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Blood and Fire, Family and Meaning

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Jeralt and his men were gathered around a fire in Fódlan’s Fangs in the Wyvern Moon, up in the mountains to root out a bandit den that made its nest up there to prey upon a thoroughfare below.  It had been four years since he had left Garreg Mach with his infant daughter in tow, intending to forever keep her from the clutches of the Church of Seiros.  Thus, it had also been four years since he once more took up mercenary work.  He knew that everyone from his old band that he led before he was knighted would be either dead or far too infirm to lift a blade, so he started from scratch.  Or, as much as one can start from scratch when one has a full knight’s armor, arms, and skills honed over a lifetime that went well beyond normal human limits. 

 

Despite this stronger than usual foundation, the band of mercenaries Jeralt founded, the simply named Jeralt Mercenaries, grew necessarily slowly.  He was technically on the run, after all, though Archbishop Rhea never actively hunted him as a criminal or a heretic.  After the initial search parties were called off, there were never any wanted posters with his name and face on them in taverns.  And he checked, too, his first jobs being simple bounties that could be carried out by one man on a horse.  But no, no bounties for him or her, his daughter, one Byleth Eisner.

 

A very complicated daughter, one that must be hidden, but his daughter just the same.  Since she must be a secret, however, recruitment had to be kept to people that were both at least fine with children and not prone to being loose-lipped.  This, combined with the basic requirement of combat skill, meant that recruitment only really began to pick up recently, as he could afford to be less stringent in his recruitment.  Still, it meant that the group gathered around the fire this Wyvern Moon was just about a dozen in number.  Byleth, despite her quietness, was an otherwise active and healthy child, playing by herself near the fire, running around as the sun set.  Jeralt had intended to carve her a wooden sword to play with soon so that she would have an outlet for her energy and the barest foundations for her training.  It was during this play, however, that Byleth accidentally demonstrated just how complicated she could be.

 

Perhaps she just got too excited, or perhaps it was just Byleth’s time for this, but one moment Jeralt was about to tell her not to run directly towards the fire and the next a ball of dark gray fluff tumbled into it.  For a moment, everyone froze except the fluffball as she tried to reorient herself, speechless they all were.  After what seemed to be an eternity, she apparently noticed that she stood in the middle of a still very much blazing fire and bounced away from it.  It was after she landed on four legs, downy wings uselessly flapping to steady herself, that everyone’s words came tumbling out at once.

 

“What is that,” one merc wondered aloud.

 

Another merc, after having picked her jaw up off the ground, responded with “I think that’s the Captain’s daughter?”

 

“Last I checked, his daughter ain’t, uh, whatever that is,” still another said.  Furrowing his brow, he continued, “I think it’s a dragon?”

 

“Wait, a dragon?  Like a fire-breathing terror of the skies dragon?”

 

“You got a better reason why it just stood there in the fire, easy as can be?”

 

“No, it’s definitely the Captain’s daughter.  She’s just a dragon, it looks like.”

 

“Kid could have turned into a demonic beast... somehow.  A small one, ‘cause she’s a kid, but still a beast.  It’d explain why she always acted so creepy.”

 

“No, that’s a dragon.  My ma used to tell me stories of the Goddess and how her true form was that of a magnificent, fire-breathing, dragon.  The Captain’s wife was a nun, wasn’t she?  Maybe the daughter’s blessed?”

 

“And my pa told me stories about how there used to be evil dragons and brave heroes used to kill them to protect people!  We should get rid of it now while it’s easy to kill.  If we let it grow up, who knows what kind of damage it could do.”

 

Part of the problem of recruiting people that weren’t friendly with the Church was that they usually didn’t care about the Church’s taboos.  Devout reverence for the dragon Goddess was often at war in the continent’s collective psyche with Fódlan’s common folktales about dragonslaying heroes who, according to legend, slew evil dragons before the Church was founded.  Among those who lacked faith, those who Jeralt specifically sought, the latter was more commonly the stronger of the two.  Especially for the combat types who may have once harbored childhood dreams of becoming dragonslayers themselves.  Jeralt, who had been staring at his child in a stupor, came crashing back to reality when talk of killing her came up.

 

“Hang on a second, we are not killing my child just because she’s… whatever she is,” Jeralt managed to get out, silencing his crew.  Byleth was an inexpressive kid, but he felt that he understood how to read her subtle cues.  While her now clearly non-human countenance did not help matters, Jeralt was able to read his daughter’s body language and she did look increasingly nervous, having started to sidle over to her father as the chatter grew. 

 

“Jeralt, look at it!  Her!” the merc most ardently in support of murder exclaimed.  So Jeralt took a better look at his daughter.  Most of her was covered in dark gray down, but the lower portions of her legs, her tail, and her face were covered in lighter gray scales.  He glanced briefly at her talons before taking a closer look at her face.  What he saw was blue eyes that were still very much Byleth’s.  Further, he saw that she seemed to be aware of what they were saying, and saw that she looked scared, so he moved to protect his daughter.

 

“I am looking and all I see is my kid.  If any of you have a problem with that, you’ll have to go through me,” he warned, earning a relieved look from Byleth who was completely behind her now standing father.

 

“So, you’re serious then?  About defending,” the mercenary gestured towards the girl, “that.”

 

Before Jeralt could affirm that, yes, he was, the camp once more exploded into chatter, “I’m not staying with that around, look at its talons!”

 

“Keeping it around would be a curse!”

 

“Look, I ain’t being paid enough for this.  Bandits I can handle, but not whatever is going on with this.”

 

And so on.  Most of the band were against keeping her, and the ones that weren’t were more bound to ones that were against it than to Jeralt.  “So, it’s a mutiny, then,” he said, reading the atmosphere.  “I’m being kicked out of my own band.”

 

“Seems like it, Captain,” one replied, and a chorus of murmured agreements followed.

