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The Emperor and the Goddess

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As Edelgard stumbled forward, supporting Manuela’s weight up the stone staircases of Garreg Mach, there was one harsh truth she could not escape: This was her fault. The princess’ actions had already cost the lives of many people, but the majority of them were bandits, traitors, and thieves. Manuela was none of those things.

For all of the woman’s outward debauchery, Manuela had a sensitive, kind heart that was much more perceptive then her hedonistic behavior suggested. From quietly keeping her knowledge of Edelgard’s scarred body in confidence, to kindly discussing one of the few remaining happy memories the princess retained of her Uncle Volkhard, Manuela had treated her with nothing but compassion. She was a person the princess wanted as an ally. As a friend.

And now, Edelgard’s gloves were stained red with Manuela’s blood. The symbolism was not lost on the Flame Emperor. Was this her glorious new dawn that she had sacrificed so much for? Jeritza had stabbed a healer, a woman of peace, for no other reason then senseless chaos and violence. Edelgard had convinced herself her sins were in service of the weak and the powerless, but words were nothing compared to the brutal reality of what she had sanctioned. The princess could not meet Hanneman’s agitated eyes as they carried his fellow professor toward the infirmary.

It did not help that Edelgard did not trust Hanneman either. For all his eccentricities, he was a brilliant scholar, and if he and the Church were to discover the truth of her two Crests, it would mean disaster. Years ago, Hanneman had renounced his noble standing in the Empire, and had devoted his life to the study of Crests at Garreg Mach. When she had questioned his reasoning, the man had been disturbingly evasive. The princess knew someone who had dedicated their life to the very thing that Edelgard sought to destroy could never understand her aims. He was yet another possible enemy lying in the grass.

As Edelgard looked up, she saw a green-haired man with a severe face running down the hallway. “Manuela?” gasped Seteth in rage and shock, looking to Edelgard for answers the princess did not have.

“Professor Byleth and our class investigated Jeritza’s room, and found Manuela with a knife in her side,” said Edelgard calmly. “Professor Hanneman and I are now taking her to receive treatment.”

Seteth’s hand gripped the Black Eagle’s shoulder painfully. “And Flayn?” Edelgard shook her head, and the man could only respond with a mournful glare as he pushed open the door to the infirmary.

 


 

“You’re sure she will be all right?” murmured Edelgard. The cleric treating Manuela turned to the princess and nodded kindly.

“Manuela would be touched to see a caring soul like you worried so much for her safety,” said the healer.

The words burned in Edelgard’s ears. She was no caring soul, just a monster unwilling to confront the ramifications of her actions. Solon was right that she had been playing at morality when it suited her, and Edelgard could offer no words in her own defense.

“You’re lucky you got her here when you did. The wound will not threaten her life, but she had lost quite a bit of blood.” Edelgard’s shoulders relaxed as she released a breath she had not realized she was holding in.

The princess turned to Seteth anxiously, attempting to avoid looking at Manuela’s comatose body. “I need to go meet with the Eagles. They may need my help.” Seteth nodded distractedly, which was all the encouragement Edelgard needed to escape to the hallway.

I need to get to the armor, she thought frantically. I have to show that I’m not involved. Show Byleth that I’m not… like them. As the princess argued with herself, she was stopped by a commanding voice.

“What is the meaning of this!” screamed the Archbishop, filled with divine rage. Edelgard’s breath began to quicken, as she slowly turned around. Oh no, not her, please…

 


 

El stood straight as an arrow, as she was taught to do on those rare occasions when a particularly important guest necessitated the presence of the entire royal family. The Archbishop of the Church of Seiros had not visited Enbarr for many years, and El and her siblings had been told in no uncertain terms that everything must go smoothly for this visit.

“I assure you, Emperor Ionius, that the actions of that rebellious branch of the Southern Church did not speak for the Church of Seiros as a whole,” said the Archbishop sweetly. There was a nostalgic look in her eyes as she looked up at the Emperor. “As you are well aware, Seiros and the Hresvelg family were the greatest of allies. Rebuilding that relationship would mean much to me.”

Ionius sighed. “I understand…Rhea, but to be frank, considering the Church’s actions going back to the War of the Eagle and the Lion, you must understand how the Church of Seiros is viewed by many of my people.” He looked as stern and as forceful as El had ever seen her father. This was not the man who read her bedtime stories. This was the Emperor.

