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The Emperor and the Goddess

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The clock began to chime to mark the quarter of the hour. Over and over, again and again throughout the empty Ordelia manor. It was late. Another day was gone. Lysithea tried to ignore the sound.

She could feel the burning in her arms as she scratched away at her quill with animalistic ferocity. It hurt, but that didn’t matter. It couldn’t matter. Whenever she wrote, her weakened fingers would begin to ache in minutes, unable to sustain the grip that most people took for granted. It was yet another gift of the experiments. She thought of her father, staring into the void as he did every evening since Lysithea could remember, and she gripped the quill harder. 

A spasm of pain shot through her hand, and she looked down in frustration. A cyst had formed on the back of her hand, ugly and unnatural. Just as aberrant as the rest of her. If she waited, the swelling would go down, and she’d be able to finish this problem tomorrow. All it would cost her was a day. All it would cost her was time. Once again, she heard the screams of her siblings in her mind, and whether they were half-remembered memories or simply guilt-ridden fantasies, she could not push away the sound. 

The clocks continued to chime. Back and forth. Over and over.

Before she could reconsider, she grabbed the heavy tome that rested in front of her, and slammed it into her hand, breaking apart the cyst and sending a torrent of fire throughout her fingers and joints. She held her breath, trying not to let out a sound, or disturb her parents. Finally, she opened and closed her fingers, feeling the movement return, and gave a satisfied nod. It would be sufficient.

Most people never thought about these things when they had to write. But Lysithea did. She had to think about how to carefully avoid hitting the furniture, so as to not to leave bruises that would linger for weeks. She had to consider how she slept, so as not to hurt herself when tossing and turning. She had to find strange and inconvenient ways to keep her hands warm, when her twin-crested blood failed to flow to her fingers in the cold depths of winter. And she had to live with the pain. The pain that was always there, the burning and stinging needles in her neck and toes and hips. The pain that had been a part of her for as long as Lysithea could remember.

She turned her face back down to the treatise on warp magic, and began to take notes.

“Sithy.”

Lysithea heard the voice, but didn’t turn around.

Undeterred, the figure sat down next to Lysithea, and began to gently stroke her arm. The young girl tried to ignore the sound, and kept writing, feeling her grip weaken.

“Sithy… it’s two o’clock in the morning. You’ve done more than enough for us today.”

Lysithea scribbled faster and faster, unwilling to look up. She hated it when people used her childhood nickname. She wasn’t a child. She couldn’t afford to be. So she kept writing, with a furious, hopeless drive. She had to keep writing, because if she stopped, she’d never be able to start again. Not with how much her fingers burned, and how much her heart ached.

“Please…” the woman’s voice begged. “You’ve done enough…”

The quill snapped from the force of her grip. She looked down at the broken instrument, before slamming it into the table in frustration. Lysithea gripped her head in her hands, refusing to look at the intruder. But the woman’s fingers were there, gently stroking her arm.

“You have another two bruises on your forearms, Sithy,” said the voice quietly. “Please… you have to be more careful. You have to rest…”

The clocks chimed.

“I KNOW, MOTHER!!!” shouted Lysithea, pulling away from the contact. “I KNOW! But this is—“ She paused, and for the first time that evening, met her mother’s eyes. All the anger vanished in an instant. “I… Mother… please accept my—“

Lady Ordelia held Lysithea tightly, as if this embrace could shield her beloved daughter from the damage that time and men’s cruelty had foisted upon her.

“Don’t you dare apologize,” whispered the woman softly. “Don’t you ever dare apologize, my brave, brave little girl.” She reached out, and shut the tome before Lysithea could react.

“Mother!” protested the young mage. “I’ll be attending Garreg Mach soon! There will students there who have received every advantage possible! Even graduates of the Fhirdiad School of Sorcery! If I’m not prepared… if I don’t excel… how can I ever hope to provide for you or Father?”

The mother looked down at the daughter, and something shattered in her eyes. She opened her mouth, but was unable to say anything. Lysithea filled the silence, unable to stand the look of pain on her mother’s face.

“My life…” Lysithea sighed, shifting her weight to distract from the ache in her hips and knees. “Ever since I can remember… I… I have known what I must do. I have to make sure you are provided for. Those shadow men… the ones who took away…” 

She paused, as her mother raised a hand to her mouth, her breathing speeding up, faster and faster as horrid memories began to claim her. Now, it was Lysithea’s turn to be strong and grab her mother’s arm, the woman’s preternaturally aged face and stark grey hair cutting deep into the young girl’s heart. 

“Mother… I don’t know how long I have. But… but I need to fight on, and focus on this goal. I need to do what I can for you and Father. I must believe that I can find some light in the dark. If I can’t… if I can’t grow and bear fruit… then what’s the point of carrying on?”

Her mother looked down at Lysithea’s wrist, still red from the injury she had sustained earlier that evening, and began to gently caress the sore area.

“And… what do you want?” She looked down at her daughter. “What about your dreams? Your life? That’s what your father and I want for you, more than anything.”

Lysithea thought of a happy household. Of multiple children tugging at her dress. Of teaching them to bake, and to practice magic, all without the pain that suffocated her like a pillow pressed over her face. She thought of being free to live as she wanted, released from the great, all-consuming task that was the only reason she took the first agonizing steps out of her bed each morning. And Lysithea von Ordelia pressed the feelings down, because this was the one pain that even she could not bear.

All she had was the pain. All she had was the promise to her parents. All she had was her fruitless dreams of revenge. The shadow men had taken everything else away. There was no life outside of this, no hope for anything better. This was all there would ever be.

Lysithea looked up at her mother’s face, and for once, the precocious young scholar could not arrive at an answer. All her knowledge, all her defenses vanished, and she felt like the scared little girl she was deep inside. She grabbed her mother, holding her tightly. 

“I… Mother… I don’t know. Even if I could… even if I could give you what you deserve, and kill the men who did this to us… I don’t… I don’t know what I’d do. They took away all those dreams. They’re… they’re all gone.” She covered her face with her hands, leaving only her bleached white hair visible. “What would anyone want with me?”

“Don’t give up…” said her mother with a smile. “I… I have prayed to the Goddess for you. I asked her to give you not what you wish to give to me, but what you long for in your heart. Friends, family… a life of your own. I have prayed for it every night, Sithy. And I have to believe that you will receive it.”

Lysithea could not share her mother’s faith, but as she looked in the woman’s eyes, she almost believed her. As if by some unspoken agreement, Lysithea did not protest when her mother began to gently guide her toward her room. They paused at the stairs, and when Lysithea’s fatigue proved too great, her mother supported her up each step.

The clocks continued to chime.

 



Lysithea had dreamed of this moment for as long as she could remember. Each time she startled at ghost stories, thinking again about the hazy, shadowy figures inflicting endless pain upon her. Each time she held her father’s hand, so weak and frail from the horrors life had inflicted upon him. Each time she felt the great yawning absence, the unanswerable question of why the Goddess had remained silent… it seemed to swallow everything Lysithea was in a cauldron of bitter anger. 

She didn’t want revenge, not anymore. The people who had ruined her life did not do it out hate for Lysithea von Ordelia. They didn’t care about her at all. The Ordelias simply were vulnerable, and the Agarthans took advantage, like a wolf attacking the weakest animal in the herd. The Church of Seiros had created a world built on a false foundation of divinely bestowed Crests, and the Agarthans had slithered into the cracks of a corrupt and detached nobility. No matter who held the knives that cut into Lysithea’s flesh, there were dozens more who allowed it to happen through silence and moral cowardice.

Lysithea was a scholar by nature, but that was the most valuable lesson she had learned from the failing, frail shell she inhabited. Revenge was the province of spoiled children. Now, she wished to make the world better, not just for the days of peace stolen from her, but so that future children could walk in the dark without fear.  

That was the difference between vengeance and justice, and that was why watching her friend bury a knife in Arundel’s back healed a lingering, awful wound at the core of Lysithea’s soul.