 

Jeralt sighed, he might very well have been able to take them all on in a fight and win, but he wasn’t sure he could do it and also protect his daughter at the same time.  Since that was what mattered, he acquiesced, “Fine.  But we’ll be staying the night, it’s too late to set up a new camp.”

 

“That’ll work, but you’re to be gone in the morning.”

 

Jeralt clenched his jaw and nodded before turning to his daughter.  “Can you, uh, change back?  Or speak?” he asked.

 

Byleth, to her credit, seemed to genuinely try to do… something.  That something involved tightly closing her eyes and feeling around for, well, whatever would let her change back.  When that failed, she tried to tell him so but all that came out of her mouth was a chirping sound.  Which, again to her credit, did sound like a negative chirp, but she settled for simply shaking her head no.

 

“I’ll take that as a no to both,” he said.  Jeralt squatted down and gently patted his daughter on the head, then continued, “Are you hurt at all?  You were in the fire for a while.”  Byleth seemed to consider the question before slowly shaking her head again.  “Really?  Huh.  Well, come on, let’s figure out a sleeping situation for you,” he responded, leading her to their bedrolls.

 

Byleth trotted along after him and simply crawled in between her wool blanket and fur bedroll.  Jeralt briefly considered trying to rejoin everyone by the fire but that thought was dashed by the tension that would most assuredly be there and the twinge in his heart at the lack of energy his daughter displayed compared to earlier.  He sat down next to her on his own bedroll and made a promise to them both, “I won’t leave you alone, and we’ll find a way for you to turn back.”

 

Though, turning his mind to solutions required turning his mind to causes.  The similarities she shared with the depictions of the Goddess couldn’t be ignored, especially in light of whatever Rhea had done to her as an infant.  He wondered if this was connected at all to her lack of heartbeat, then wondered further if it was connected at all to some of Sitri’s stranger features.  Regardless, he knew in his gut that Rhea would know something, and out of a lack of other options, resolved to bring his daughter back to the one place he swore he would never take her, Garreg Mach.  As she closed her eyes and began to drift off to sleep, he prayed that he was making the right decision.

 

*****

 

Having found Byleth to be much the same as the previous night, Jeralt and his daughter began their way back to town after a tense breakfast.  At the back of his mind, the betrayal by his group continued to sting, but it was drowned out by the worry he had for the ball of fluff sitting in front of him as he rode.  He knew that if she was seen by more people, that would only bring trouble for them, so he wrapped her up in her blanket before putting her on Palahorse and setting off.  Since Byleth seemed perfectly content with this arrangement, he worried if she was cold.  It may have only been Wyvern, but the chill was still strong in the mountains.  Was her down enough?  Lizards needed to be warm, right?  Or was she more like a baby bird?  No, those needed to be kept warm too.  Jeralt furrowed his brow and made note that his daughter wasn’t shivering, at least.  He decided that he’d give her his blanket if she started to.

 

They travelled through Adrestia swiftly, preferring to camp on the road than to stay at an inn.  This was done both to keep a low profile, and to save what money they could.  They were running low when Jeralt took the bandit job and without that their money depleted rapidly.  Luck or providence was with them, however, as they only ran out at Remire Village, a short ride away from the monastery.  It had been a week by this point with no physical change from his daughter, and he worried that she would never be able to change back.  She was in brighter spirits, having begun to play like normal again, and that eased some of his concerns as he prepared for the final stretch to Garreg Mach.

 

Nothing was to be done for his trepidation, however, as the walls and spires of the monastery came into view.  What if he was making a horrible mistake?  What if he would face a reprisal for running in the first place?  What if Rhea viewed his child as a threat as well?  Or, what if that raw, intense want that lay in her eyes when she looked upon Byleth was still there?  He couldn’t place why she looked at her like that, but he didn’t trust it then and still didn’t trust it, but he had little choice.  The only leads he could think of take him here, after all.  Having steeled himself, he came upon outmost gates.

 

“State your name and bus-- Jeralt, is that you,” the gatekeeper stammered out, eyes bulging.

 

Jeralt grunted, expecting that sort of surprise.  “It is, I need an audience with Rhea.  I, uh, have a problem that I need her help with,” he explained, glancing down at Byleth.

 

“I’ll send someone to check if she’s available.  Do you need any help with your horse or whatever’s in that blanket there?”

 

“No, I can handle myself.  I’ll be waiting at the stables.”  With that, Jeralt was admitted back into the monastery to lead his horse through the marketplace over to the stables.  He wasn’t sure how he’d keep Byleth from being seen, but he would try.  “You need to keep yourself hidden, alright?  I don’t want anyone to raise a fuss until we get to the Archbishop,” he whispered to her.

 

She simply looked up and gave a curt nod.  The strangest thing about this to Jeralt was just how little things had changed.  Byleth was acting the same as ever, just a little bit quieter.  Palahorse wasn’t bothered by her new form and he supposed she must’ve smelled the same.  Once at the stables, he slid off his horse got to work unburdening him while Byleth waited on top.  By the time he was done and had his daughter scooped up in one arm, a squire came by to let him know Archbishop Rhea was waiting for him in the audience chamber.  It was time.

 

*****

 

“Jeralt, I must say that it seems like you were here just yesterday, but I am glad that you have returned once again,” Rhea greeted him.  “However, is everything alright?  The messenger from the gate said that you had a problem you needed my help with.”

 

Jeralt’s unease grew, now that he was here, in front of her, with his problem.  A problem that for all he knew, she probably caused.  As he struggled to even begin to explain the situation, the Archbishop continued, “Does it have to do with whatever is in that blanket?”

 

He sighed, he’s been doing that a lot lately, and nodded.  He didn’t like the look in her eyes she had while looking at the blanket that concealed his daughter.  Like she knew what—who—was under there without even seeing.  “Yes, it’s, well, it’s about my daughter.”

 

“Your daughter?  Did she not die in the fire four years ago,” Rhea stated.  The things she said were phrased as questions, should have been questions, but were said in a flat inflection.  Dammit, he thought, she knew.