"The Church gave legitimacy to the descendants of King Nemesis and his Elites. Suddenly, these men were not rebels, but knights of a Holy Kingdom, blessed by Saint Seiros herself. If this relationship is founded on trust, I do not believe the people of the Empire are the ones who must make concessions in rebuilding it.”

A spasm of anger flitted across Rhea’s angelic face, before she regained her poise. “Fair enough, Emperor Ionius. I believe these discussions have been an important first step in rejuvenating this connection, and I hope this will not be the last of our talks.” The two leaders bowed to one another, and Rhea’s procession made their way out of the Enbarr throne room. Ionius slumped in his chair, strong features clearly exhausted.

El scampered out of the throne room, and caught up to the Archbishop and her retinue in procession. El snuck under the arms of the guards, and tugged on the Archbishop’s robes innocently. Rhea jumped and whirled around, face full of anger. “Who-“ she began with a soldier's fury that caused El to tremble. When she saw the cause, the Archbishop’s face softened, and she knelt remorsefully in front of the young interloper. “Who are you, child?”

“My name is Edelgard von Hresvelg, Archbishop.” She bowed, and Rhea began to smile warmly.

"You are very well-mannered, Princess. I saw you standing with your siblings in the throne room.” She put her hand to her chin. “Was there something you wish to ask me?”

El nodded. “You can talk to the Goddess, right?”

A look of deep pain appeared on Rhea’s face before she responded. “I…Yes, my child. I am the voice of the Goddess Herself.”

“Can…can you tell her something for me?” said El in a small, sincere voice. “Can you tell Her that I’m very happy She gave me the Crest of a great Saint like Seiros, and that…” El began to blush and looked downward.

“What is it, my child?” said Rhea, hand resting on El’s shoulder.

“Well, I spend all my time here at the palace, and nobody really talks to me except my siblings…So, I talk to the Goddess a lot, and She always makes me feel better. But I’m never sure if She can hear what I say. Can you make sure you tell Her thank you? From me?”

Rhea held El’s palms in hers and began to stroke them reassuringly. “If this world had more people like you…” She laughed quietly to herself. “I promise I will tell Her, child. But I am confident She already knows.” She turned and began to walk away, before giving El one last smile. “A person with faith like yours will always keep the Goddess with them…”

 


 

The Archbishop had lied to her that day. Actually, the Archbishop had lied every day of Edelgard’s young life. Every night when Edelgard had confided to the Goddess her most intimate dreams and secrets. Every service where Edelgard had sung a hymn of praise to the heavens above. Every simple, faithful prayer to watch over Agnes and her other siblings. All lies. All those precious memories tainted forever.

The Archbishop’s stark green eyes were filled with wrath as she walked toward Edelgard. “Have you found Flayn? Or Jeritza? Is he responsible for this outrage?”

Edelgard felt her knees begin to tremble, but she projected outward confidence, and bowed deeply to the Archbishop. “There was no sign of either party, Archbishop, but Manuela was found in Jeritza’s room. It appears likely he was her attacker. I am going to rejoin Byleth and the rest of the Black Eagles, who were pursuing the assailant.”

“You allowed her to go alone?” muttered Rhea, her eyes seeming to bore into Edelgard’s soul. “She should not be placed into a dangerous situation without the Church’s assistance.” She leaned toward Edelgard, with an almost manic fervor. “Her safety is of the utmost concern.”

“I care for Professor Byleth deeply, and would never allow harm to befall her.”

Rhea crossed her arms and looked down at the student, her voice suddenly that of a warrior. “You would dare to compare-“ As Edelgard stepped backward, Rhea collected herself and regained her poise. “All I want is for her to remain safe. I hope you understand that.”

Edelgard nodded coldly. “Of course, Archbishop. Now if you’ll excuse me…” The princess turned and began to quickly move down the hall, when Rhea’s voice stopped her in her tracks.

“Edelgard, you are to be the ruler of the Adrestian Empire, correct?” Edelgard turned to Rhea, unsure of where the conversation was leading. After she slowly nodded, Rhea gave the princess a sickly sweet smile. “You must be aware of the proud history between the Church of Seiros and the Hresvelg family. Your ancestor Wilhelm….” Rhea trailed off, a look of profound melancholy lining her features, as she held her hand to her chest. “I want this to be a new start for both Adrestia and my flock.”

Edelgard stopped, and looked in Rhea’s eyes. There was something shattered in them, a sense of overwhelming loss and tragedy that Edelgard recognized all too well. They were just like her own-haunted, restless, the eyes of a survivor. Up close, the Archbishop did not look like a wise mother, but instead a lost child, searching futilely for consolation. Edelgard acknowledged Rhea’s words, and waited.