The leader of the Agarthans staggered, and Lysithea could see Monica lean forward, speaking just loud enough for those nearby to hear.

“You know… I lied to my friends about why I took on Monica’s name. I even lied to her father. I said it was because I wanted to be better, to be more than what you believed I could be….” 

For a moment, caught in frenzy of hate, Monica looked like the wanton killer she had once been. Then her eyes met Byleth and Lysithea, and she collected herself. 

“But I didn’t just do it for me. I did it because I knew that someday, I would make you pay for all that you’ve done… and that when I ruined everything for you, she’d be here… holding the knife with me.”

Her target let out a strangled gurgle of rage, and with a final burst of strength, swung his fist backward to strike his assassin. Monica stumbled and fell, her weapon still buried in the monster’s back. Lysithea readied a hex to defend her dear friend, but before she could even prepare the words, a wall of ice magic enveloped Lord Arundel. 

Marianne von Edmund was conjuring a Fimbulvetr spell, her face glistening with exertion and determination. She continued to unleash a blizzard, the power of the hex slowly immobilizing the body of the Agarthan leader. 

“I’m…” Every word was filled with a resolve and daring that would have once been unimaginable. “I’m not going to hesitate this time.”

Despite the spell consuming him, freezing his limbs and joints, he staggered toward the Emperor. For a moment, Arundel reached up toward Edelgard, a pathetic, pleading expression of false subservience on his face.

“My niece… it’s me. Your Uncle Volkhard… Aren’t I family? Don’t you love me anymore, El?”

He feebly stretched out toward Edelgard, and a look of horror and remorse crossed her face for just a moment. Lysithea felt her heart breaking for the woman she cared for so deeply, but all she could do was watch as he gripped the Emperor’s crimson armor in a final, wretched attempt at control. 

“You insult his life, his honor, and his memory by using that name,” said the Emperor in a voice as frigid as the storm surrounding her. “Know that I will mourn him.” She reached down, and pulled the fiend’s fingers off of her dress. “Just as no one shall mourn you.”

Arundel’s face contorted, as he tried to push toward his feet. Marianne increased the power of her spell, both arms raised as the maelstrom originating from her grew even more intense. The man’s body twisted and warped, pieces of the false disguise ripped away as the face of Volkhard Arundel was supplanted by the white, pupilless eyes of a monster. 

His body began to freeze, locking the fiend’s expression into a lingering display of powerless rage and bottomless hatred. He was sealed forever in that pose, his arm still pathetically grasping at Edelgard. Marianne’s spell finally dissipated, leaving only a macabre ice sculpture behind.

Monica hesitantly stepped forward, before pulling her dagger out of her tormentor’s back. It disrupted the fragile equilibrium, and Thales’s body wobbled and shook, before it fell to the ground and shattered into hundreds of pieces. For a few seconds, no one spoke.

“Sorry,” said Monica with a sheepish expression. “I really like that dagger.”

 



The first days at this new and strange school had been everything Lysithea feared. She was assigned to the Golden Deer house, the assembly of students from across Alliance territories. The Leicester nobles were disconnected. They lacked a strong central figure, and had neither the Empire’s traditions or the Kingdom’s chivalry to bind them together. Each house viewed the others as a rival, and an obstacle in the mad scramble for power that animated Fodlan. It was why when the Ordelias had been tortured and brutalized, no one had been there to help them.

Lysithea shook away the intrusive thoughts and concentrated on the task that lay before her. It was late. So late that no one else was up. She had been assigned to tidy the library, and the task had been complicated by her need to review texts to be completely prepared for Professor Manuela’s lecture. She stifled a yawn. Sleep came after everything else. She knew—

She heard the great church bells chime the passing of the half hour, and she shivered. The noise always sent a spasm of dread through her, reminding her of dark spaces and ghostly white figures. Suddenly, the library felt so much darker and cavernous than it had a few seconds before. Even the lights of the candles seemed to dim.

Lysithea ignored it. She was fifteen years old. That was old enough to attend this school, and study magic, and fight on the battlefields that the Archbishop assigned to her class. She was not afraid of the dark, and she was not afraid of those men, or ghosts, or whoever they had been. They did not control her, and they did not control her life. 

*Click-clack*

The tapping sound made Lysithea jump. It was coming down the hall, toward the door of the library, and getting closer. 

“Claude?” whispered Lysithea quietly. “Is that you?” When the sound continued, her fear curdled into anger. “Th-this… this isn’t funny!”

It probably was him. Claude had spent the first week scaring Lysithea in countless ways, claiming that it was…”part of making his own fun,” and it had made Lysithea feel even more alone than she already did. Ignatz and Raphael knew each other, Hilda had taken Marianne under her wing… and Lorenz and Claude were insufferable for completely different reasons. At least Leonie was nice… Goddess, Lysithea wished someone was here with her right now. 

She thought back to her mother’s prayer, and reflected on its impotence in the face of the evil that had marred Lysithea’s young life. She had focused on earthly, prosaic concerns, and yet all of it had meant nothing. She was still a scared little child, shaking like a leaf in the autumn breeze. She conjured a flame spell and pointed it toward the approaching door.

The figure entered, and Lysithea raised her arm back to launch a fireball at the approaching demon, when a flash of white hair stopped her.

“EDELGARD?!”

“Lysithea? What in the world are you doing?”

The Black Eagle house leader somehow retained her poise, even as a deadly spell was aimed at her head. It was as if she did not fear death at all. Lysithea lowered her arm, cowed, and not a little fearful. This woman was to be the Emperor. The daughter of the same Emperor that had sanctioned the Ordelias, and started her family on the path to ruin. The young mage’s eyes narrowed, but her companion seemed distracted. 

“Lysithea…” She muttered with a small but noticeable amount of annoyance. “Why are you in the library at this late hour?”

“I could ask you the same thing, Hresvelg,” grumbled Lysithea. “Unless you have also been assigned the leadership of the Golden Deer, I do not think I fall under your purview.”

“Fair enough,” said the Imperial princess, in a manner that seemed to express that it was anything but. “Has Tomas been in here? He was asking for me.”

“At half past one in the morning?”

The princess nodded her head.

“We have… things to go over.”

“Fine, keep your secrets,” huffed the young mage. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to finish cleaning the library, and you are in my way.” 

The princess had started toward the door, and Lysithea angrily grabbed a stack of tomes to place on the bookshelves. She took two steps before she felt the joints in her elbows loosen with a sickening pop, and the assembled priceless texts fell to the floor in a great and mighty heap. Lysithea let out a small grunt of pain, and lowered her head to collect the tomes, feeling her face redden.

She pushed down the anger and sadness and the inescapable, suffocating loneliness. How could she be so childish? So pathetic? This useless, weak body always let her down…

And then a gloved hand was there, carefully and expertly grabbing each of the books with a casual strength that Lysithea deeply envied.

“You probably tired yourself out moving these stacks of books to and fro,” said the older girl quietly. “Perhaps you should think things through a little more next time. Do you not consider how much physical strength a task takes before you begin?”

The princess was staring at Lysithea, or more accurately, staring above Lysithea. She was looking at the girl’s white hair, and her face was extraordinarily pale. It did not affect the mothering tone of the Black Eagles’ voice, nor the condescending, infuriating attitude… how could she understand?!

“I do not know why you talk to me so, Hresvelg,” said Lysithea. “I am the one who has to deal with my physical exhaustion. Of course, I’d expect no less from the Imperials. Always ready to lay judgement on others…” At these words, the princess’ face darkened, and she let out a long, slow breath.

“I only meant you should take care of yourself,” said the Black Eagle in an unconvincing attempt at an even-keeled tone. “Someone like you…”

“SOMEONE LIKE ME WHAT?” spat Lysithea. “A child? A member of the Alliance? A…” She quickly caught herself before she could say more, glaring at the Imperial princess all the while.