 

“No, I, uh, hid her away after the fire and left with her.  Having said that, I’m not sure if the fire would have even hurt her.”

 

“Oh?  What do you mean?”  She sounded like she was actually curious that time, which gave Jeralt enough courage to finally unveil his daughter.  Rhea’s reaction was immediate.

 

“Guards shut the doors, we are not to be disturbed,” she commanded, and they obeyed.  “Come, let us discuss your daughter’s state in the advisory chamber.”  She said this all without her eyes leaving Byleth for even a second.

 

Jeralt wanted to bolt, but he came too far to give up now.  He became even more uncomfortable when Rhea closed the advisory chamber’s doors, too, once everyone was inside.

 

Rhea made her way over to one of the couches and sat down before gesturing to the one opposite it.  “Please, have a seat and tell me how the dear girl came to be in this state,” she said.  And so, he did.

 

He filled her in on her sudden transformation, her apparent immunity to fire, the reaction the rest of his former mercenary band had to this, and the present predicament of his daughter being stuck in this form.  Rhea’s mood soured from the hungry sort of curiosity she had worn since he revealed Byleth to outright anger when he retold the words and intentions of the mercenaries.  However, it quickly softened to, confusingly to Jeralt, empathy by the time he had ended with “Please, I don’t know what you did to my daughter, but I don’t know who else to turn to.  What’s wrong with her?”

 

“Simply put, there is nothing wrong with her,” Rhea stated, composing herself once more.  “Indeed, Byleth appears to be most wonderfully blessed by the Goddess.”

 

“Blessed,” Jeralt incredulously repeated.

 

Rhea nodded, “Blessed.  You did the right thing to bring her back here, as she will need to be taught how to handle her power.  For example, she will need to be taught how to control her transformations or speak in this form.”  Speaking to Byleth directly, she continued, “Would you like that, dear one?”

 

When Byleth enthusiastically nodded to Rhea’s offer, Jeralt knew that there was no leaving the Garreg Mach again.

Chapter Text

“You should get settled here again,” Rhea said.  “Your old room has already been given to the new knight-captain, however given the situation, I will have rooms prepared on the third floor for you and your daughter.  Are the rest of your things in the stables with your horse?”

 

“Uh, yes,” Jeralt replied, surprise plain on his features.  “Did you say the third floor?  The one you live on?”

 

Rhea nodded and explained, “Yes, the third floor.  It will be some time before Byleth will be able to control her transformations completely.  The third floor will provide her a sanctuary to learn safely and without fear of being seen.”

 

He didn’t like the thought of letting his daughter live so close to Rhea, but the knowledge that she would be safe and that he would be there with her set him at ease.  Though, one thing was on his mind.  “I can’t exactly argue with that, but how do you know so much about this anyway?  Has this kind of thing happened before?”

 

At this, Rhea visibly stiffened, and her response was slow and curt, “...In a manner of speaking, yes.  Please excuse me, I will have some servants get to work on your rooms now.”  With that, she got up, sparing Byleth a look filled with a mixture of emotions before she turned to the doors and left, shutting both sets behind her.

 

Jeralt wasn’t sure what to make of the way Rhea was acting.  The raw want that was in her eyes when she looked at Byleth the last time he was here was tempered somewhat, but there was something else there he couldn’t quite place, and that bothered him.  Now that she was gone and he could let his guard down some, he noticed that his daughter was looking around the room with curiosity in her eyes.

 

“Heh, that’s right, you’ve never seen a place like this before.  Not that you remember, anyway.”  He frowned and continued, muttering to himself, “If this was how things were going to turn out anyway, maybe it would’ve been better for us not to leave in the first place.”  Byleth seemed to have heard, though, and looked back at him with her head cocked to the side like an inquisitive puppy.  Right, of course she didn’t know.

 

“I’ll tell you everything one day, but, well, you were born here, By,” Jeralt explained and Byleth let out a chirp of surprise in response.

 

In the hall, Rhea was giving orders to a few servants and mulling over the revelation she was now privy to and the feelings it imparted within her.  Sheer elation, not just from her suspicions about the thirteenth vessel being alive having been proven correct, but also that she was able to transform, a feat none of the previous twelve had accomplished, thus demonstrating her potential.  Disappointment that she so far bore little resemblance to Sothis’ true form.  Anger and a lack of surprise at the way the mercenaries reacted.  Fear at how much Jeralt would learn and how he would react if he figured out anything else beyond what he was explicitly told.  But, most importantly, hope.  Hope that perhaps her efforts over the last millennium weren’t entirely in vain, and perhaps also hope that even if they were for naught that her kind may have had a new member for the first time in even longer.  The previous vessels, superficially Nabatean, were weak and short-lived.  Regardless of the species of her father, Byleth genuinely seemed to be one of them.  She chided herself for thinking such a thought, growing attached to the vessels was a mistake, she told herself.  And yet.

 

There was also the matter of explaining things at least partially to Seteth and Flayn.  It was fortuitous that neither had been in the audience chamber nor on the path Jeralt took to get here, but they would find out soon and she needed a plan.  But that could wait, as she had a more pressing matter to attend to.

 

She shook her head and cleared her thoughts.  For now, it might just be best to try to get the child in a state that she didn’t have to be hidden.  Rhea re-entered both sets of doors before, “I must ask you to leave the room, Jeralt.  You are free to remain in the audience chamber, but I would like to coach Byleth to shift back to her more human form.”

 

“I’m staying,” Jeralt immediately responded.

 

Rhea tried again, “I know it must be difficult to trust me, given the circumstances, but I swear to you that I shall not harm her.  Allowing us to be alone will allow me to connect with Byleth in a way that would be hard to replicate otherwise.”   Perhaps explaining some of why without giving too much away would work.

 

“And this... connection can only be made while I’m out of the room?  Why?”  Jeralt’s reply this time was equal parts suspicious and curious.