“Jeritza obtained a position at the monastery thanks to the Empire’s recommendation. Your uncle-Lord Arundel’s-recommendation,” said the Archbishop, fury quietly building. “If I find that the Empire was in any way involved in this attack…” She glared at Edelgard. “The Goddess’ judgment shall be swift and terrible. Remember that.”

Without another word, the Archbishop serenely folded her arms, before turning and walking away, quietly singing a hymn that reverberated off the walls of Garreg Mach.

 


 

When the Flame Emperor materialized in the underground chamber, she found herself standing between the Death Knight and the Black Eagles. The students were astonished at the arrival of a second masked figure, and Edelgard took the opportunity to quickly survey her classmates. They had clearly paid the price for Edelgard’s hubris-Sylvain had a gash along his right cheek, Caspar was supported by Petra, and Byleth…

Byleth looked mentally and physically exhausted, her shoulders shaking as she stood between the Death Knight and the Black Eagles. Her face carried that same implacable rage that it always did when the lives of her students were threatened. And now, she was looking at Edelgard with that same burning hatred. The Flame Emperor knew she deserved Byleth’s contempt, but to see that revulsion aimed at her…a part of Edelgard’s spirit withered at the sight.

The Death Knight turned to some of the remaining members of the Flame Emperor’s army. “Kill them,” he commanded in his ghostly voice, and raised his scythe to deliver a blow. Edelgard shook her head in disgust. This had gone far enough.

“Halt,” came the Flame Emperor’s voice. Metallic. Cold. Unforgiving. An inhuman sound that showed neither kindness nor humanity. A fitting voice for an Emperor with a heart of ice. This was Edelgard’s true face-one that belonged far away from the light and grace that Byleth exuded. “You’re having a bit too much fun.”

The Death Knight swung his scythe in rage. “You are getting in the way of my game,” spat the demon in anger, his obsession with Byleth demanding conflict, calling for blood. The Flame Emperor caught her underling’s weapon in mid-swing, and glared up at the Death Knight.

The Flame Emperor huffed in anger. “You will have more opportunities to play soon.” She felt bile building up deep inside her. He could have hurt Dorothea, or Ferdinand, or Ingrid. He could have hurt Byleth. “Your work here is done.”

For a moment, the Death Knight stared at his superior, the sounds of his rapid breathing rattling in his metallic helmet. “Understood,” he pouted, before straightening to his full and terrible height. “I will go.” And in a flash of purple light, he and his men were gone.

Edelgard turned to her classmates, the people she had dared to call her friends, and saw them look at her with a mixture of fear, disgust and anger. She was already damned by association, she realized. Weapons and spells were ready to attack, and their faces showed no compassion, no warmth. Just dread and loathing. Except for Byleth.

The Flame Emperor had been distracted by her underling, but Byleth was no longer looking at her as an enemy. Instead, the experienced mercenary had sheathed her sword, and watched the intruder with a curious expression. “Who are you?” she stated calmly, steadily, as if she was asking Edelgard to outline a tactical formation in the classroom. There was no hatred. Just a simple desire to understand.

“I am the Flame Emperor,” said Edelgard, hoping that somehow, her true intentions would be communicated through her inhuman mask. Please Byleth, I am not your enemy. I… need you, selfishly, with everything I am. You are perfectly imperfect. The great light of my existence. The wings that have lifted me out the darkness. The air in my lungs. I love-“

The Flame Emperor stopped, struck dumb by the truth she could no longer run from, the great lie she could no longer tell herself. Her mind churned and legs became mush. She had to leave. Now. “It is I who will reforge the world.” Under the Flame Emperor’s mask, the girl once named El pined for Byleth with a desperate longing. “We will meet again.”

As the Flame Emperor disappeared, Byleth’s azure eyes never left her for a single moment.

 


 

When Edelgard materialized outside Jeritza’s apartment, she looked around furiously. There were no witnesses. Good. There was an abandoned building nearby, which Hubert had “accessed” for just such an emergency. Edelgard darted inside, and began to tear off her cold, metallic shell.

There was a dummy compartment in the wall, where she hurriedly threw the armor until it could be retrieved later. She had to meet with the class quickly, before questions began to be raised about her absence. She had seen Hubert’s acting before. The less attention she drew to herself, the better.