The princess went quiet, and all the royal regalia and poise that the Leicester noble feared so deeply, all the Imperial finery that was a cruel reminder of the life that had been taken from the Ordelias fell away. And suddenly, she smiled, and it was like Lysithea was seeing her for the first time. The smile was soft and gentle, nothing like the stern Adrestian leader that filled Lysithea’s heart with dreams of revenge.

“I’ll take care of these books, and finish tidying up. Why don’t you return to your quarters?” 

Lysithea gaped at Edelgard’s words. There was something about how she was talking… it reminded her of… the time before.

“I… I want to finish what I’ve started. I need to prove…”

“I don’t mind.”

Edelgard gripped Lysithea’s hand, and squeezed it tightly.

“I promise I will do an exemplary job, as befitting the child prodigy of the Ordelias. Now, go get some rest, Lysithea.”

It didn’t make sense. None of it made sense. Why was this woman acting like this? Why did she seem so different from the cold leader she had seen a moment before? Why did that smile, and the feeling of someone holding her hand, make the darkness seem to flee?

She pushed away, a distracted nod substituting for a response.

Lysithea paused at the door.

“Edelgard.”

The princess looked up from the many tomes that she was quietly stacking. 

“Thank you. You—“

Edelgard’s voice was harsh again

“Of course. Think nothing of it.”

But then the softness returned, and those pale purple eyes were gently smiling. Lysithea thought she should fear this woman, hate her… but the mage realized that kindness, that humanity… that was who the princess really was. And Lysithea wasn’t afraid anymore. Not of Edelgard.

“Just… promise me you will not overburden yourself? Please?”

Lysithea felt the redness encroaching upon her cheeks, and the happiness bubble up inside her like champagne. 

“I promise, Edelgard. I’ll… I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Lysithea.”

 


 


It felt like a mirage, as if Lysithea had only just now realized that she was in a dream. As if she had awakened to the crisp brightness of a morning where the awful events of her life disappeared like phantasms. It was over. The man who had ordered the murders of her siblings, who had plotted the bloody steps that led to the knives slicing into her arms… the person responsible for all of it was gone.

And yet her siblings were still dead. Her body still ached. The clocks continued to chime.

Lysithea’s eyes had roamed to Edelgard, a moment of understanding passing between them. A nod of the head substituted for all the things they wished to say and yet did not, and all the things they wished to shout at the heavens but could not.

“What shall we do with this one?” 

Seteth’s voice was filled with utter disgust as he held his spear to Cornelia’s throat. The woman appeared utterly unperturbed by the weapon’s proximity, and was instead devastated by the loss of her leader. She leaned back her head, and began to cackle with a horrifying abandon.

“Feeling righteous, Child of the False God? Does your holy spear make you feel like a big man?”

“No, only the obvious defects in your character,” spat Seteth. “How many lives have you taken? How many more have you shattered? Plotting in the darkness like vermin, all out of a petty sense of jealousy. You created the relics which killed my wife and brutalized my daughter. You terrorized my people until the few of us left were forced to retreat from the world. You disgust me.”

This proved too much for the mage, who wiped a tear of laughter from her eyes.

“The reason I disgust you, darling, is because you look at me… all my plots and schemes and manipulations… and you see yourself.”

She began to count with her fingers, ticking each accusation off with sadistic glee.

“We created life to advance our goals, and so did you. We controlled and manipulated the foolish nobles of this continent, and so did you. We hid among them, claiming to act in their best interests to advance our own aims, and so did you. You threw troublesome pests into underground slums underneath your oh so holy church…” She paused and smiled. “Actually, we never did anything that vile. Casting people underground is a bit of a sore spot for us, you understand.”

Flayn pointed the Staff of Caduceus at Cornelia’s face, but Seteth lowered it with his spear. He leaned forward. 

“We are nothing alike. I live to protect my daughter. That is my only goal.”

Cornelia shrugged.

“You’d let this world burn to save your daughter, and I’d do the same to kill you. It’s a question of priorities. The only difference between us is that I’m honest with myself. I know what I am, and what I live for.”

Byleth stepped forward, and pointed the Sword of the Creator aloft.

“And what is that?”

Cornelia smiled. 

“I lived in the darkness for a thousand years, amid the ruins of one of our once great cities. All our knowledge, all our learning was nothing compared the power of a god. And that suffering taught me something… it gave me and Thales and all the rest of us something all our texts and tomes and treaties could never dream of. Understanding. Wisdom. Enlightenment.”

She licked her lips, taunting the assembled group, as if they were the captives, and she their jailer.

“I spent a thousand years in the pit, with nothing to sustain me but the hate. I asked myself every day why I did not end my life, rather than wake to another day without light. And eventually, down in the darkness… I realized… I don’t want to see the sun anymore. I don’t even care whether our javelins turn this world into a wasteland that would make Aileil seem like a verdant paradise. All I want is for you, your little parasite of a daughter, and each and every one you overgrown lizards to die choking on your own blood. I live only to see you die, Nabatean.”

Seteth’s face went chalk-white, and his usually strong arm began to tremble as he stepped in front of Flayn. Lysithea could recognize the look even if few others could; it was the lost, hopeless feeling of being cast back into a remorseless deluge of agonizing memories. Whatever he was, a father or a coward or a Saint… her heart ached for him.

Lysithea was only driven out of her own ruminations by a guttural snarl, and a streak of red hair. Sylvain walked through her and Flayn as if they were not there at all. His legs and head shuffled forward as if his body were controlled by some awful dark spell, and the twinkling spark that normally shone in his eyes was missing.

He brandished a bloody sword, one that Lysithea recognized bore the Fraldarius family crest, and his scarred features were filled with rage. Before anyone could react, he shoved Seteth out of the way, and raised the weapon.

Sylvain thrust the sword downward, only to be blocked by Byleth’s relic. A thousand conversations seemed to pass between the prodigal Gautier and his beloved teacher, but no words were spoken as Sylvain struggled hopelessly to drive Felix’s sword into Cornelia’s face. Countless voices were shouting at Sylvain, telling him to stop, and all the reasons they needed to question her further. He refused. Finally, he whispered the words, so quietly Lysithea could barely hear them.

“She killed him. She killed Felix. She has to die.”

Byleth nodded, and her face fell.

“I know. But not like this. It won’t help you.”

“YOU DON’T KNOW THAT!” he snarled desperately, arguing just as much with himself as Byleth. 

The Enlightened One’s expression hardened. 

“Yes I do, Sylvain. It didn’t bring him back.”

Edelgard reached toward Sylvain, and this was enough to cause him startle violently, the army briefly devolving into jostling, chaotic bodies. That moment of distraction was all Cornelia needed, and she cast a violent explosion of light into the ground. Lights danced in front of Lysithea, and for a moment, all she could hear was a chorus of voices and stumbling figures. A burst of magic ripped through the air, and when Lysithea’s vision finally returned… Cornelia was gone.

Edelgard was upon Sylvian in a flash of crimson.

“Sylvain… what were you…” 

She paused, and sighed, fingers clamped on the bridge of her nose, before she turned back to old Black Eagle professor.

“My teacher, is there any chance you…”

Byleth shook her head. 

“I had to go back too far on the last one, I’ll need time to recover.”

Ignoring the confused looks from the other members of the army, Edelgard turned back to Sylvain. The lancer’s shoulders were heaving with a combination of exhaustion and grief, and dried blood was blotched over the remnants of his once gorgeous face. She stared at him for a moment, before her expression softened. 

“You need healing. We’ll debrief and discuss afterward.”

The Emperor began to look for a healer, when Flayn raised a diminutive arm in the air.

“I… I shall endeavor to help him as best I can. Though I do not claim to understand his pain, I also am all too aware of what grief…” She paused and took a deep breath. “I wish to help him, because he was my classmate and friend, and to show you that I am not like that woman. Can you trust me with this task, Emperor Hresvelg?”

Purple eyes met green, and after a few tense moments, Edelgard gave an approving nod. Flayn reached out to Sylvain and smiled, offering her hand as a sign of support. 