 

On the one hand, Rhea could tell him exactly what she intended to do.  He would likely piece at least a partial truth together in time anyway.  The man also clearly cared for his daughter, even though she was not human.  However, that was his daughter, who knows how he would react to learning even a sliver of the truth about her.  Moreover, walls built over the centuries would not be passed so easily, even considering telling him anything caused her to instinctively recoil.  Regardless, Rhea wasn’t able to make her decision before it was made for her.

 

“You can’t tell me, can you?” Jeralt prodded.  “Well fine, I’ll leave, but I’m staying right outside the door.”

 

“Thank you,” Rhea replied, relieved.  “Of course, I wouldn’t begrudge you of staying as close to the door as you like.”

 

Jeralt got up from the couch and she moved away from the door.  Before he left, though, he glanced between Byleth and Rhea and pleaded with the latter, “Please don’t hurt her, she’s all I have left.”

 

“I promise, she will not be harmed.”

 

With the click of the door, the two dragons were alone, and the elder of the two sat across from the younger to begin a process she never thought she would be on this end of.  The unconventional nature of the meeting did not help matters.

 

Rhea began quietly and tentatively, “Do you know what I am, dear one?”

 

Byleth considered the question and looked down in thought.  This Rhea didn’t smell like people usually do, it went beyond the usual differences between people, but it was a scent that she felt like she should be able to name.  She didn’t smell like a human; her scent was more like...

 

Her eyes widened and she met Rhea’s hopeful gaze once more.  The latter let out a small chuckle and affirmed her idea, “That’s right, Byleth.  I am like you.”  To punctuate her point, she willed a partial transformation upon her hand, showing Byleth her pearlescent scales and talons.  The girl’s eyes grew wider still and bounced between her own hands and Rhea’s.

 

Letting her hand turn back into her human looking one, she continued, “I will teach you how to control your power and abilities, just as I was taught.  To start, focus within yourself and find your other shape.  It may be difficult to locate at first, but it will get easier over time.  Once you have found it, try to bring it back to the surface.”  Taking on a human form is always harder than allowing one’s true form to show.  The former is a state they took to better mingle with humans, and the latter was simply the shape their bodies wished to be in.

 

Closing her eyes and furrowing her brow, Byleth began looking inside of herself for what she knew was there, somewhere.  Rhea’s words helped, and she was able to feel it quickly.  The next part was harder, suppressing her true form was like trying to hold a waterskin filled with air underwater.  By the time her head had started to hurt from the concentration, she opened her eyes and found that she had successfully changed back.

 

“Very well done, dear child.  I will start teaching you in earnest tomorrow.  You mustn’t tell anyone about what makes us special, however.”

 

Thinking back on how the mercenaries reacted to seeing her and the way they looked at her, Byleth nodded, “Okay.”

 

“You cannot even tell your father about me.”

 

“Why?” Byleth asked with a slight frown.

 

Rhea bit her lip.  It would indeed be easier to simply tell him somethings, like how Byleth was like her.  However, walls built up from pain and buttressed by centuries are not assailed so easily.  Trying again, Rhea elaborated on her point, “Because the more people that know about us, the more in danger we are.”

 

At that, the younger girl’s frown deepened, “He’s not a danger.”

 

Please, Byleth.  If I tell him, it will be when I am ready, and only then,” Rhea pleaded.

 

Byleth looked down at the floor for a time before she nodded her head and acquiesced, “Okay.”

 

“Good,” Rhea said, relief flooding her voice.  “Shall we get you situated in your new home?”

 

*****

 

Jeralt sat on his bed and looked around his sparsely furnished room.  He was surprised that they were able to procure two beds on short notice, but he supposed that they may have just taken spares from the officer’s academy.  Aside from that, his room just had a chest, a desk, and a chair, and Byleth’s room didn’t look much different, her chest was just smaller.  He worried about his daughter, but if this floor wasn’t safe, nowhere was.  Either way, he missed the regular access to the baths here, as well as the good food.

 

When Byleth walked out of the advisory chamber on two legs, to say that Jeralt was relieved would be an understatement.  Thinking back on it now, he realized that Rhea herself looked relieved then.  That he was unable to place why bothered him, but so did many of the other secrets the Archbishop held.  He also realized she never told him what she did to Byleth.

 

Immediately across the hall, Byleth was thinking about the events of the day as she settled down to sleep.  She saw the largest bath she had ever seen, and more food than she thought existed in the dining hall.  Her new clothes were so nice she was afraid to touch them at first.  Some lord was also missing their bed, she was pretty certain.  It was all so nice that she didn’t know why her father left in the first place, or why he was so scared to return, or why he was so tense around Rhea.  Rhea, the woman who was like her and would teach her things.  Though, she didn’t know what being the way she was really meant yet.  Questions piled up in her mind as she drifted off to sleep.

 

*****

 

Meanwhile, Rhea was weighing how much to explain and how much to keep to her chest against what would be worse for Seteth and Flayn to find out on their own.  She had sat the two of them down once Seteth was back from training his battalion and Flayn was done fishing, telling them that she had something to tell them both.  She had failed to come up with a good plan in the intervening time, however.  Regardless, she’d don her mask and give them their explanations as if it were perfectly routine.

 

“Does this have something to do with why this Jeralt is staying on the same floor as us?” Seteth immediately questioned.  “I had thought that we shared this floor for the sake of privacy.”

 

“Indeed, we do,” Rhea responded, “but circumstances involving his daughter mean that he shall be sharing this floor with us.”

 

“His daughter?  What does she have to do with all of this?”

 

Rhea took a deep breath and exhaled it before continuing, “Simply put, she is one of us.”

 

At that, Seteth froze, mouth agape.  Silent until now, Flayn’s eyes widened before she spoke.  “What do you mean ‘one of us’?  Surely she could not possibly be...” she trailed off.

 

“Her father brought her back here when she accidentally took her true form, there is no mistaking it.”

