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The Emperor and the Goddess

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As the Black Eagles made the long trek to Gronder Field, Edelgard could not help distancing herself from her classmates. Some of the students, such as Ferdinand, were eagerly awaiting the opportunity for glory. Some, like Ingrid, anticipated the challenge. Peaceful students like Dorothea and Marianne just wanted it over. None of these feelings applied to the Imperial princess.

If all went well, this battle would demonstrate Edelgard’s ability to command a large military force. After the battle, she had scheduled a meeting with Count Bergliez, the Empire’s Minister of Military Affairs. Edelgard’s plan to take back Adrestia required Bergliez’s support, so a strong performance today would be crucial.

Hubert, understanding his liege’s worry, had allowed her the privacy of her own thoughts, for which she was exceedingly grateful. Gronder was the breadbasket of the Empire, and the lush fields and verdant pastures were a welcome respite for the troubled leader. As she quietly enjoyed the happy calls of a pair of songbirds, she was pulled from her daydreams by a nervous tug on her academy uniform.

The princess had never handled being surprised well, after the awful events of her childhood, and she spun around frantically. This, in turn, terrified the small, purple-haired student who had intruded upon Edelgard’s personal space. Bernadetta cowered, hands raised in a defensive position. The girl’s arms moved up instinctually, mechanically, the actions of a victim who had futilely attempted to defend herself over and over again.

Edelgard understood the terror and desperation in Bernadetta’s gesture all too well. It was just like the desperate protests of a girl with chestnut-brown hair long, long ago. She gave what she hoped was a calming smile to her classmate. “Was there something I can do for you, Bernadetta?”

The archer retreated into herself. “I-I’m sorry to bother you, L-lady Edelgard. I know you must have a lot on your mind and-“

Edelgard held up her hand, to cut off her classmate. “I’ve told you before, you are never a bother. You are my classmate and friend, and it is my duty as house leader to-“

“Punish me!? Oh, no…now I’ve done-“

“Bernadetta. Stop.” Edelgard reached out and grabbed her shoulder. “I know that feeling. The horrible weight in your chest. The dizziness in your head. Breathe. You are safe.”

Edelgard had developed deep bonds with many of the Black Eagles. She had grown close to Dorothea and Ingrid, trusted Petra and Ferdinand deeply… but she was especially protective of Bernadetta and Marianne. There was a shattered child inside the princess for whom despair and fear were intimate companions. She knew Marianne and Bernadetta to be stronger than most people could ever comprehend.

The reclusive girl nervously ran her hands through her messy purple hair. “Thank you, Lady Edelgard…How did you know that was…?

The princess looked at the white clouds lazily floating above. “I understand the awful burden of living in terror. What it means to lose the ability to trust in the goodness of others.” Raw emotion was hidden behind the aloof, detached statement. “I will never punish you. You have my word.”

Bernadetta gave Edelgard a small, grateful smile. “T-thank you.” The girl’s fingers absently twisted the buttons of her academy uniform. “I’m worried because… because, Casper said his d-dad might be c-coming and what if my father shows up to take me back-“

The princess shook her head. “He will not be there. I swear it.” She gave Bernadetta a stern look. “The day is fast approaching where you will not fear such indignities ever again.” Edelgard’s face abruptly softened. “And when that moment comes, I trust you will join Hubert and me for some tea and gardening. Your presence would be appreciated by both of us.”

The look of joy and relief on Bernadetta’s face was a balm for Edelgard’s troubled soul.

 


 

Gronder Field was vast and lush, the gently sloped hills packed with shrubs and trees. A squirrel ran by the princess, mouth stuffed with seeds. It seemed inconceivable that such a lovely place would soon be filled with the chaos of battle.

Edelgard leaned down, admiring a small yellow daffodil peeking through the soil. The outdoors was always soothing to the princess’ spirit. Somehow, it brought perspective to her struggle. Whatever the age, the beauty of nature endured. She felt a large, gentle hand on her shoulder, and turned around with a smile. “No matter how much our world changes, you still fret over me like I’m that child in the palace gardens.”

