeritza was a victim of the Crest system, just like Edelgard, but where the fires of her trauma forged the princess into a weapon, cold and unforgiving, Jeritza had shattered. Though he at his core was kind and loyal, his rage at the injustices he had endured had created the Death Knight, a figure who longed for violence. In Edelgard’s world, there was always a need to indulge his appetite, for which she carried immense guilt.

“I think our best strategy is to avoid him,” said Edelgard. “This figure has shown little inclination to attack, and I see no reason to change that.”

Byleth shook her head. “It’s our fastest route forward.” She addressed her class with her usual poise. “Edelgard, Ingrid, Ferdinand, and I will confront him. Everyone else, provide support from the back.” She turned to a clearly winded Linhardt. “How much more healing can you provide?”

Linhardt shrugged. “As long as it’s not anything overly taxing.”

As the four frontline combatants moved forward, Edelgard felt deeply conflicted. As she watched Byleth casually direct Ferdinand, her teacher’s dark hair beautifully unkempt, she resolved that no matter what, her first priority was the safety of her teacher and her fellow students.

“You look capable of giving me a decent challenge,” said the armored devil, his voice menacing and inhuman. “How fun.”

Byleth turned her calm eyes to the demon, and then, suddenly, something happened. Edelgard felt a pounding in her head and a strange sense of déjà vu, and when she looked up, the serenity in her teacher’s eyes were gone, replaced with an emotion Edelgard had never seen before on Byleth’s face. Rage.

“You hurt them.” she snarled. “I’ll kill you!” Her entire body was shaking, from what appeared to be a combination of anger and exhaustion. But for all of Byleth’s outward fury, the truly terrifying thing were the mercenary’s eyes, which betrayed an enmity that was all the more frightening for their eerie calmness.

Ferdinand and Ingrid looked at Edelgard, too stunned to say anything. “My teacher, who has been hurt?” whispered Edelgard. Even the princess, not given to outward displays of emotion, was visibly upset at her teacher’s dramatic change in mood.

“He…hurt you, and… Ferdinand… I couldn’t…stop…” Byleth’s words were coming out in gasps at this point, and Edelgard could not escape the disturbing feeling that she had experienced this conversation multiple times before.

“Come,” taunted the Death Knight. “My blade has been sharpened, and it craves flesh.” Byleth staggered forward, only to be stopped by Edelgard’s hand.

“He’s not worth it, my teacher,” said Edelgard, concern lining her face. “Let’s finish the mission.”

Byleth shook her head. “That monster… I can’t let him…” Her breathing began to slow as she gripped the Flame Emperor’s forearm tightly. “You are right, Edelgard,” she turned toward the class, returning to her usual emotionless monotone. “Everyone, get behind me.”

With shocking speed, Byleth sprinted forward, avoiding the Death Knight, and moving toward the mages at Seiros’ tomb. The swiftness and ferocity with which Byleth eradicated her foes was something to behold, and her students could only watch in awe as they attempted to keep up.

One of the mages had managed to pry open the Tomb, only to remove an ancient and wicked looking sword. Byleth was upon him in a flash, causing him to drop the weapon in his haste. She grabbed the sword in one fluid motion, and suddenly the sword was extending and twirling into a flail, viciously cutting down the few enemies that remained. Edelgard heard a gasp behind her from one of the students, but could only watch in wonderment as Byleth stood radiant, more god than human.

And then, suddenly, Byleth’s shoulders sank, and she stumbled toward her students. “Are... you all...safe?” she murmured. As Dorothea nodded, Byleth let out a small smile. “That’s...good,” she said quietly, before collapsing to the floor in a heap.

“Linhardt!” said Edelgard, failing to hide the panic in her heart. The healer had already anticipated the princess’ direction, and was examining her while using a healing spell.

“She’s been under a tremendous strain,” said Linhardt, who himself looked physically exhausted. “I may need some assistance.”

“Caspar, run upstairs and see if there’s another healer in the Cathedral. There must be someone there!” commanded Edelgard.

“Okay, but shouldn’t I get Lady Rhea-“

“DO IT NOW!" 