 

“I... I see.  As for the father, he knows?” Seteth tentatively asked, either answer having its own unique pitfalls.

 

“Yes and no,” Rhea answered.  “He knows that she is not human, but he does not know the specifics.  Nor does he know about us.”

 

He dragged his hand down his face at that.  It would be a complicated situation to navigate as-is, simplifying it might make it easier to deal with, not to mention safer.  “Normally, I am one to advise caution.  However, given the circumstances, perhaps it would be better to explain some things to him.  Enough to impress upon him the need for secrecy, at any rate.”

 

“Unfortunately, he is already well-acquainted with that need,” Rhea said, grimacing.  “Jeralt said that he was not the only one to witness his daughter’s transformation.  The mercenary band he was leading saw her and took it poorly.  As far as I know, he hid her the entire time it took for him to ride here.”

 

They saw her?  What are we going to do about them?”

 

“I have already gathered their names, descriptions, and whereabouts from Jeralt and sent some knights to deal with them, so they will not be an issue,” Rhea soothed.

 

“Rhea, you cannot just—”

 

“It is done, Seteth.”

 

At that, Seteth slumped back from the edge of his seat.  Rhea’s methods were questionable, let alone her willingness to use them, but there was nothing he could do about that now and there were few options to deal with this.

 

Flayn spoke up again asking, “What is her name?  And her crest?”

 

At the second question, Rhea winced.  A human bearing Sothis’ crest would be strange enough at this point in time, but she wasn’t sure how to explain a Nabatean with it.  There was no avoiding this question, however, they would notice as soon as they were in the same room as her.  “Her name is Byleth, and her crest is the crest of flames,” Rhea said with a calm that belied her true anxiety.

 

This time, it was Flayn’s turn to stare with her jaw on the floor.  Seteth emitted a strangled noise of confusion and shock before he managed to choke out a single word, “How?

 

“I will explain in time,” she responded, and, before Seteth could refuse to let this wait, continued.  “It would be best if you both had the chance to absorb the information provided to you before you learn of the nature of her existence.”

 

“I will not allow you to get out of explaining this,” Seteth began, “but perhaps you are right.”

 

Rhea breathed a sigh of relief at that.  She needed time to try to think of excuses and explanations that might actually work.

 

“Going back to what Jeralt knows, if he understands the necessity of secrecy, then I do not see the reason to tell him anything more than he already knows,” Seteth said.  “That having been said, we should find out exactly how much he knows.  He is bound to have found some commonalities between his daughter and his spouse.  A spouse whose own existence I should hope you will explain, Rhea.”

 

“He does not seem to know much, but we could simply ask him precisely what it is that he knows about us,” she began, then paused.  “How much will we be telling him about you and Flayn?”

 

“As little as we can get away with,” he immediately answered.  “It would be best to continue to use our cover story around him.  All things considered, however, ‘what we can get away with’ is already more than we are comfortable with.”

 

Rhea nodded, “As expected.”

 

“And how are we going to deal with Byleth?”  Flayn asked.  “We will not be able to keep her in the dark, but it would not do for her to accidentally reveal things that are best hidden.”

“I had intended to gradually tell her more as she grew,” Rhea responded.  “She agreed to keep my nature a secret even from her father, but she is still, fundamentally, a child.  Do either of you object to that?”

 

“No, I think that is wise,” Seteth said.

“Indeed, but I do hate lying, even in these circumstances,” Flayn lamented.  She considered for a moment then continued, “When shall we meet her properly?”

 

“Tomorrow?” Rhea suggested.

 

“That would work.  We will also be able to work out what Jeralt knows then,” Seteth added.

 

*****

 

Jeralt found himself in the advisory chamber with his daughter and Rhea once again, but this time with two new faces with green hair and ethereal green eyes that almost seem catlike at times.  Eyes like Rhea’s.  Eyes like Sitri’s.  Eyes like Byleth’s when the light hits them right.  Oh, he thought to himself, that’s what’s going on.

 

Rhea was the first to break the awkward and expectant silence that had settled over the room as soon as the doors had closed.  “I’m sure that the little one here,” she began, addressing Byleth who was staring with open curiosity at Seteth and Flayn, “has realized one of the reasons why we are here already.  The first reason is to properly introduce you, Jeralt and Byleth, to the other two already living on the third floor, Seteth and Flayn.”

 

“And the reason that my kid’s figured out is that you’re all like her, aren’t you?” he stated more than asked.  The way the three elder dragons tensed was confirmation enough for him.  He nodded to Rhea and continued, “That’s the reason why you asked me to leave the room yesterday but couldn’t tell me about, wasn’t it?”

 

“Are we really so transparent?” Seteth asked, frowning.  “Truth be told, we had not intended on telling you that.  Regardless, as Rhea had stated, my name is Seteth and this is my sister—"

 

“And I am Flayn,” the girl in question supplied.  “However, I must ask, how were you able to guess at what we are so quickly?”

 

Jeralt nodded, “Your eyes gave you away.  They’re like how Byleth’s can get if the light catches them right.  Or how-” he choked on Sitri’s name.  It still hurt too much to say.  “Or how my wife’s eyes looked.  Not to mention the circumstances.”

 

“I see,” Rhea said, in thought.  How many suspected them if just looking at their eyes could give them away?

 

Seeing the pensive look on Rhea, he continued.  “It’s not like I knew right away or anything.  If I hadn’t seen Byleth transform I would’ve just thought it was a weird trait you all shared.  I wouldn’t have even considered that you weren’t human.”

 

“Keep in mind, Jeralt, that you cannot tell a soul about us or your daughter,” Rhea warned.  “I’m sure that the incident that led you back here is enough of a reason as to why.”

 

He nodded again, “It sure is.”  He paused and considered before he continued.  “So, since you didn’t even want me to know that, you’re going to ask me to leave again, aren’t you?”

 

“That is correct.”

 

This time he sighed but quickly accepted, “Fine, I’ll be right outside in the audience chamber, same as last time.”