Hubert, as always, dismissed his emotions with a shake of his head. “I swore an oath, Lady Edelgard. Besides…your mental state is of utmost importance. An anxious mind is a distracted one, especially today.” He looked up at the cliffs above the Black Eagles, where the Archbishop’s contingent stood observing, and nodded grimly. “A rather symbolic gesture, is it not?”

The princess could not help but agree. The War of the Eagle and Lion had been an expression of the Church’s dominion over the hearts and minds of the continent. The Kingdom had only gained legitimacy due to the Church’s blessing. A bloody rebellion had become a sanctified holy crusade. To commemorate the strife in such a way was a statement from the Archbishop, and not a particularly subtle one.

“Black Eagles! Fall in!” Byleth’s voice cut through the nervous chatter. The mercenary was leaning casually on the Sword of the Creator, a small, confident smirk on her face. “I hope you are all prepared. I have seen your growth over the past year, and I know you will make me proud.” To Edelgard’s great amusement, her teacher knelt in the dirt, and used the irreplaceable relic weapon gifted by the Church to diagram the Black Eagles’ strategy.

Hubert watched Byleth work, before drawing the professor’s attention with a loud hum. “I cannot help but notice that our position is rather…poor. How do you propose-“

Byleth raised her hand to cut Hubert off, and addressed the class. “Hubert raises an important problem. If we attack Dimitri’s force first, than Claude jumps out of the trees and attacks. If we allow Claude to draw us into the forest, we’re stuck between two hostile armies.”

“So what do you suggest?” said Ingrid with curiosity.

“Class, what do we know about Dimitri and Claude?” Byleth stood, and looked at her students. The confident, skilled teacher that now led the Black Eagles bore little resemblance to the nervous mercenary from the beginning of the semester. Her eyes fell upon Marianne. “What are your thoughts?”

Marianne faltered. “I…I’m not sure I should-“

“You know Claude better than any of us, Marianne, and you are a keen observer. Your opinion is always valuable.” Byleth encouraged the nervous girl with a reassuring smile.

“Well…um…one thing I’ve noticed is that…Claude doesn’t like to attack unless he’s sure he can win…I’m not sure how valuable that is though.”

Byleth nodded. “That’s perfect, Marianne. Thank you.” Behind Byleth’s shoulder, Ferdinand gave Marianne an enthusiastic gesture of approval. The teacher turned to Ingrid and Sylvain. “And Dimitri?”

Sylvain chuckled and ran his hand through his hair absentmindedly. “Dimitri’s not going to bother with any tricks or schemes. He makes Ingrid look like Hubert.” After a gentle elbow in the ribs from Ingrid, his face was filled with mock outrage. “What? You know I’m not wrong.”

Ingrid grinned and shook her head in agreement. “Dimitri fights with the belief that his power is enough. He’s going to try to hit us, hard and fast.”

“Wonderful. Thank you both.” Byleth’s eyes fell upon the rest of her class. “What have I told you all is the most important rule in combat?”

Edelgard put her hand to her chin, beginning to understand what Byleth was proposing. “Control the battlefield by making your enemy uncomfortable. Turn their strengths into weaknesses.”

Byleth’s azure eyes sparkled. “Exactly! Very good, Edelgard.” The class exchanged knowing looks at the two women’s interaction. Byleth, who remained blissfully unaware, began to pace confidently. “We’re going to split our forces.”

Edelgard could not help but notice that even by the rapidly changing standards of her teacher’s behavior, Byleth was incredibly passionate today. There was an energy and vitality in every movement, a spark of life and joy in her every expression. It was like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. To see the true Byleth break through the mask of the Ashen Demon was thrilling to witness.

Ferdinand gave a loud and demonstrative cough. “This…idea goes against every tenant of military strategy. If our army is divided in two, than conventional wisdom states that you have no army at all.”

Edelgard looked at her classmate approvingly. “A valuable point, Ferdinand. But I wager this is a temporary gambit?”