Caspar scattered without another word, and Edelgard crouched next Byleth’s body, gripping her teacher’s hand tightly. The princess felt an arm rubbing her back, and Dorothea’s gentle voice comforting her. “She’ll be okay, Edie. I promise.”

Edelgard knew she had been both foolish and selfish. In her young life, she had felt more loss than any person should have to experience. This was the dark reality of the princess’ existence. Everyone who got close to her eventually paid the price. She had resolved to herself that she would never feel this fear, this weakness, ever again. Better to close off her heart, instead of watching helplessly as another person left her all alone.

The class sat in silence for the next few minutes until Caspar came downstairs, accompanied by a terrified and anxious Marianne. He pushed through the students before putting a hand on Linhardt’s shoulder, who fell to one knee, energy exhausted.

“Um…I don’t think I’ll be of much help, everyone,” muttered Marianne. “I..” she trailed off and looked at the floor sadly.

“There is no one else, Marianne. We need you!” said Edelgard, trying to hide the rising fear in her voice behind an authoritative tone.

Ferdinand stepped forward and put his hand on Marianne’s shoulder. “Remember how I said to you each of us has been given a purpose to fulfill? Well, at this moment we require you, Marianne.” He smiled at her, kindness and warmth radiating from him. “There is no one else I would trust more.”

At this, Marianne nodded with determination. “Okay…I’ll try,” and began fervently casting a healing spell on Professor Byleth. For a few minutes, no one spoke, until Byleth began to stir and opened her eyes slowly.

Byleth looked around blankly. “Where…”

Ingrid smiled. “We completed the mission, Professor, but you’ve overexerted yourself. Everyone’s been worried sick.”

“Especially Edelgard,” yelped Caspar.

Byleth turned, and saw Edelgard, still clutching her teacher’s forearm as if she would disappear at any moment. When Edelgard realized the attention she was drawing, she gently lowered Byleth’s hand to the floor, attempting to ignore the smirks on her classmates’ faces.

“It isn’t me you should thank, my teacher,” said Edelgard. “Linhardt and Marianne were instrumental in helping you recover.”

Byleth smiled. “Thank you both. I knew there was a reason Ferdinand and Edelgard spoke so highly of you, Marianne.” The young girl blushed profusely as Ferdinand slapped her on the back.

Byleth suddenly attempted to sit up, a look of concern on her face. “Where’s...?” she said with anger. Linhardt and Marianne pushed Byleth back down, continuing to treat her.

“He must have slipped out in the commotion,” said Hubert. “I don’t believe we have anything more to be concerned with for the moment.” He looked at Byleth with deep suspicion. “The real question is-how are you able to wield that sword, Professor?”

Confusion covered Byleth’s face. “What is this, Hubert?”

“Is that-“ interrupted the booming voice of Catherine, who had arrived at the forefront of a dispatch of knights. She looked at Byleth and the strange relic with disbelief. “We have to take you to Lady Rhea. Now.”

 


 

The class had met back in the Black Eagle classroom, after Edelgard and the other students’ protests that Byleth needed time to rest were ignored. Byleth had assured the Eagles that she would be fine, and they in turn had promised to wait for her to insure she was in good health.

When Edelgard arrived, Ferdinand and Marianne were quietly talking with Bernadetta and Hubert, Petra and Dorothea were fussing over an annoyed Ingrid’s hair, and Linhardt was unsuccessfully attempting to sleep while Caspar loudly conversed with him. Everyone turned to Edelgard when she entered, and the students met in the center of the room.

“So, is no one going to talk about what just happened down there?” said Dorothea, who was running her hands through her hair anxiously.

“Which part?” said Linhardt drily, head resting on one of the desks. “The Professor losing it, Saint Seiros’ body not being in her casket, or the fact the Sword of the Creator was in it instead?”

“Leave it to you to focus on archeological discoveries at a time like this, Lin” said Dorothea. “We all saw how the Professor reacted. It was as if she had watched someone die in front of her.”

“N-normally she’s s-so calm,” squeaked Bernadetta. “B-but she kept talking about someone getting hurt.”

“Professor Byleth cares for the students very much,” whispered Marianne. “She’s always checking in on me. I think she was…worried.”