 

With Jeralt left the awkwardness that had yet remained in the room.  The elder three cooed over Byleth and, while mostly silent, she occasionally asked questions about what she was that only they could answer.  For the most part, they were childish, what with the girl being so young, but they were the beginning of her initiation into an ancient people.

Chapter Text

The next few years went by relatively smoothly.  Byleth was taught control over her transformations and how to effectively hide the subtle points of her ears and the sharpness of her teeth.  True to Rhea’s word, gaining complete control over her ability to change forms was going to be a long process, with Byleth occasionally waking up in a different form than she went to bed in, but Rhea was nonetheless pleased with the girl’s progress.  Jeralt, on the other hand, settled back into his role as a knight in the service of Rhea, largely being seen as the second-in-command of the new knight-captain that had replaced him when he left.  This, naturally, involved a lot of travelling, but he was able to hang around for Byleth’s birthdays.  Her sixth was particularly special, as Jeralt gave her a dagger: her first real weapon.  While the girl wasn’t naturally emotive, when he presented her with the blade the excitement that glittered in her eyes was clear to see.

 

This also marked the beginning of her proper arms training.  While it had been informal for a while with her toy sword, her father was a man of Faerghus, a knight and soldier to the bones.  That Byleth would be brought up the same way, a blade in hand before a quill, was a foregone conclusion.  Byleth, for her part, took to it eagerly.

 

“Hold it like this, with your grip tight enough to keep it in your hand but not so tight as to tire your fingers out,” Jeralt instructed, and she did her best to follow.  “A little looser, By.  Try to mimic my stance.”

 

Byleth proceeded to mirror her father’s stance in front of the child-sized training dummy in the knight’s training grounds.  Though she held herself a little too tightly like her blade, she loosened up as Jeralt had her start swinging so he could really start instructing her.  The girl learnt quickly from her father, and they continued until Byleth was exhausted.  She wanted to keep going and learning, but her father knew she’d be too tired to really learn anything more for the day.  He also knew that there would just be other days.  When he was around and not busy, they trained together and she learnt more; when he wasn’t, she did her best to improve the skills he taught her.  Sometimes, though, Jeralt would simply be too tired and want to rest, so he’d take her fishing.

 

At first, she was too small to hold a real fishing rod and properly fish, but those quiet moments at the pond became fond memories for the two regardless.  Occasionally Seteth, Flayn, or Alois would join them at the pond.  Alois never managed to catch anything, Seteth never bothered to use bait, and Flayn was content to simply sit and watch, but their company was still more than welcome.  As she grew, so did her skills with a fishing rod and a blade.  From Jeralt, Byleth learnt the blade, how to maintain arms and armor, survival skills, and how to ride a horse.  However, he wasn’t the only one to teach her.

 

*****

 

It was tricky for Byleth to fledge.  Not because she had any real difficulty with it, but because she felt it necessary to climb the tallest trees at the secluded places Rhea took them and attempt to jump with seemingly little regard for her own safety as soon as her first flight feathers completely came in.  It drove Rhea to distraction.  Was she this difficult when she herself learned to fly?

 

Byleth please be careful,” Rhea rumbled in her true form, ready to fly with Byleth once the fledgling was able to actively fly.  “Why not try to take flight from the lower branches of a tree?”

 

The girl just looked up at her mentor for a moment before scrabbling up a tree again to find a good perch.

 

Perhaps it would be best to just let her do as she wishes and catch her if she falls?” Flayn suggested, amusement clear in her voice.  Her father was left behind at the monastery to manage it in Rhea’s stead while she was gone.  That, and he couldn’t fly.

 

“Byleth’s a tough girl, I’m sure she’ll be fine,” Jeralt added, leaning on a tree, taking no small amount of enjoyment from his daughter being difficult for Rhea to handle.  He managed to ‘convince’ them to let him come along by bluntly stating that he was coming, like it or not.  Byleth was his daughter, after all.

 

It wasn’t long before she achieved active flight, fluttering as she leapt from her favored tree.  Rhea and Flayn joined her shortly thereafter, urging Byleth to fly higher with them.  Her first flight didn’t last long as she was tired at that point, but her experience meant that her next flight was easy to do.

 

*****

 

When Byleth had mentioned that she wanted to be a knight like her father, Rhea had suggested that she become a priest first.  Rhea’s explanation was that many of the Knights of Seiros were men and women of the cloth who had decided to wield their faith as a sword against evil and a balm for good.  Thus, aside from learning how to control her abilities, Byleth was also taught personally by Rhea in matters of the faith, medicine, magic, and history.  Rhea even filled in for Jeralt in instructing Byleth in swordswomanship and hand-to-hand combat when he wasn’t around.  Just getting a hit on her during those sessions was even more difficult than when she sparred with her dad, and Byleth wondered when she learned to fight.

 

As it turned out, the Archbishop was rather insistent on making time to teach Byleth.  There was always an underlying tension whenever Rhea taught Byleth, but it took her until her early teens to place why.  One day, when a black magic spell fizzled and a disapproving frown flashed across her face for a moment, Byleth was able to put words to it: Rhea desired a lot from her, underneath all the familial care.

 

Whenever Byleth was learning the doctrines of her faith, Rhea was always expectant, like she should have been able to fill in the gaps on her own.  Like she should’ve already known the roles the Saints filled, what was to be offered on their feast days, or what symbols are associated with them beyond their crests.  Once in a while she was able to guess and Rhea would light up, but it always felt like luck to Byleth.  When she applied that faith through the lens of magic, though, and used it to cause or mend wounds, she was a natural.  This, too, was an area in which Rhea seemingly had high hopes for her, and Byleth was thankful that she was able to at least live up to those.

 

One afternoon as they were wrapping up a lesson on the doctrines of Seiros, Byleth decided to press her on this.  “Why do you expect so much from me, Auntie?”