Byleth nodded. “Claude will want to avoid a direct confrontation, only attacking when he feels he has an advantage. I will lead a force into the woods to confront him, placing him on the defensive, and limiting his strategic options.” She gestured to her house leader. “Edelgard and her group will remain outside the woods, to hold the line against Dimitri. Once we have eliminated the Deer, Edelgard will retreat, luring the Lions into the woods, where our archers and mages will have cover.”

Hubert smiled. “It’s very devious, Professor. I didn’t think you had it in you.” He put his hand to his chin thoughtfully. “However, this plan relies on our forces defeating two armies with superior numbers…It is still a risk.”

Byleth pumped her fist vigorously. “Not if we have the better fighters.”

 


 

As Byleth and Edelgard stood side-by-side, waiting for the signal to commence the battle, Edelgard turned for a moment to look at her teacher. Byleth’s head was down, her eyes closed. Her breath rose and fell in a steady, comfortable rhythm. If not for the surroundings, one could almost think she was sleeping. Edelgard’s eyes followed her jaw all the way down to the delicate curvature of her neck-

She’s beautiful.

The thought shocked her. Of course, Edelgard had always found Byleth attractive, and the princess adored Byleth for many reasons that had nothing to do with the mercenary’s physical appearance. But the emotions that Byleth inspired at that moment went beyond attraction. They tore through the drab greyness of Edelgard’s existence. She wanted to scream her feelings from the mountaintops.

Perhaps it was her knowledge of Byleth’s innate goodness that made the object of Edelgard’s affections so lovely. As the morning sun fell across her beloved’s face, the princess was filled with the overwhelming desire to capture this moment, to share a small piece of the wonder Byleth Eisner truly was.

It had been many years since the Flame Emperor had been able to see the beauty in anything. Just as Byleth was discovering her emotions, Edelgard’s humanity was returning. As a young girl, she had once laughed at her sibling’s jokes until her sides ached. Appreciated the miracle in every flower she found in the palace gardens. She had truly loved the world, until it had betrayed her trust, and broken her spirit.

Everything she had once been was cast aside, in service of the future. In service of her goals. In service of the Flame Emperor. There was nothing else in Edelgard’s empty, sad life, except her ambition. No one else must ever become like her. Edelgard was worthless. She was damned. Tainted. Ugly.

But then, on cold, wet night in Remire, Byleth had looked into Edelgard’s lonely lilac eyes and smiled. Someone had believed the monster that even the Goddess had rejected was worth saving, worth protecting. Someone had believed that Edelgard mattered. And slowly, a delicate flower was beginning to bloom.

The trumpets heralding the start of battle sounded, and Byleth opened one of her eyes. “Nervous?” There was a confidence in Byleth’s teasing voice that forced a grin out of the princess.

Edelgard raised her hand to marshal the Black Eagles forward to victory. “When we’re fighting together? Never.”

 


 

The battle was chaos. Edelgard, and her battalion of frontline combatants had fought their way through an initial charge of Kingdom pegasus knights. Ingrid’s movement in the air was a beautiful dance, as she dodged and weaved between the enemy combatants, only to brutally strike with Lúin.

While Ingrid was distracted, a volley of projectiles had narrowly missed her steed. Any further approach was impossible until the Black Eagles took the central hill. Edelgard, Ferdinand, and Sylvain charged forward, smashing through the Kingdom forces that stood in the way.

At the top of the hill was Ashe, protected by a contingent of armored knights, led by Dedue. Ashe pulled out his bow, and began to rapidly fire at his former classmate. Lonato’s heir was a skilled and accurate archer, but Sylvain was practiced at dodging projectiles. As the two Faerghus natives clashed, Ferdinand and Edelgard threw themselves toward the advancing Kingdom bulwark.

“Remember what Professor Byleth said!” called Edelgard, as she sent her opponent flying with immense force. “Go for the joints!”

Ferdinand nodded, driving his lance toward his opponent, sending the knight’s knee crumpling to the earth. Just before he was about to strike a finishing blow, Dedue threw a handax at the young noble, forcing him to dodge.

“For Dimitri’s sake, you must not be allowed to pass,” said Dedue in a stern voice.