“Flayn, I must ask you to be careful—“

Seteth raised a hand toward his daughter, but she did not respond, instead helping a deeply distressed Sylvain totter away from the group. He turned to Edelgard and Byleth, his face taking on some of the fire that it had shown that day years before on the Rhodos Coast. 

“I am not comfortable with my daughter being alone with that man. If a hair on my daughter’s head is harmed because of a violent outburst from an out-of-control…“

His next words were cut off as a fist collided with his face, sending the former teacher tumbling to the ground. Ingrid glared at him, appearing ready to leap down and strike him further, but collected herself.

“Goddess… just shut up. Why don’t you let your daughter make her own decisions, you self-righteous bastard?” The words were spoken, but that only made their immense anger more frightening. “Flayn is doing all she can to help… which is more than I can say for you. Sylvain stepped in front of a sword for me. That’s more courage than you’ve ever shown in your entire worthless…”

“Ingrid.”

Edelgard rested a hand on the knight’s shoulder. 

“Sylvain needs you. Go check on him. That’s an order.”

Ingrid bowed, and without another word, hastened away. Seteth remained on the ground, his fingers massaging his jaw, quietly watching Ingrid retreat into the distance. After an awkward pause, Byleth turned to the assembled group with preternatural calm.

“Meet with your battalions. We need to prepare to rest here tonight. We leave for Fhridiad at dawn.”

The groups dispersed, Monica giving Lysithea an odd glance before she hastily departed. Lysithea had missed her friend dearly, and had only a moment to wonder what could be wrong when she felt a red glove gently squeezing her wrist.

“Lysithea.”

“Edelgard… he’s… he’s gone.”

The Emperor nodded, her features deceptively neutral.

“He is.” 

Lysithea wanted to do something childish and silly like wrap her arms around Edelgard, but she refrained. They were friends. Close associates. Lysithea did not want the Emperor of Adrestia to find her actions juvenile after all this time, even if they had killed the ghoul who had…

“I must ask you a favor, Lysithea.” She squeezed her young companion’s shoulder. “Our work is not yet done. Cornelia will doubtless be marshaling what scraps of resistance she can, and the Archbishop and the King still stand in the way of our goal. We may have avenged our siblings, but the hard work of building a better world remains.”

“If this is a question of whether I will remain by your side, Edelgard… I believe in those things just as much as you do.“

The mighty Flame Emperor shook her head, and leaned toward Lysithea.

“This is a favor not as your commander, but as…” Her face reddened. “I apologize. I should have asked you sooner, but the things I have seen today...”

Lysithea felt her curiosity building, and tilted her head.

“Lysithea…” whispered Edelgard. “When I had… before… my closest sisters… they always…” She paused and swallowed, voice so different from the commanding speeches Lysithea had heard countless times. The young mage felt something immense begin to swell in her heart, as she waited for Edelgard’s words. “They called me El.” Immediately she stepped back, as if a snare was about to snap shut. “If you would forgive the impropriety…”

Before Lysithea realized what she was doing, she grabbed Edelgard and embraced her tightly. It was everything she had needed but hadn’t realized, everything she longed for but did not dare to petition the Goddess. The loneliness fled from her, helpless against this single, simple request, as the one thing Lysithea had wanted, the one thing her mother had prayed for, came true.

Lysithea had a sister again.

 


 

It had been a year, but it felt like a lifetime. Lysithea had seen so much, experienced so much at Garreg Mach. And yet here she stood in her family study, the torturous, pained path of her life turning out to be a loop all along. 

The gentle squeeze of Marianne’s hand calmed her. Edelgard had wanted to come, to explain through one of the grand speeches that seemingly sprung out of her unbidden, but Lysithea had finally convinced her that her family needed time. Marianne was here as a fellow member of the Alliance, and a representative of the Black Eagle Strike Force, but Lysithea knew the most difficult questions would be aimed at her.

“Sithy?” 

The voice caused Lysithea to stand at attention. Her father tottered in, older and greyer and more shrunken than Lysithea even remembered. He was so broken, his frail and fraying strands of grey hair a match for the whispered croak of his voice. He attempted to lean into his chair, causing Lysithea to move forward to assist him, as she had innumerable times before. 

He let out a few breaths, collected himself, and then shook his head. Lysithea waited, and the man collapsed backward into the chair’s embrace. Lysithea and Marianne took a seat, the blue-haired holy knight giving the man a reassuring smile. Regardless, Count Ordelia’s face never left his daughter.

Her father seemed to be searching for the right words, the perfect thing to say, before he finally threw his hands into the air. 

“I received the reports. You fought alongside the Empire in the Siege of Garreg Mach, and envoys from Riegan, Goneril and Daphnel were here within a day. Edmund met with me, congratulating me on my political acumen. They all wanted to know what my intentions were, and I couldn’t answer.”

“Father…” Lysithea lowered her head. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t.” His eyes shone with pride. “I know you, Sithy. Your mother and I have trusted you, since you were made to shoulder a weight no person should ever carry. We believe in your decision, my daughter… but what I want to know is why you trust her. You know what the Empire can do. What they have cost our family. Do you truly believe in this woman?”

Lysithea’s eyes met Marianne’s, and the two women smiled at one another. Marianne gave Lysithea a gentle nod, prodding her forward.

“Father…” Lysithea crossed her hands together. “For so long… I believed that my duty, my responsibility, lay in insuring a comfortable life for you and for mother. That was all I had to grasp, because the world had taken everything else from me. I could never have the things so many others did, and I tried to be at peace with that unfairness, galling as it was.”

Her father nodded, his aged eyes shimmering with pride at this girl who loved him so deeply.

“But this year, being around Edelgard, and these people I’ve come to know, and my Professor…” Lysithea trailed off, the wound still lingering. “They have shown me something else. All of us… we’re fighting for a dream. For something more. I thought I was alone, but there’s a whole world of people suffering under the injustices of Crests and nobility. I can’t simply fight for our family anymore. Not with what I know. Now with what I’ve seen!” She smashed her hand into the table, emotion overwhelming her. “This is… this is something bigger than our private grief.”

Her father quietly took a sip of tea. 

“And you are willing to kill for this dream? To ally with the Empire, and against our homeland?”

“I am.” 

The mage stood, ignoring the pain in her knees.

“Father… if I spent my remaining few years trying to provide you and mother with a comfortable life, I would be honoring my duty as your daughter. But there are so many others — women sold off to bear the next generation of Crested nobility, forsaken children abandoned into the street, callous nobles murdering innocent merchants without any recompense. All because the Church of Seiros has taught the world that Crests confer the right to rule. I have to…. I must spend what few years I have left focused on changing this world for the better, so future children can peacefully sit under the trees I plant. A world where people can never dream of anything better, scrounging for the petty scraps of comfort those in power allows us to have… that is no future at all. And it changes. Now. That is my duty not just as your daughter, but as a daughter of Fodlan.”

Count Ordelia’s face lit up, emotion and life returning to his gaunt, worn features.

“And this Emperor Hresvelg? She shares these goals? She… understands the burdens you carry?”

Lysithea leaned forward, her expression stark.

“She understands more than anyone else I have ever met.”

The man put a hand to his mouth, face full of relief and horror and anger and sadness, all at once. 

“She… you mean… the Hresvelgs’ ten dead children… Goddess…”

Lysithea did not move or waver, ignoring the pain in her joints and limbs, and the clock chiming to mark a quarter to. She simply stared at her father, eyes burning with resolve and righteous outrage.

“She… she and the rest of the Eagles have given me something I never believed I would have again. That is all I can say.”

Count Ordelia seemed at the verge of losing composure for a brief instant, but then a new power seemed to animate his tired limbs. He reached across the table, and grabbed his daughter’s arm. 

“Then when this Emperor Hresvelg goes into battle, and fights to give hope to all of us who had given up hope… she shall have our support. Not just yours, or mine, or your mother’s… but all the Ordelias shall fight alongside the Empire.” 

He lowered his head.

“Whether or not they can be seen by mortal eyes.”

 


 

“Black magic is not fundamentally different than dark magic, Linhardt! When will you get it through your irritating, childish skull!”