The woman paused in consideration and hummed in thought.  At length, she responded with a half-truth, “Because, while you may not understand the magnitude of it just yet, you hold a great deal of power within you, child.  I merely hope to see you live up to that potential.”

 

Byleth bit her lip for a moment then asked another question that had been burning within her for some time, “Is that power related to why I don’t have a heartbeat?”

 

“Now why would you think that, child?” Rhea asked with a hollow smile.

 

The girl shrugged, “Flayn seemed surprised when I mentioned it the other day and said it wasn’t normal for people to not have a heartbeat.”

 

In a tone that was padded but brooked no argument that this conversation was over, Rhea drew a line, “I do not think you’re quite ready for that conversation, sweet child.”

 

Unsatisfied but unable to find an inroad for further inquiry, Byleth let the matter drop for now, a slight frown tugging at her lips.  Seeing that, Rhea continued, “Rest assured, dear one, all will be revealed in time.”

 

At that, the girl acquiesced, as she knew that that was as far as she would get for now.  Rhea decided to take pity on her and tried to cheer her up.  “I think we are done with your lessons for the day.  Would you like to show me how your flowers are doing in the greenhouse?”

 

Byleth perked up at that and nodded.  “I’ve been growing lilies like the ones you wear, Auntie.”

 

Rhea’s smile grew genuine at that, and the two left to check on Byleth’s flowers.

 

*****

 

The first battle the young Byleth participated in was rather one-sided.  The knights had cornered some bandits in a clearing in the woods early in the spring.  While they preyed upon surrounding villages through the winter and made life harder for those living there, they themselves still had little, and that made them weak.  Easy targets, her father had said, to blood her on.  For all the threat they posed to the knights, easy prey.

 

While she was the only healer in the detachment, her talents in that field weren’t in high demand.  Byleth’s main duty there was to be a weapon for the Church, and from atop her horse she cut down the wicked with fire and steel.  When a bandit was wreathed in flame at a flick of her wrist she was torn.  The Byleth that took the vows to begin the road to priesthood so that she could learn to use her faith as a weapon in the knights said that this was necessary and good, these scoundrels would pillage Goddess knows how many more homes if not stopped.  The Byleth that took the vows to begin the road to priesthood to be a source of succor and relief in a harsh world saw the scrawny nature of the corpses around her and lamented that they were driven to banditry out of desperation, wishing that she could’ve helped them instead.  The Byleth whose blood sung with adrenaline and the thrill of combat wheeled her Percheron around and stuck out her sword to intercept a bandit that had snuck behind them.

 

Her conflict, like most of her emotions, hardly showed on her face.  Once the battle was over, she made sure to check everyone for injuries.  The knights whispered about her apparent emotionlessness as she tended to the few minor wounds they suffered and Byleth wondered if they knew she could hear them.

 

One made a remark about her being like a demon and that was enough for her father to offer some advice.  “Hey kid, just ignore them,” Jeralt said.  “They don’t know what they’re talking about.”

 

Byleth looked up at him for a moment and then nodded, but not without the slight frown and furrow of her brow failing to leave her face.  She felt plenty about the battle, a strange sense of satisfaction over her combat prowess, relief that everyone was safe, sadness at the loss of life.  Just because they couldn’t see that didn’t mean that her emotions weren’t there, why didn’t they understand?

 

“You handled yourself well out there, By,” her father added with a grin.  “I’m proud of you for doing so well in your first battle.”

 

This time, her mood did lift at Jeralt’s praise, even if it wasn’t able to completely banish her negativity.

 

The knights gathered what supplies and valuables that remained at the bandit camp so that they may return them to those affected by rogues, and then left to begin the journey home.  By the time they had left the clearing the knights had ceased their speculation about her and had started chattering about various other topics, the girl largely forgotten for now.  The girl, however, couldn’t forget their words.

 

*****

 

After that battle, Byleth’s training changed shape.  Her instruction in combat was replaced, in large part, with the real thing.  She still sparred, as all warriors do, but she went out with the knights on missions often.  The conflict that she had felt in her first battle rarely subsided in subsequent ones.  Once in a while her mission was to aid in the dispatchment of true depravity and all of her agreed that her actions were good, but most followed the pattern of her first fight: desperate people forced to the margins of society acting out of desperation, and slightly less desperate people requesting their aid.

 

Her studies at home changed character as well.  Byleth went from simply learning about the scriptures and rituals of the Church to helping Rhea minister and perform them in Garreg Mach’s cathedral.  Eventually, she even began leading minor services.  Rhea, of course, was pleased with her progress and growth and Byleth internally preened at meeting the expectations of her mentor.

 

*****

 

Some time when Byleth was seventeen and once Rhea had decided that she was ready to graduate from being an initiate to full priesthood, the Archbishop gave her her priestly habit in a ceremony in the cathedral.  The ritual, while concise and a small affair with only her father, Seteth, Flayn, and Alois there with Rhea administering, was weighty with centuries of tradition and Byleth was honored that it took place in a location as sacred as Garreg Mach.  Still, it was cause for celebration and celebrate they did.  For some reason Byleth couldn’t determine, Seteth was frustrated with Rhea, tense as he was when next to her.  While odd, it wasn’t that infrequent of an occurrence and he genuinely seemed happy for Byleth, and that was enough for her to ignore it.  Perhaps they could fish together later so he could relax.  She knew that Rhea simply acted how she wished, regardless of if her actions were frustrating for others.

 

In her room that evening, as Byleth admired her new robes in the mirror and the played with their loose and flowing sleeves, there was a knock on her door.

“Would you come down to audience chamber with me, Byleth?” Rhea asked through the wood.

 

“Of course,” she answered.  “What for?”

 

“You will see, dear one,” Rhea replied simply.

 

Byleth opened her door to the Archbishop wearing a slight, but genuine, smile.  She nodded and they were off.

 

“You carried yourself well at your ordination, Byleth,” Rhea praised.  “Really, you have exceeded my expectations in many ways.  What I am about to give you is both a result of that and a continued wish that you will continue to meet my hopes for you.”