When she found her class trudging back toward the main hall, Edelgard beelined for Byleth, only stopped by Hubert’s strong, yet surprisingly gentle grip on her shoulder. “There is something you need to be aware of, Lady Edelgard…”

The princess shook her head. “I have something we must discuss as well. Privately.” She gave her retainer a significant look, tabling any further discussion for the moment.

Edelgard felt a hand slap her on the back roughly, before hearing Sylvain’s mocking voice. “Is this why you wanted me to join the Black Eagles, Princess? So you can duck out of fights, and leave it all to a big, strong man like me?”

“Oh, don’t worry, Sylvain. As a house leader, I must plan for every eventuality. I have full confidence that Ingrid and Marianne were more than enough to compensate for any of your shortcomings.”

Ingrid and Dorothea, who had been walking behind, snorted loudly, and even Sylvain began to chuckle. “Seriously though,” he muttered, “is Professor Manuela going to be okay?” The other Black Eagles turned toward Edelgard, worry evident on their faces.

“She’ll be fine. The wound was not life-threatening.” She looked at her classmates, lines of concern creasing her forehead. “And what of Flayn?”

“She’s all right,” said Byleth, turning back with a broad smile on her face. “Seteth will be happy.”

Edelgard breathed a deep sigh of relief. She did not want Flayn’s blood on her hands. Not today and not here. The fact that her actions had brought such chaos home to Garreg Mach was penalty enough. Still, this mess had taught Edelgard some important truths.

Byleth stared at Edelgard, the mercenary’s calloused hands playing with the medallion on her neck. “I must meet with the Archbishop and inform her of what has happened, but... can I talk with you tonight? There is something…troubling me.” The princess nodded, and relief crossed Byleth’s face. “Thank you, Edelgard. I can always count on you,” she said with a small, sincere smile.

The knowledge that she was lying to this woman-just as the Archbishop had once lied to her-was a dagger in Edelgard’s heart.

 


 

“That was…unfortunate” said Hubert, looking at the floor. He wandered over to Edelgard’s desk, and began to mechanically straighten a collection of political treatises. “Our…friends have transported another one of their people in. She is impersonating a girl who disappeared last year-Monica von Ochs.”

Edelgard sighed and shook her head. “This was a message. To me.” The ache in the princess’ hands became impossible to ignore. Ever since the experiments and the awful cruelties inflicted on her, the girl’s fingers would burn with a constant, stinging fire. When it was cold. When she was tired. Or in situations such as this, when she was deeply distressed.

Hubert put his hand to his chin. “I see no other reason. Why stage such an elaborate farce under the Church’s very nose? Why keep Flayn at Garreg Mach, if they desired her blood so much? Why destroy Jeritza’s cover just to sneak another person in?”

“Because Jeritza, for all his viciousness, is loyal to me. Because he can be checked,” said Edelgard, before a horrible realization dawned upon the Flame Emperor. “Ochs…Is that Baron Ochs’ daughter?”

Hubert put his hand on the bridge of his nose and sighed in frustration. “She’s Imperial…which means…”

“She’s going to join the Black Eagles. This was all about control.” She turned to Hubert, and snapped her finger. “Solon told me earlier they wanted me back on a leash. This is how they do that.”

“We must respond,” said the retainer as he stood, his voice tinged with hatred. “She will be dead in her bed before the night is through.”

“No.” Hubert stopped in his tracks at his liege’s command. Edelgard’s face became stern. “If we kill one of their agents, it will be open war. We cannot fight the Church, Duke Aegir, and these fiends simultaneously.”

Hubert’s hand twitched. “Lady Edelgard, this is a dangerous gamble. You and I both know the situation is untenable. This is not because you fear retaliation against Professor Byleth…is it?”

The princess refused to meet her retainer’s eyes. “Their agent is joining our class, Hubert. Nowhere is safe. They…I can’t let them hurt her or our friends. Not like this. I…I made a promise to her father.”

Hubert stared at his liege for what seemed an eternity, before burying his face in his hands. “This is what they want, Lady Edelgard. She has distracted you, made you vulnerable. That woman…there is something lurking under the surface. Something unpredictable, as if her heart is not truly her-“

“I love her, Hubert.” Edelgard whispered, softly and quietly, voice full of defeat. Silence filled the room. “I…I’ve been denying it to myself this entire time, but it’s the truth.” Her face met Hubert’s, filled with an agonizing vulnerability.