Like the rest of camp, Lysithea had spent the evening miserable and frustrated by Cornelia’s escape. After all the sorrow that had come with fighting and killing old friends such as Felix and Ashe, the mood was somber, and the recognition that more days such as this would soon arrive made the atmosphere more somber still.

And then Linhardt had entered, seemingly distracted as always, and began to argue with Lysithea about an old academic debate they had shared back as students at Garreg Mach. It had persisted over the five years of war, stopping and starting just as much as the battles and fighting, and Lysithea could not begin to guess what had driven him to relight the fires of conflict this evening.

“I’m telling you, Lysithea. To deny that there is a difference in origin is foolish, don’t you remember—“

“Are you really about to quote the Nuvelle papers on conservation of spellcasting energies to me? Linhardt, you know I am perfectly aware of one of the foundational arguments in the theory and history of magic. How could you be so—“

Lysithea paused, and looked at Linhardt’s stoic, half-lidded expression. He leaned forward, and waited for her next words. A realization flashed through the woman’s keen mind, and she was struck speechless.

“Yes?” said Linhardt, waving his hand idly.

“You do know. You know very well what we’re arguing… you just wanted to distract me. You…”

Lysithea von Ordelia had spent her entire life carrying a quiet seed of hope in her heart, one that she had not even dared to share with her closest friends and confidants. She had dreamed of love. And what was so strange and funny and beautiful was that it had found her, shaped not like a dashing prince on horseback, but an eccentric scholar who still nearly fainted at the sight of blood. He was the most maddening and magnificent person that Lysithea had ever met.

Linhardt shook his head, a small smile creasing his face as he stared at the floorboards beneath his feet.

“I simply wished to correct your obvious error, Lysithea. Can you imagine the embarrassment of having someone so close to me continue to say such ridiculous things?” 

“You put up with Caspar, don’t you?”

There was a pause, before the two soldiers began to laugh. They laughed and laughed, and for once, Lysithea didn’t feel sick or in pain. She felt like her. She felt alive, and as if nothing could ever hurt her again.

And then the cold night air hit her lungs, and her laugh turned into a harsh and rasping cough.

Linhardt was there in a second, those half-opened eyes now keenly alert and aware. He stared at her intently as he guided her toward her bed, only relaxing when her head hit the pillow.

“I have a vulnerary…”

“I am fine,” said Lysithea firmly, hoping to convince both Linhardt and herself. “I simply need rest. I… overtaxed myself today.”

Linhardt nodded, and began to pull four colorful and pungent tonics from the satchel he carried with him. “This one should be taken right when you get up, for the pain, and this one needs to be taken with your breakfast…” He stopped, as Lysithea’s hand was resting on his.

“I know…” She said with a smile. “You tell me every night.” She rubbed his hand gently, the warmth in his hands easing her ruined fingers. “You’re trying so hard. I never imagined anyone like you or Edelgard would… care about me. It…” She paused, unwilling to say more.

Linhardt looked away again. He often had trouble meeting Lysithea’s eyes, and it was one of the strange little quirks that accumulated on Linhardt like lint on a black academy uniform. Once, Lysithea thought it was because he was disinterested, but now she understood that it was because it helped him collect his thoughts, and that he cared more than anyone. It made her realize that he was fighting a battle too, and she could not help but wonder if that shared struggle was how they had found each other. His hands rested on the bedside table.

“It’s… it’s why I fight.” Linhardt shrugged. “I hate battle. I hate war. I hate all of this bickering and posturing and theatre. It’s… beyond me.” He rested his fingers on the bridge of his nose and sighed. “But… I’ve realized. I can’t…”

Lysithea stood up, and looked at him intently, waiting for him to continue speaking.

“Lysithea… when you were hurting… not just in pain, but from all the things those people did to the Ordelias…byou wanted revenge. It was eating you up from the inside, just as much as those two Crests. And I started to think… how lucky was I? I had the chance and privilege to run away from everything difficult in my life, because I was a noble. And all people like you and Edelgard had… was this.”

He held her white hair in his hands.

“What good was all my knowledge? What good was anything, if I stood by, while people I…”

He looked away, his cheeks red.

Lysithea leaned forward and gently kissed him, before resting her forehead on his.

“I know… and you have, Linhardt. After the experiments… I was empty. I was living for others, never thinking about myself, because it was too painful. But then I found people like you and Edelgard, and you gave me something to fill that void in my heart. Love is a tide, and it has raised both of us up.”

She felt a childish crack develop in her voice, but she didn’t care. She had to get the words out.

“You’ve done so much, not just for Edelgard or me, but for all our friends. That bravery… that kindness… that’s why I love you. That’s why, when all this is over, if you’d…” She paused and blushed. “However long or short my life is… whatever may come… I want to spend each and every day of it with you.”

Linhardt gave a solemn nod.

“We will spend many happy years together.”

Lysithea felt the emotions well up, but pushed them down.

“Don’t promise—“

He placed a hand on her lips.

“And if my intelligence is not what I believe it to be, then we will just have to fit decades of joy into every single day.”

It was such heartfelt moment, the knock on the door made both of them jump.

“Hey… Lysi?”

Monica’s voice was as hesitant as Lysithea had ever heard, even when she was struggling in the impromptu lessons that the young Leicester mage had tutored her in. Linhardt made his way to the door, and with a final private glance backward at the woman he loved, opened the door.

The Agarthan smiled at the sight of Linhardt, but the healer raised his hand. Before Linhardt could speak further, Monica gently elbowed him in the side.

“Don’t you start complaining, Linny, or I’ll set Caspy on ya!” When this failed to elicit the desired response, her pale face became serious. “I know she needs rest. I promise I’ll stop if she so much as sneezes. Deal?” She stuck out her hand with her signature bombastic bravado.

Linhardt sighed, and shook it. “Fair enough. But I’ll be—“

“Right outside. We know, we know.”

She shot Lysithea a look over the scholar’s shoulder that brought a spasm of laughter to Lysithea’s frail body. Monica waited for Linhardt to leave the room, slowly rocking back and forth on her heels like an overgrown child. Even after the door was shut tight, the display of nervousness continued. A red eye lifted toward the ceiling.

“Edel told you before everyone else, huh?”

Lysithea nodded. “She and Professor Byleth took me into their confidence about the switch… but I had my suspicions beforehand.” The air felt heavy. “I think I knew from the beginning, but I must confess I was rather disappointed…” She trailed off.

Monica hung her head.

“I… that’s why I’m here. To apologize. Not just about lying to you, but… that time back down there, trying to convince all those people to just listen to what I was promising… I realized I had done something really, really terrible to you.”

Lysithea looked at the anguish on her friend’s face, but could not find anything to say.
 
“I… had to listen to Thales boast. Constantly. Always talking about his plans. And sometimes he mentioned your family. But the thing was… he didn’t care. He wasn’t angry or proud. You didn’t mean anything to him. He was so angry and hateful, so obsessed with killing the Children of the Goddess, that everyone and everything… they weren’t even people anymore.”

Monica turned her back to Lysithea.

“And I used to be just like him. I thought that being cruel… I thought it was funny.”

Lysithea shot upwards like a dart.

“You had nothing to do with my family’s murders, Monica. You do not bear that responsibility. Look at what you did today—“

“BUT I WOULD HAVE!” shouted the Agarthan. “I’m only good because of people like you and the Professor and Edel! If Thales had asked me to kill your family, I would have done it without a thought, all to make him proud! All those lives I took. The weight…” She stared at her hands, and whispered the words so quietly Lysithea could barely hear. “I don’t deserve…”

“Don’t deserve what?!” Lysithea waggled a finger at her friend. “A life? A path to do something other than be the Agarthans’ little disposable plaything? Because if you think you don’t deserve it, then you’re also saying I don’t either! So what’s this really about?”

Monica stared at Lysithea for a moment, her one red wavering, before she stomped her foot with a childish petulance, and unleased a scream at the ceiling.