“Aw, did they already change the Blue Lion secret password?” Sylvain rushed forward and delivered a brutal strike with his relic weapon. Dedue was pushed back, but remained upright. Ashe took advantage of the chaos to send a well-timed arrow flying at Sylvain, knocking him off his horse, and sending the animal on a panicked gallop.

“I’m going to prove myself, Sylvain!” yelled Ashe with determination. “I’m sorry about this.”

The Gautier heir jumped to his feet, ducking and dodging Ashe’s onslaught of arrows before knocking him off balance with the hilt of his lance. He smiled and offered Ashe a hand up. “Nice work, buddy,” Sylvain said approvingly. “You’re going to be one hell of a knight someday.”

Edegard pushed forward, ax crashing against Dedue’s with immense force. While her opponent was distracted, Ferdinand charged to deliver a mighty blow, only for the attack to bounce off the retainer’s armor. Ferdinand staggered backward, hurriedly calming his bewildered horse.

Dedue shook his head as he pushed his weapon against Edelgard’s ax. “I am sorry. None of you are strong enough.”

“That may be true,” said Edelgard with a smirk. “But how do you deal with magic?”

A barrage of light magic blasted Dedue off his feet. The energy and power of the spells were blinding, the brightness dazing the combatants momentarily. When the stars retreated from Edelgard’s vision, Marianne was standing with her arms outstretched, a determined look on her face.

“I’m…I’m really sorry, Dedue.” The mage played with her hands nervously. The retainer had been thrown flat on his back from the force of the blow, weapon knocked aside. He raised his hand in surrender.

“A spectacular performance, Marianne!” said Ferdinand jubilantly. “Thanks to you, we have captured the high ground! We truly make a superb team, do we not?”

Marianne gave her ally a tender smile. “It’s my pleasure, Ferdinand. I’m…always happy to help you.”

Edelgard helped Ferdinand to his feet, as Ingrid swooped down to join the group. “We’re going to need someone to remain here and fortify this position,” said Edelgard with a commander’s fire. “Sylvain, you and Marianne stay here and defend.” The two Eagles nodded, and Edelgard turned to Ferdinand and Ingrid. “We’ll hold the line between Dimitri and our forces.”

As the three Eagles made their way toward the rendezvous point, Ingrid turned to Ferdinand slyly. “Any particular reason you always seem to encourage Marianne?”

Ferdinand gave a knowing smile. “I have been given every advantage as the heir of House Aegir. Education, money, status…but the most important is a sense of purpose.” He turned back to look at Marianne in the distance. “She is a truly special person, who can accomplish whatever her heart desires.” He shook his head sadly. “I do not believe anyone had told her before.”

Edelgard looked to her right, and saw the approaching forces of the Kingdom. Dimitri marched forward, accompanied by Felix, Mercedes, and Annette. The young prince’s face was stern, but there was none of his usual timidity or awkwardness here on the battlefield. Felix’s eyes continued to dart furtively between the Eagles and Dimitri, deep concern for the prince on his severe features.

Dimitri approached Edelgard, hands raised confidently. “So this is the way we cross swords, Edelgard…you know, all those years ago, I never could have imagined this happening.”

What an odd statement. All those years… What does he mean? Edelgard’s unease with her fellow house leader continued to grow, as her head began to throb. Unsettled, the princess ignored the pounding in both her head and her heart. With false bravado, she called out to her opponent-“Well, if a war between the Kingdom and Empire were to start, we could fight as much you’d wish, right?”

Dimitri chuckled at Edelgard’s lighthearted boast. “Give me a break, Edelgard…Whenever I fight you, I can’t help but feel bad…” There was a quiet sadness in the young prince’s eyes, and he paused for a moment, his classmates nervously waiting for the orders to proceed.

Edelgard twirled her ax assertively, confused by the prince’s cryptic statement. “So…when will you fight me then? We are in the middle of a mock battle…”

“A fair point…” Dimitri shook his head. He nodded to the pegasus knight behind Edelgard’s shoulder. “I look forward to you showing me your improvement, Ingrid.” The prince raised his spear. “For the glory of the Kingdom!”