“It’s-“ Edelgard paused, arms resting on her forehead. “When I saw those eyes of hers in that dungeon today, I realized something. She may choose to protect the Archbishop. I may fight her. She may even kill me. But I will still love her, even as she drives her sword through my heart, always and forever.” She pleaded with Hubert. “Do you understand?”

Hubert, for once in his impeccable, poised life, appeared at a loss for words. He paced, and he muttered, and he shook his head, but he did not speak or look at the girl who had just exposed her most desperate secret to him. Finally he turned to her with pity. “You know that your plans require-“

“My plans? My plans? What if I don’t care anymore about my silly plans, or Crests, or the damn Empire, or what’s best for Fódlan?” The princess’ hands began to shake. “For just one day, one moment, can’t I be me, Hubert? To have something I want, for myself?” Something was deeply broken in her lilac eyes. “I know in my soul, in my heart, that she won’t choose me…But can’t I just pretend? For a little while?”

Neither the Emperor nor her retainer said a single word. It was a moment where words felt meaningless, artificial, unable to express the totality of the princess’ troubled existence. Finally, a coldness returned to the Flame Emperor’s face. “Send the letters to Bergliez and Hevring.”

Hubert’s eyes bulged. “You want to deal with them? After what they-“

“It has never been a question of want, Hubert,” muttered the princess. “If it was about what I wanted, I would drag Bergliez, Aegir, Hevring, and all the rest into the dungeons, and inflict the horrors they sanctioned on my family a hundred times over with my own two hands. I would-“ She shook her head, rapid breath slowing, poise returning. “It is a simple calculus. They control the Empire's military and finances. If…when we start this war, it will give them wealth and prestige. You know why they created me in the first place.”

“To reunite Fódlan,” spat Hubert. “It was all my father talked about.”

“And I will give it to them. Hevring wants money. Bergliez wants glory. I can provide that. If today has proven anything, it is that ideals are meaningless without the power to implement them.“ She stared out the window, watching the sun begin to fall below the horizon. “This war is happening with or without me. Thales and his forces want to use me as a simple attack dog. But if I control the might of the Empire, I will not be so easily cast aside.”

Hubert shifted in his chair uncomfortably. “And how do you intend to convince the very men who deposed your father to support your claim? We are rather…outmatched at the moment.”

Edelgard laughed. “Well, if Bergliez wants a demonstration of power and military might, we do have a grand mock battle coming up very soon.” She leaned toward Hubert, a venomous hatred lining her features. “It will be a fine opportunity to show the power of the Goddess they carved into my body…wouldn’t you say?”

 


 

The dining hall was quiet when Edelgard snuck in. With the lights off, and the students and staff gone, the space was downright eerie. Lysithea had once mentioned to Edelgard her fears that ghosts walked the halls of Garreg Mach, and in an atmosphere like this, her friend’s concerns appeared warranted.

Edelgard thought back to how Agnes would read her ghost stories each autumn, as the leaves began to fall from the trees, and a cool wind began to shake the windows of the princess’ room. El would huddle under a blanket, and listen, terrified of what banshee or ghoul Agnes would surprise her with next-yet she knew she was safe, because her sister was there. Agnes had promised her as she tucked El into her fluffy sheets-As long as I’m around, you’ll always be safe from any monsters. Another lie, thought Edelgard bitterly. She looked to the ceiling. I miss you so much, Aggie.

“...Edelgard?” called Byleth. The princess jumped, nerves shattered. She looked around frantically before feeling her teacher’s strong arms soothing her. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you.” Byleth’s face was apologetic. “Being quiet was necessary at my old job.”

“It’s fine, my teacher,” whispered the princess. “What did you want to discuss with me?”

Byleth sat down at the table, elbows jutting out at an awkward angle. Edelgard could not help but smile at her teacher’s lack of social etiquette. “I…I don’t know how to say this,” said Byleth cautiously. “But I know you’ll always tell me the truth.”

The princess sighed. “That’s not true, my teacher. I…will be head of the Adrestian Empire. There are many secrets I must keep, even from you.” Edelgard began to fiddle with her hands, desperately trying to shield her friend’s feelings. “I don’t want you to think that I…it’s not-“

After Edelgard trailed off, Byleth peered at her keenly, head tilted. When she realized that Edelgard had no intention of finishing her thought, she waved her hand dismissively. “I don’t care if you don’t tell me everything. Papa hasn’t even told me how old I am.” She smiled that infuriatingly pure smile at Edelgard. “Anyway, I don’t understand politics like you. I know how to teach, and how to kill. That’s all.”

“What would you do?”