“I can’t tell you! Once you know you’ll be—”

“Can’t? Or won’t?”

The Agarthan spun around with a dancer’s grace, and leaned toward Lysithea.

“That when you were teaching me, and feeding me, and laughing with me, and helping me find out how to do something other than stab people with a dagger, I did something really selfish. I started to…” She bit her lip. 

“Yes?” said Lysithea quietly.

“I started to think you were my friend.”

Lysithea stared at the Agarthan’s anguished face, before quickly grabbing her hand. Monica’s voice started to tremble.

“I didn’t realize until I had to go back down into the pit how awful I was. Everything in Agartha is about vengeance and hate, and I had soaked it up like a rag. I killed people, Lysi. Innocent people, just like your family. And after all you’d done for me, I still wanted more. I still wanted you to be my friend, when you have every right to hate me. How… how selfish could I be? Even after today, when people were calling me a hero, I realized… I’ll never make up for what I’ve done. I can’t. So I made a decision. I can’t bring your family back, but I can do this for you.”

She tossed Lysithea her dagger, and knelt before her, hands outstretched. Her face was a frightening combination of irrationality and grief, as she bowed her head.

Lysithea held the knife in her hands. She thought about all the hopes and dreams that had been taken from her, all the possibilities that would forever be blocked away through the abuse and hatred of the Agarthans. A spasm of anger shot up inside her, frightening and uncontrollable as an eruption at Mount Ailiel. It sent a surge of pain through her fingers.

She thought of Edelgard and Byleth. She thought about how they could have chosen to hate the world for what had happened to them, but had instead treated Lysithea with kindness and compassion. She thought about how hollow and lonely revenge would be, when compared to the beauty of building a better world alongside her friends. And… she thought of the broken and lost woman beneath her feet, and all the years of friendship that had developed between two people who should never have been friends. The answer was simple.

“No. I refuse. You think that vengeance will bring me, or the Professor, or Edelgard peace? All these people — the Church and the nobles and the Agarthans — they treated us as tools, Monica. For their dreams and goals, all to create dawns we would never see. So listen closely, and I’ll tell you what I want…”

The mage threw the dagger onto the floor with a rattling clank and knelt, gently resting her head on Solon’s sacrificial offering.

“I don’t want to lose you.”

Monica looked up, and all that doubt and sorrow melted away like shadows fleeing from the sun. She embraced her friend, and began to laugh and cry with so much joy and relief that Lysithea could not stop laughing and crying as well.

“Now…” said Lysithea with a smile. “Edelgard has gifted me more candies than even I could ever eat, and I have found that Enbarr’s finest teacakes and toffees taste a little sweeter in the company of my best friend. So…” She squeezed Monica’s palm. “Shall we, Monica Eisner?”

The Agarthan nodded, and for the next hour, the two friends laughed and joked and caught up with one another, never thinking about Thales or Agartha or what had been done to them. They were around someone who understood, and it was enough.

And for once in Lysithea’s life… the clocks were now longer chiming. For once, she felt free.

 


 

“You know what clinched it, Professor?”

Caspar delivered the words with a casual, relaxed stance. It would have been offensive to the throne of the Emperor… if both Byleth and Edelgard knew that Caspar could no more change that part of himself than the blue of his hair. He stepped forward, and slapped his old Professor on the shoulder, staggering her for a moment. Edelgard stifled a sigh.

“Before she went down, Monica bought a great big bag of Lysithea’s candies, just like you suggested. And whenever she was talking to one of them, and telling them about the surface and what it could be like… she’d give ‘em a piece.” Caspar’s face gleamed with pride. “Monica said after all they had was paste and gruel… well, she’s a smart one.”

“She is,” agreed Byleth with a quiet smile, causing Count Bergliez’s son to turn as red as a cherry. “How is the situation down there?”

“Chaotic, from what little Mon’s…” Caspar coughed loudly. “I mean, what Monica’s told me. Most of the leadership is dead, but it was a hell of a fight. I’m sure some got away, and there are going to be a bunch of them scattered all over. Kronya’s heading down there first thing to try to bring order. But they have hope, now. They want to come up here, and just eat some damn food, even if it comes from the Goddess… revenge, hate, the dark… they’re done with all of it.”

Edelgard walked toward her desk, lost in private deliberations.

“We’ll need a treaty of surrender to officially recognize the refugees, and establish how they are to be treated. If we can promise them food, shelter, and a path forward, I believe they will be resistant to any attempts by Cornelia’s insurrectionists to reengage in conflict.”

She paused and gave a knowing smile to Byleth.

“But that will require a representatives for both the Empire and of Agartha.”

Caspar appeared thoroughly confused by Edelgard’s actions, beyond the general atmosphere of gentle bafflement that usually surrounded the brawler’s thick head. Once, Edelgard would have thought Caspar’s straightforwardness a worry; a disaster waiting to happen in a future already full of snares. But as she had begun to realize the consequences of her own constant mental ruminations, she had come to realize that directness was an asset not to be underestimated.

“So… Edelgard… I mean, Your Majesty… who do you want for that? Ferdinand is good with treaties, and I can grab him…”

“Caspar.” Edelgard’s voice took on a gently teasing tone. “Have you considered your future? When the war is over?”

“Well…” The young man shrugged. “I’d always thought about travelling, I suppose. I had nothing to tie me down. Thought I’d try to make a name for Inferno Caspar, y’know? But now I have…” He began to blush. “There’s something else waiting for me.”

“Well,” Edelgard gave her old classmate an efficient nod. “I have been giving this much thought… and these people who will come out of the earth… they are very different than us. Even a brief time underground can…” A shadow crossed the Emperor’s mind, until a gentle squeeze from Byleth’s arm pulled her back to the world. “They have powerful tools and spells, that may be used for great good, but they also have been taught to mistrust by a thousand years of hate.” 

Caspar nodded politely, the full scope seeming to escape him.

“Just as you once told me, I cannot save everyone. And this is one of those instances. They do not need me to lecture them or Hubert to terrify them,” said Edelgard quietly. “They need someone forthright, and honest to a fault. Someone whose sincerity is more powerful than any creed of revenge. They need you, Caspar.” She placed an arm on his shoulder. “That is why when I establish an official Imperial Ministry position dedicated to the incorporation of Agartha into a new united Fodlan… I wish for you to run it.”

Caspar stared ahead, before quietly shambling backward in shock. He nearly tumbled headfirst over a chair before Byleth’s arm caught him. 

“You mean…” Caspar looked at Edelgard, then to Byleth, then back to Edelgard. “You want me… just like you want to set up that position for Lin…” He mumbled down at the carpet. “Even Dad always told me I had to make my own way… he said it wasn’t fair, but I never thought…”

“There was total agreement when I broached the topic with the Strike Force. We all believed you were exceedingly suited for the position, but the most enthusiastic approval came from Hubert. He said…” Edelgard adopted a maniacal gleam in her eye and a husky tone to her voice. “If there are any issues underneath the earth, Your Majesty, the sounds of Caspar’s shouting shall reach all the way to the palace throne room.” Caspar’s face lit up at these words, and he began to shyly rub the back of his head.

“And Kronya said you were a wonderful host,” said Byleth fondly. “She grumbled to me, but she admitted you were—“

“Actually…” Caspar appeared uneasy. “I appreciate everything you’ve done for me, and I promise this is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me, and I’m absolutely thrilled, Edelgar— Your Majesty, but with everything that’s happening, there’s someone I still need to talk to.“

He stopped at the sound of tent flaps opening, as a familiar flash of orange hair appeared. Caspar turned, his arms dangling at his side.

“Hey, Caspar,” said Monica quietly. “Dorry said you were here.” 

There was a pause, and then Caspar was upon her, lifting and spinning her around while laughing as if the weight of the world was lifted off his shoulders. As Monica’s protests turned into a laugh herself, Edelgard found Byleth’s hand and gently squeezed.