Felix made a beeline for Ingrid, while Annette and Mercedes took on Ferdinand. Dimitri and Edelgard ran toward each other, steel crashing against steel, as ax and spear met with tremendous force.

Ferdinand dodged and weaved through the magical barrage of the two Kingdom mages. The Aegir heir, for all his bluster, possessed a keen tactical mind, and his spear clipped the more dangerous target, Annette. The young mage was sent flying backwards, to Mercedes’ horror.

Felix, meanwhile, dodged and weaved between Ingrid’s violent spear thrusts with an aggressive grace. He parried blow after blow without faltering, a look of ecstasy on his face. “Finally… a decent challenge. Maybe you’ll be a knight yet.”

The spear was a truly fitting partner for the Faerghus prince-though large and cumbersome, it was a devastating weapon, backed by tremendous force. Outside of Byleth, it was unusual for the princess to face an opponent who could match her strength. The ax was not a weapon suited for defense, and Dimitri’s ferocity forced the princess to leap backward to avoid the blows

Out of the corner of her eye, Edelgard saw that Ferdinand had eliminated both Annette and Mercedes from the battle, and was now moving to help Ingrid. Felix’s defensive strategy had begun to pay off, and Ingrid was tiring. As the swordsman pressed the attack, he seamlessly blocked Ferdinand’s spear as well. It was difficult to even see Felix’s weapon, so rapid were the nobleman’s attacks.

After a particularly brutal thrust of Dimitri’s lance, Edelgard swung her ax downward, locking the prince’s weapon under her own, and buying her a moment’s rest. Dimitri smiled. “You seem distracted, Edelgard.” The princess pushed him away with her arm, lungs gasping for air.

His words cut deeply. The inevitable war weighed heavily on the princess’ mind. Claude was an enigma, but she had no illusions that Dimitri would stand idly by while Edelgard attacked the Church of Seiros. The legitimacy of Dimitri’s rule, indeed, Faerghus’ very existence, relied on the Church. After all, without a Goddess to watch over it, how could the Holy Kingdom be holy? By whose right did Dimitri rule, if not the divine?

No, Dimitri would be an enemy, and this mock battle just a prelude to the horror and violence that awaited all of the students of Garreg Mach in the future. How many of her classmates would die at Edelgard’s word and ax? How much blood would be enough to satisfy her ambitions? How many would be sacrificed for Fódlan‘s new dawn?

A spasm of pain shot through Edelgard as the world turned grey, just as it had during the mission to stop Ingrid’s engagement. Edelgard looked down, and her academy uniform was gone, replaced by an ornate battledress. There was an unfamiliar weight on her head, and when she reached up, she felt the unmistakable curves of the Imperial crown upon her forehead. It was all so familiar, and yet so…wrong.

“Lady Edelgard…The Alliance and Kingdom forces have arrived.” A stern, brown-haired woman stood next to her, arms tucked behind her back. “The Imperial troops await your order.”

Strange words tumbled out of Edelgard’s mouth…”Thank you, Ladislava.” Who? She turned and looked out across the field. Claude was at the front of the canary-yellow Alliance forces, atop a wyvern. He was noticeably older, and his cheerful exuberance was replaced by a cold, rational stare. An older Hilda stood next to him. Both were carrying strange bone weapons. But where was-

“EDELGARD!” A voice screamed out across the plains. Dimitri stood, a vicious-looking spear in his arms. The bashful classmate Edelgard knew was gone. In his place was a snarling, angry demon, who was prowling the front lines of battle like a caged predator. He waved his spear frantically at Edelgard. “You will pay for what you’ve done! I will hang your head on the gates of Enbarr!” There was no sign of the nobility that had once defined the young prince. Gilbert and Dedue wordlessly observed the raving leader with impassive looks on their faces

Where were her friends? Where was Byleth? The princess’ eyes frantically scanned her troops. There was no sign of any of them. Dorothea, Petra, Linhardt, Caspar…the Black Eagles were gone. She searched the Deer and Lion forces-there were many familiar faces, but no sign of Sylvain, Ingrid, Marianne, or Lysithea.