Byleth looked at Edelgard with confusion. “I…don’t understand.”

“I hate the backstabbing, the compromises, the person that I have to be every day for my people,” said the future Emperor bitterly, words rushing out in a torrent. “And I’m very good at it, which makes me hate myself all the more. But, it’s not…me. Who I am inside.”

“What are you saying Edelgard?”

“There are things…things I want,” she looked into her beloved teacher’s eyes. “And I could have them…if I was selfish and I turned my back to suffering. But if I did nothing, if I allowed my heart to keep me from doing what must be done-“

“You wouldn’t be true to yourself if you did,” finished Byleth, her own tone wistful.

Neither woman spoke, lilac eyes drawn magnetically to azure. Time seemed to stop, as the two women grasped for something inexpressible, stumbled for the truths they needed to communicate to each other. It was a moment like the night sky before a thunderstorm, when a bolt could shatter the fragile peace at any moment.

“I would have a cabin, Edelgard,” whispered Byleth. “A table to drink tea, and a dock to fish. A cat that will sit on my lap at night. That’s what I want.” She buried her face in her hands. “I want to be a person, just like everyone else. And…I’m not.”

Edelgard knew she should soothe Byleth somehow, but the girl who had not felt another’s touch in years was at a loss. So the princess retreated to words, like the coward she was. “Did…did something happen when you returned the Lance of Ruin?”

Byleth’s eye peeked out from behind her fingers. “How did you…?” She began to play with her medallion nervously. “The Archbishop asked me to return the Lance to her, but Sylvain had told us he needed it for his people. He watched his brother die, Edelgard, and the Church wanted to take it back, as if nothing had happened.” Her brow furrowed. “It didn’t seem right, to act like this was just the way things had to be. So I told her no.”

Edelgard gasped, a flame burning in her heart. “You told her no…”

“I’ve never told anyone no before, not even Papa,” said Byleth sheepishly. “Ever since Remire, it’s like I’m…waking up to the person I am. Rhea has been so kind to me, but when I said that, she became so angry. She screamed at me.” Byleth’s voice was childlike and wounded. “She seemed unhappy…like she was scared because I was something she didn’t expect.”

“What happened?” said Edelgard after a moment of silence.

“Sylvain stepped forward and calmed her down, and she was nice to me again,” murmured Byleth. She placed the Sword of the Creator on the table. “Sometimes, I wonder whether everyone thinks I’m just part of this sword, a…vessel to help them live their dreams. But what if...what if the person I’m becoming is somebody no one likes?”

Edelgard shook her head. “I like the person you are. And I promise you I always will. No matter what.”

“How can you say that, Edelgard? What if I did something terrible to you, abandoned you, left you alone?”

Edelgard could only smile. “I’d be happy because I’d know it was you making that choice, my teacher. Not Rhea, not Seteth, just you.” At Edelgard’s words, a look of immense relief washed over her teacher’s face.

The mercenary again tilted her head, as if straining to hear an unseen speaker. Out of Byleth’s many quirks, this was the one that Edelgard was most taken by. She looked like a child patiently listening to her mother for guidance. “That person today…” she murmured thoughtfully.

“The...Flame Emperor?”

“He was very strange,” said Byleth. “He could have appeared behind us and trapped us…but he didn’t. It's almost as if he was trying to show us he had honor-that he was different from the others.” Every muscle in the princess’ body became tense. “Maybe he’s lying. But he seemed so…sad.” She gave Edelgard a bittersweet smile.

“Why do you think he seemed sad, my teacher?” The Flame Emperor leaned forward, terrified of the answer she needed to hear.

“He acted as if he didn’t have a choice either. Why else would he show up and try to explain himself?” Byleth shook her head. “I think… I think someone only does that if they’re very lonely.” Edelgard stared into the middle distance, her teacher's words cutting deep into her soul.

Suddenly, the spell was broken, and Byleth’s blue eyes looked around the dining hall distractedly. “I need to get you dessert.”

“What? No, you-“

“Yes, I do,” said Byleth firmly. “After every mission, you go to the dining hall and get a dessert. I’ve seen it.” She stood and smiled warmly at Edelgard. “One of the nice things about being a mercenary is that I know how to pick a lock. Now, come on!” She winked at Edelgard, and the Flame Emperor’s heart melted into a puddle.

Perhaps she was damned, thought the princess in desperation, but for just this moment, to be around Byleth? To finally be Edelgard? Maybe this great and terrible lie was worth it after all.