“Look at us,” said Monica with a grin. “Count Bergliez’s second son and that old creep’s failure of a daughter! I guess natural trouble-makers like us were bound to end up together.” She leaned forward to kiss him when Byleth coughed loudly. As Caspar and Monica blushed, Byleth flicked her hand toward the exit of the tent. As Monica looked at her adoptive sister with adoration, the two figures quickly vanished out the door, and into the darkness.

 


 

“Are you all right, El?”

In private, with Byleth at her side, Edelgard felt the event of the day crash over her in a great and mighty wave. She slumped into her chair, thinking back to Annette, and Felix, and Ingrid, and all she had seen. The Emperor was not a woman who wished to foist her emotional burdens upon others, but Edelgard found Byleth’s presence seemed to peel away all those old defenses. 

“I… talked to the other you,” said Edelgard quietly. “I warned her about the javelins, since in that world, Monica is… gone.” The Emperor remembered seeing Ingrid’s last breaths, and thought of how no one had even been there for comfort in the other Marianne and Monica’s final moments of terror and pain. For a woman who knew isolation as intimately as Edelgard did… it cut deeply.

“Is that all that happened?” stated Byleth. She offered Edelgard a foul-smelling flask that the Emperor recognized as Jeralt’s. When Edelgard declined, the Enlightened One downed the contents with a mighty swig, before coarsely wiping her face. Carrying herself with a still-surprising gentleness, she sat next to her old student. “What did you see, El?”

“Ingrid died,” whispered Edelgard. “She wanted to die, and there was nothing else I could do. That other Ingrid… it was both her and wasn’t her. We could have been enemies so easily, and I never would have…” 

Byleth nodded, and waited.

“And… Annette and Felix helped me. They fought on our side, just as Ingrid fought against us. It all seems… obscene, my teacher.”

Byleth rested her hands on the nearby desk, her calloused fingers gripping the table with a force that blanched them white. Her shoulders rose and fell, and for a few seconds, Edelgard feared for the woman she loved.

“It’s my fault,” she said quietly. “I am a professor. A teacher. A god. And because of my choices… Felix, Ashe… forgive me.” For a moment, she seemed buried by the weight, before she turned back toward Edelgard, smiled, and rested a cold hand on the Emperor’s cheek. “It’s just like Sothis told me… I had to cut a path to future I wished to see.” 

Byleth was so beautiful in that moment, such a fantastic mix of human and divine, the breath seemed to flee Edelgard’s lungs. How could this woman, this flawed, strange, perfect woman be real? How could she love Edelgard? Even now, the Emperor could not answer. She knew what Byleth gave to her — guidance, endless kindness and compassion, hope — but what could Edelgard truly offer her? They all adored her, and yet it was Edelgard who had received this fantastic blessing she did not deserve.

“This cycle of conflict…” Byleth put a hand to her chin. “It’s larger than both of us. Seteth and Cornelia and all of this… it’s been going on for centuries, and when I think of all the people that I couldn’t possibly help, innocents who died without anyone there to listen to them… I feel a weight…” she pointed to her heart, and frowned. “Even if I sided against you, El… I still would have to wield a blade, in the name of peace. This world of Sothis’… does it make sense to you?”

Edelgard shook her head slowly.

Relief washed over Byelth’s face. “Thank goodness,” she whispered. “I just wish I could ask her. Sometimes, I have so many questions. About who and what I am, and where I belong.” 

The Emperor reached out her arm, and squeezed Byleth’s fingers.

“I’m sorry that your friend is gone.” 

“Thank you, El.” At these words, vitality seemed to return to her limbs, and Byleth straightened up to her full height. “All the people in my life… my parents, Sothis… they sacrificed themselves so I could live. There was a reason for that. I won’t give into despair. I can’t.” 

She paused, her green eyes casting about for something Edelgard could not place.

“Sometimes, El… when I sleep… I dream about a life before. A life spent as a wandering flame, all because I allowed others to choose my destiny for me. And even though in that life, I killed you, you taught me something more important than any lesson I ever gave you.” She ran her fingers through Edelgard’s snow-white hair. “If I wish to be a teacher, a leader, a human… I cannot yield. You always fought for what you believed in, even if you didn’t live…” Her fingers began to tremble as they rested against Edelgard’s face. “I may not be a hero like you… but I want to walk alongside you, and fight for this dream we share.”

Edelgard stared up at her teacher, her friend, her partner, and smiled. All this time, with all the doubts and recriminations and fears the Flame Emperor had wrapped tightly to her chest, Byleth had believed Edelgard to be just as much a ballast in the storm. El felt like a bud in the spring rains, this woman’s faith giving Edelgard hope to carry on. 

And then Byleth interrupted, momentarily readopting the subtle probing tone of a professor.

“Have you talked to Ingrid?”

 


 

After a fruitless visit to the medical tents and stables, Edelgard had been guided to Sylvian’s tent by Petra. The normally stoic Brigid princess’ face was filled with concern, and the Emperor stood outside the tent flaps with no small amount of concern for both of her friends from Faerghus. Edelgard took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and opened the door.

Sylvain was sprawled out on the floor, body seemingly immobilized by despair. The deep frown he wore seemed only to accentuate the gash on his face, crinkling his features like a crumpled bit of paper. 

Ingrid stood above him, her face vacillating between frustration, melancholy, and despondency. When she saw Edelgard, her posture subtly relaxed, before turning back to Sylvain.

“See!” she said, finger pointed at Edelgard. “Petra, Edelgard, Byleth… we’ve had everyone in here! Do you still think they hate you!?”

Sylvain quietly shook his head. All the fight seemed to have left him. 

“It’s my fault…” he finally offered. “I saw her, and I just…” He looked down at his hands. “I could see Felix in my head, and then everything just… went away. I had to hurt her. I had to stop seeing…” He trailed off, and put his head in his hands. “If you’re done with me, I understand. One less selfish, useless bastard to put up with.”

Ingrid looked at Edelgard, completely adrift. They both watched their friend for a few moments, before the Emperor finally spoke.

“We need you. Your tactical brilliance and your strength, as we try to finish this fight.”

“NO, YOU DON’T!” barked Sylvain, as he roared back to life. “You need people like Ingrid, or Petra or Caspar! Good people. People who are doing this for the right reasons. People who weren’t hiding this inside them…” He gestured at his mangled face. “But now you can see.” He let out a horrible, hopeless laugh, a sound that made both Ingrid and Edelgard wince. “At least it all matches now.”

Edelgard knelt before Sylvain, and extended an arm. 

“Sylvain… I must confess something. The professor has the ability to rewind time… to control it, and guide us to safety on the battlefield. She has seen us all die, countless times, and reset the events so that they never occurred.”

Sylvain’s face flashed through a thousand emotions, and Edelgard could feel Ingrid startle behind her, but she pressed on.

“When she does so… something in the Crest that I share with her… it allows me to remember the events. And not only that, but I am given glimpses of worlds and paths I did not travel. In some of these worlds, these dreams, I take steps to win… to end the cycle that took my family…. and it twists and warps me. Inside and outside, until I am nothing but a husk.” 

Sylvain nodded, his rage retreating like the tide. He was following Edelgard’s words with a desperate hope on his face.

“Try as we might… each of us carries some darkness, some horrible pain within us. And for so long, I concealed it, believing that ugliness was a sign of the Goddess’ disdain for me. And just as with your belief that you are no better than your brother… this was false. The Goddess loves all, not just the beautiful and the good. Even people like you and me.”

Sylvain seemed to want to object, but Ingrid was there, kneeling in front of him.

“She’s right, Sylvain.” The knight held her palm over his face. “I’ve always known the person you are, the person you could be, if you ever believed it yourself. I can’t lift you up anymore… not if you truly believe you deserve to suffer. I want you by my side as a partner, and equal, showing the world the beauty and goodness I know rests within you.”

She leaned forward, and kissed him, and Sylvain’s eyes filled with tears.

“All right… for you guys…” He croaked out the words. “I’ll try.”

“Not for me, or Edelgard, or anyone else,” said Ingrid, moving to the door of the tent. “For you. Because you deserve that.”