The princess felt a crushing loneliness consume her. Had they died? Was this another nightmare? Perhaps Thales had- She felt a familiar arm grip her shoulder. “You must not appear so worried. Our troops need to believe our victory is inevitable.” Hubert was older, taller, his hair in an untidy arrangement that strangely suited him.

Edelgard feverishly grasped Hubert’s arm, his familiar face acting as a safe port for the princess’ troubled mind. “Where are they, Hubert? Where’s Byleth?”

Hubert gave his liege a sad, worried look. “They…are not here.”

“Where are-? What…what did I do?”

“You know as well as I that those…vermin made their choice.” There was something terrifying about the bitter venom with which Hubert spoke. Edelgard had only heard her retainer use that tone of voice for Aegir and his nobles. “You even went back to meet with them…and they still rejected you…rejected us.” There was always a hidden warmth to Hubert that only the princess knew, and now…that was gone. She barely could recognize him.

Edelgard wanted to scream, as her fingers tore at her strange outfit desperately. She backed away from Hubert, as the full import of his words sank into her mind. They had left her, she was alone…Always, always alone.

The Flame Emperor crumpled in front of her troops, hands gripping the side of her head. “Please…give them back! Please-“ She was tumbling, falling…

“STOP!” Color returned to the world, as Edelgard looked down at her familiar white gloves in disbelief. She was back in her academy uniform. It had been…a dream? A vision? Was she losing whatever remained of her mind?

 Dimitri lowered his lance slightly, concern in his eyes. “Edelgard, are you-“

A triangle of white magic burst through the trees, the Sagittae spell scattering Ingrid, Ferdinand, and Felix.

Out of the woods rode the heir to the Gloucester estate, his sharp features hidden under a mop of distinctive purple hair. “Claude may have been defeated, but until Lorenz Hellman Gloucester falls…the Golden Deer still stand!”

Felix used his sword to steady himself. “You can’t be serious. You think you can take on all of-”

“Ah, but I am not alone.” At Lorenz’s boast, spikes of dark magic converged around Felix, knocking him to the ground. Lysithea stood behind Lorenz, a determined expression on her face.

Edelgard turned to a stunned Ferdinand. “Retreat, now!” Without another word, Ferdinand galloped away from danger, while Ingrid took to the skies.

Lorenz appeared exceptionally pleased with himself. “Truly, all of this conflict is an offensive sight for a refined noble. What say you, Lysithea?”

Lysithea gave Dimitri and Edelgard a determined look. “I don’t have time for this, Lorenz…This is just an opportunity to test my strength, and I won’t waste it.” There was a quick flash of reluctance as the young mage’s eyes met Edelgard’s.

Edelgard cared for Lysithea deeply, to put it mildly. Truly, she doted on the Ordelia heir. To suffer loss as profound as the two women had experienced? They understood each other, and that bond, forged from tragedy and grief, connected them in ways impossible to articulate.

It meant there was no one that Lysithea or Edelgard wanted to hurt less than each other. The princess wanted to respect her friend’s independence…but to hurt her on the battlefield? Edelgard had steeled her heart to many evils, but this pain seemed too much to bear.

Both Deer began to launch a flurry of spells at Dimitri and Edelgard, causing the princess to dive behind a tree. Lorenz galloped toward the fallen Lion, preening all the while. “After I engineer a glorious victory for the Alliance from the ashes of Claude’s failure, all will recognize the greatness of Lorenz Hellman-“

Ingrid swooped down, and delivered a savage strike with Lúin that sent Lorenz tumbling headfirst into a nearby bush. Taking advantage of the chaos, Dimitri began to run toward Lysithea, intent on removing the dangerous mage from the conflict.

The confidence in Lysithea’s pink eyes was replaced by fear, as the prince dodged her spells, before deflecting a point-blank attack with his spear. As Dimitri’s imposing height loomed over the young mage, she did not look like a combatant, but like a frightened child. She raised her hand futilely to block the weapon’s attack …

“DON’T TOUCH HER!” Perhaps it was the vision she had just experienced, the profound sense of loss rattling in her head, but Edelgard could not stand by and watch. She ran forward, barreling into Dimitri’s back with her shoulder. As Dimitri turned, his spear slashed the top of Edelgard's back, leaving a deep gash between her shoulder blades. It felt like running into a tree, but the power of Edelgard’s charge sent the prince flying. His weapon landed harmlessly on the ground, as the princess held her ax over the prince’s prone body.