“What are you thinking, Edelgard?” said Petra. “You are the one who is being close-is close to her.”

Edelgard shook her head. “I…I just don’t know.” A barrage of thoughts ran through Edelgard’s head. How could this woman wield the Sword of the Creator? Why did it lack a Crest stone? Just who was Byleth? Could she really be trusted?

Edelgard’s mind went back to that night in Remire, and when she remembered the concern in her teacher’s eyes as she protected Edelgard with no hesitation, she had her answer.

“Whatever is going on with Professor Byleth, the most important thing the Black Eagle house can do is support her. For all she has done for us, we owe her that.”

“I appreciate that, Edelgard,” came a calm voice behind her, and Edelgard jumped in surprise. Byleth was standing behind her, Sword of the Creator dangling at her hip. The princess tried to hide her excitement at the professor’s safe return, instead returning her gaze with a small smile.

“They allowed you to keep it?” said Hubert incredulously.

“Yes, Rhea felt it would be best for me to hold onto it for now.” said Byleth, before turning to the rest of the class. “Thank you all for your help today. I’m sorry if I caused you any concern.”

Edelgard looked at her professor with a mixture of admiration and exasperation. She had fainted in front of the entire class, and Byleth was apologizing to everyone else? It was so like this strange, wonderful woman.

“Please don’t say such things, Professor” said Ingrid. “We’re all just glad you’re safe.” She chuckled. “I think many of us weren’t used to seeing you display so much emotion.”

A shadow crossed Byleth’s face. “I won’t let anyone hurt my students. I promise you all.” She placed her arms behind her body and looked at the group sheepishly. “I know that was unusual for me, but I’ve never felt that angry before.”

“I think everyone here was quite happy to see you showing passion. It’s part of being human, and you have nothing to feel ashamed of.”

Byleth let out a sigh of relief at Edelgard’s words. “Are you sure?”

Edelgard nodded. “Of course, and if anyone tells you differently, they’re wrong. You were truly astounding on the battlefield today, my teacher.”

Dorothea laughed, “Of course you’d say that, Edie. You should have seen her face, Professor, when you-“

“Dorothea!”

As Edelgard and Dorothea squabbled, only to be joined by the rest of the Eagles, they were interrupted by Ferdinand’s boisterous voice.

“Everyone, may I please have your attention for a moment? Our fellow student who so graciously came to the aid of our Professor has something she wishes to tell us all.“

“Um…thank you, Ferdinand,” said Marianne. “I-I have something to say.” She quietly stood with her eyes closed, mentally preparing herself. Finally, she began to speak, for once her voice clear and strong. “I have always felt that I’m not good at anything. People have always avoided me because of my…Crest, and I’ve never really talked to anyone before coming to Garreg Mach.“

She shook her head, only to regain her confidence after Ferdinand gave her an encouraging nod. “I’ve been so scared…but today I helped someone, and I want to keep helping people. Professor Byleth, Edelgard, and Ferdinand have told me that I can be more than a burden to others, and that I have a purpose. I’d…I’d like to find out what that is. Here, with the Black Eagles.”

Her worried eyes met Byleth and Edelgard's gaze. “If that won’t cause a problem.”

Edelgard looked at Marianne, and saw an opportunity to remedy her mistakes. “The Black Eagles would be honored to have you, Marianne,” said Edelgard kindly. Edelgard rejected the idea of fate, but as she reached out her hand to shake Marianne’s, she could not help but wonder if this was a chance to help someone in a different way than Emile, all those years ago.

 


 

After the meeting, Edelgard sat in her room quietly, her head pounding. She had been forgoing sleep for too long, she realized, and the constant dull ache in her head had become a throbbing pain. What the princess needed now was just the chance to close her eyes…

As a flash of red appeared, Edelgard had to stifle a groan. Hubert materialized in her room, before greeting the future Emperor with a bow.

“If this is regarding your concerns about Professor Byleth and the Sword of the Creator,” mumbled the princess. “Can it not wait until tomorrow?”

“You know me much too well, Lady Edelgard. Unfortunately, that is not why I am here.”

Edelgard felt a familiar sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. “Why are you here then, Hubert?”

“Because Lord Arundel wishes to speak with you.”