Sylvain and Edelgard watched her leave, before the lancer turned to his commander.

“Listen… do me a favor. Go see her, will you? She’s been with me all night, never thinking about herself…” He smirked at Edelgard. “And I know I’m not the only one who loves her.” 

Edelgard felt her face go red.

“I don’t know what you mean. I care for all—”

“Oh, get over yourself, Your Majesty” said Sylvain. “How stupid do you think I am? When even an idiot like me and the Prof, Goddess bless her, notice…” He winked. “You were right, all those years ago. She needs to have a life outside of cleaning up after all my messes, and I’ve been too selfish to see it. Now go talk… I have many faults, but jealousy isn’t one of them.”

After obtaining a promise that Sylvain would be fine, and placing him under the watchful eye of Petra, Edelgard hurried toward the stables. She knew her friend would be there, as she always was whenever the earth seemed to pull her spirit downward.

Ingrid was brushing the new pegasus she had flown into battle that day, the repeated, rhythmic soothing of her steed just as much for the rider as the animal itself. Ingrid heard Edelgard approach, and smiled.

“Who sent you to check on me? The professor, or Sylvain?”

“Both.”

“That figures,” said Ingrid, returning her attentions to her animal. Edelgard picked up a brush, and began to assist, and the knight gave a quiet and happy nod of approval. “You’re much calmer around horses. Mari and I are rubbing off on you.”

Edelgard felt her heart lighten from the praise, the sorrows of the day falling away for a brief instant.

“So what is this beautiful animal’s name? Is there a Faerghus king you have not memorialized yet?”

“Oh…” Ingrid’s face began to blush. “I… haven’t decided. I’m still… I need to think some things through.” 

There was more Ingrid clearly wanted to say, but Edelgard did not press the topic any further. The knight looked up at the sky, and the stars twinkling above. 

“Edelgard… in these visions you see… where we…” Ingrid’s words barely rose above a whisper. “What am I like?”

The Emperor looked away, still mechanically brushing Ingrid’s mare.

“You are much the same. Dedicated to knighthood, to lifting up and protecting the people you care for…”

“But we are enemies.”

The two women both stopped brushing, and looked at each other.

“Yes,” admitted Edelgard. “We are enemies. You… you despise me, and what I represent.”

“I… see,” Ingrid seemed dazed, and grabbed onto a wooden post to steady herself. “I understand why you didn’t tell me.” The clear hurt in her voice sent a fresh dagger into Edelgard’s chest.

“If you want me to go—“

“No!” Ingrid stomped toward her friend, and gripped her hand. “I… I need to say something, right now, so for once in your life, stop uncorking a dramatic monologue and just… just listen!” 

The Imperial commander nodded, her blue armored boots rooted to the ground.

“Edelgard… when I was a child… I knew I didn’t fit in. I was a girl… that was what everyone told me. But all the things that everyone expected from girls… being domestic and baking cookies and all of it… it felt like a lie. Like it wasn’t really who I was inside. Like…”

She reached out toward the night air, grasping for something inexpressible.

“When I’d go out for rides, and my brothers and father would yell at me for being too wild… as much as it hurt me that they said those things, and that I was making my family upset… the thought I was unladylike... it gave me this little pleasure, deep in my chest. A little way to spite the Goddess. I’d sit there in the saddle, feeling the breeze on my face, with the mud splashing all around me, and I felt like I was finally who I really was. Not a girl… but just Ingrid.”

Edelgard gave her friend a comforting smile, and looked at the horses surrounding them.

“Animals always seem to understand… perhaps it is because they do not rush to judge people, or determine who is worthy based on social categories,” said Edelgard quietly. “I must confess… when I wore the Flame Emperor’s mask, and no one knew who I was… there was a freedom that came with it.”

“You… you understand!” 

Ingrid’s face lit up with so much relief, the normally reserved knight seemed ready to embrace Edelgard.

“All through my childhood, I felt like I was trapped in a suit of armor, or a woolen pair of clothes, and underneath… there was an itch I couldn’t scratch. And when I watched Glenn or read those stories of chivalry… they were strong and confident and brave. They were what… what I imagined myself to be… inside. Not the weak little girl who was bullied by everyone, but a strong, fearless knight, a person who could protect others, keep them safe…”

She trailed off.

“Unlike Ingrid Galatea,” offered Edelgard quietly.

“Yes.” Ingrid’s voice was filled with despair. “I hated myself… I hated who I was. Who I am. And then… and then I met you.” She smiled, in that awkward, self-conscious way that always made Edelgard’s heart lighten. “And you helped me understand. The problem wasn’t with me… it was with a world where a father could send countless letters to his daughter, beseeching her to give up her very freedom for her family’s survival.”

Edelgard smiled.

“You have given me back just as much, you know.”

“I know.” Ingrid smiled. “If not for me, you’d be… you’d be even more of an insufferable know-it-all than you are already. But tonight, finding out that there was an Ingrid who never had this, never knew what it was like to feel pride in herself…” She swallowed. “I have to tell you… have to say how you make me feel.”

The Emperor turned away, and leaned against the stall.

“I was unfair to you, Ingrid. That day years ago… I told you that you deserved to be with someone who could fully commit their heart to you, but I did not consider your feelings. As usual, I allowed my self-pity and self-righteousness to blind me. Always telling others about what they should feel…”

A red gloved hand squeezed tightly, her twin Crests leaving powerful depressions in the wood. Ingrid’s hand reached out and rested on her friend’s shoulder.

“I’m not angry,” said the knight. “I love Sylvain, and you love the Professor. It’s… just that we have spent six years standing alongside one another, shouldering each other’s burdens. I don’t want to pretend that how we feel about each other… I don’t want that to be forgotten. Because I realized… that…”

“Please, my knight,” said Edelgard quietly. “Tell me.”

Ingrid’s determination returned.

“That… wherever I go, wherever I fly… a piece of my heart and happiness will always be right next to you, Edelgard von Hresvelg.”

The words were beautiful and soft, like a chime gently ringing in Edelgard’s ears. The mortified knight looked away, unable to meet her liege’s gaze.

“Please, please forgive me my indiscretion, Your Majesty. I know that it was selfish of me, and I will bother you about it—“

“El.”

A few moments elapsed, and Ingrid’s mind appeared no closer to comprehending what she had just heard, so Edelgard repeated it again.

“El.”

“I heard you the first time!” grumbled Ingrid. “What exactly does that mean, you nitwit?! I’m baring my soul to you, and this is your response?”

“It’s… a name. Before I became… the person I am now… it was what I was known as by people who… who were much closer than friends. People who I knew I could trust, and who I could not imagine living life without. People who I loved with all my heart, and to whom a piece of my soul will always belong. People like you, Ingrid Galatea.”

The knight stared at Edelgard, open-mouthed.

“Like… like me?”

Edelgard nodded. 

“Like you.”

Ingrid paused for a moment, head downcast, building up her courage.

“It… it would be my greatest honor… El.”

She grabbed Edelgard and two women embraced each other under the stars. For a brief, shining instant, the war and the weight and the endless questions of what these two women were to one another fell away. They had each other, and that was enough. 

Until Ingrid pulled away with a start.

“Oh my… Goddess! El! You’re El! How could… how could I be so stupid! How could you not tell me?! What were you thinking?!”

Ingrid was so distraught, she nearly tripped and fell. The Emperor’s strong arm stabilized her.

“My knight… what in the world are you talking about?”

“Dimitri!” shouted Ingrid with a combination of horror and anger. “All he used to tell us, constantly, was about this girl who was so kind and taught him to dance… and…” She placed a hand over her mouth. “He used to tell us all how he couldn’t wait for us to meet his friend, because we’d love her just as much as he did. And he said… he said…”

Edelgard felt the old familiar needlepricks begin to assault her temples, as the forgotten tide of memories began to swallow her. It wasn’t… it couldn’t be possible…

Ingrid stared at her closest friend, trying to understand.

“He said her name was El.”