“Yield.” Her words were like ice.

“Fair enough. It was a rather dishonorable blow, Edelgard. I must watch my back more carefully in the future.” Dimitri smiled. “A lesson you must learn as well, I’m afraid.”

Edelgard turned around, to see dark magic coalescing around Lysithea’s arm. She was furious as she slowly stomped toward the princess. “How dare you! This is a mock battle, and you’re still coddling me! I thought you…of all people would understand!” She rubbed her eyes furiously. “I don’t need protecting! I don’t need saving! I’M NOT YOUR BABY SISTER!”

Edelgard dropped her ax to her feet. “I know how important proving yourself is, and you have every right to be angry with me…” She raised her arms in surrender. “I just…” The Flame Emperor swallowed. “I couldn’t watch you get hurt.”

Lysithea and Edelgard had spent years burying the tragedies of their pasts under goals and plans for the future. No one could ever understand, so why try? Instead, they ignored it all-the pain, the loss, and the terrible burden of living in a world that no longer made sense. Every time they looked at one another, it picked at the scabs that had formed over their hearts.

In that moment, they realized how badly they needed each other.

Lysithea lowered her arms, and stared at the green grass at her feet. “I...I… curse you, Edelgard!” The clanging of metal and footsteps distracted the two women, and Byleth and her battalion of Black Eagles emerged from the forest’s edge. Lysithea looked at the contingent of Black Eagles and shrugged her shoulders with resignation. “I take it you have eliminated the rest of my classmates?”

Byleth gave her a small smile and nodded.

“Then there is little point in continuing this further,” she said calmly, walking toward Edelgard before giving a small bow. “I yield.”

Edelgard smiled and slowly reached out her hand. “You were fabulous today. I am confident that your family are proud…because I certainly am.”

Lysithea’s pink eyes stared at Edelgard for a moment, before she grabbed the princess tightly, encircling her with a desperate hug. Lysithea, like Edelgard, was adept at hiding her emotions, but whether it was the passion of battle, or exhaustion, she was unable to contain the gratitude on her face. “Thank you…for protecting me.”

A momentarily shocked Edelgard gingerly returned the gesture. As the horns sounded to mark the Black Eagles’ triumph, she looked down at the young girl and smiled. “I always will. I promise. And thank you.”

Lysithea pulled away from the hug, and gave Edelgard a look of confusion. “For what?”

“For understanding why.”

No further words were needed, and Edelgard turned away from her fellow student, to prevent her feelings from overwhelming her. She made her way to a small rock, and collapsed against it, as the adrenaline of battle was replaced by fatigue and pain. The wound on her back would need treatment later. Her concerns momentarily disappeared as her teacher sat down beside her.

Byleth turned to Edelgard as they watched Lysithea converse with Dimitri and Lorenz. “I saw what happened. She means a lot to you, doesn’t she?”

The princess nodded. “Yes…like you, she is someone who…who can appreciate my struggles. I feel a deep connection to her.”

Byleth shook her head knowingly. “That’s how I felt that night in Remire.”

The princess tilted her head, clearly perplexed. “But how could you possibly know that? Why did you think I was special?”

“Because before I saw you...I never felt anything at all.” Byleth looked out toward the celebrating Black Eagles with a deep pride and fondness. "Protecting my students...protecting you..it's what makes me feel...alive" A look of distress came over her face. "If I didn't-if I ever turned my back on one of you when you needed help...I think I'd be giving up what makes me human."

The memories of Edelgard's terrible vision assaulted her mind. The horrible feelings of despair and loneliness were a vice on the princess' chest. As she grasped her teacher's hand, Edelgard's unsteady thoughts latched onto the faith of her youth. For the first time in many years, the girl offered a prayer to the Goddess.

Please, you've taken so much from me. Please...don't take her.