“What you’re about to give me?”

 

Rhea said nothing in reply and pushed open the doors to the audience chamber.  The room was empty, save for Seteth behind a low table, upon which was something covered in purple silk.  The man’s expression was unreadable to Byleth and he said nothing when they arrived.  His eyes merely drifted to them briefly before being dragged back to whatever was beneath the cloth.  It was only once Rhea had joined him behind the table that he spoke.

 

“Are you sure about this, Rhea?” he asked, voice somewhat strained.

 

“Indeed, I am,” was all that he got in response.  Turning to Byleth, Rhea continued, “Are you ready, dear one?”

 

Byleth swallowed and nodded, the realization having set in that whatever was about to happen was deeply important.  The tangible feeling of something being under the silk did little to set her at ease.

 

The Archbishop’s smile grew at that and she pulled off the silk to reveal a sword and an ornate purple and gold scabbard that looked to fit the blade.  She then gestured for Byleth to come closer.  Once she was near the table and got a good look at the sword, she froze, wide eyes darting up to Rhea’s.

 

“A Relic?” Byleth asked.  When her training kicked in and she recognized which Relic, she continued incredulously, “The Sword of the Creator?”

 

“That is correct.  Now, take the sword into your hands, child,” Rhea commanded and Byleth did as she was bid.

 

Byleth was familiar with the expression of a weapon feeling like an extension of oneself.  She had trained most of her life to achieve such a feeling with a blade.  The Relic she held was different.  It fit in a way no weapon before had.  Holding it felt like a piece of her that she never knew was missing was slotted back into place.  She felt it call out to some deep part of her, and she responded by letting her power flow into the blade.  Like a spark setting off a bonfire, the fire within her ignited Sword of the Creator and wreathed it in scarlet Flame.  The Flames were warm but gentle, yet she instinctively knew that was simply because she was their master and that they would easily scorch her foes.  When Byleth looked up Seteth’s expression was darker and still unreadable.  Rhea was practically grinning.

 

“The Relic is yours, dear Byleth,” Rhea said in answer to the unasked question.

 

Mouth agape, it took Byleth some time to formulate a response.  “I am honored to even hold the holiest and most powerful Relic that the Church has but...”

 

“But why you?” the Archbishop supplied and Byleth nodded dumbly.  “You are the only one capable of wielding it.  Moreover, you have demonstrated sound judgement on the field of battle and an intuitive understanding of the Church’s doctrine.  I see none more worthy to wield it wisely in the service of the Goddess than you.”

 

Still shocked but knowing better than to deny her, Byleth said her thanks and bowed deeply before she sheathed the Relic and retreated from the chamber, mind swimming.

 

*****

 

It unnerved Byleth, wielding the Relic.  She had to adjust to the blade seemingly responding to her will when she used it, independent of the motions of her body, as though it truly was a living extension of her.  Strangely, it seemed to unnerve Flayn and Seteth as well whenever their eyes drifted to it on her hip.  Did they know what it felt like for her to wield?  When she asked the Charon heir who had forsaken her name and title and joined the Knights of Seiros what it was like to wield Thunderbrand the answer wasn’t what she was expecting.

 

“What’s it like to wield Thunderbrand?” Catherine had echoed, scratching her head.  “Well, it radiates power for one.  It empowers me to strike faster and harder, but other than that, it’s not that much different than wielding a mundane sword.” After a moment of thought, she laughed and added “Though, I guess you know what wielding a Relic is like just as well as I do!”

 

“I suppose I do,” Byleth affirmed, thoughts cloudy.  “Thank you for your perspective, Catherine.”

 

“Anytime!  I still want a spar with you and our Relics some time.”

 

Byleth hummed in thought before she responded, “Sometime, I promise.”  She left before Catherine could press her for a match.

 

Catherine told her nothing new about what it’s usually like to wield a Relic that wasn’t recorded at the monastery library.  Every description that she could find of wielding a Relic implied that they imparted power to their wielders, regardless of if the specific Relic was a shield, a spear, or a sword.  None spoke of a Relic seemingly merely acting as a conduit of pre-existing power.  Some descriptions made mention of the Relics appearing to be alive or of having a will of their own, which she could half relate to.  The Sword of the Creator did feel like it was alive, but only because it felt like an extension of her will, which at least was a blessing on the battlefield.

 

None of the usual rabble she was sent to deal with could stand before Byleth when she rode to battle, Relic raised and alight.  The blade whip consumed them with fire like so much chaff.  It became customary to send her with only one or two knights when dealing with such things, any more would be unnecessary and better used elsewhere.  It was at this point that she started getting assigned to deal with monsters and demonic beasts, a category of tasks typically reserved for senior knights, but with her Relic she was more than a match for them.  At some point, the name Ashen Demon started being thrown around to describe her, and she hated it.

 

The descriptions she had found also made no mention of the Relics imparting strange dreams onto their bearers, yet they started for Byleth shortly after she had received hers.  Dreams of massive battles, of massacres, dreams that haunted her well after she had awoken.

 

One day Byleth decided that she would press Rhea on the matter of her sword after debriefing over a mission.

 

“Rhea, could we talk?” Byleth had asked as the knights that had accompanied her on the mission left the audience chamber.

 

“Of course, what do you wish to talk about?” she asked in response.

 

“Alone, please,” the young priest added after glancing at the other clerics in the room.  “I have questions about my Relic.”

 

Rhea quirked a brow at that but nodded and gestured for the other occupants of the room to leave.  “Very well.  What questions did you have?”

 

“What is the Sword of the Creator, really?” Byleth began, once everyone else had left.  After a moment’s pause, she added, determined, “Why does it feel like it’s part of me?  Why does no other description of the use of Relics match my experience?”

 

“Well, I should hope that you know where the sword comes from,” Rhea said, voice measured.  “I taught you myself, after all.  Perhaps it feels different than any other Relic because of its connection to the Goddess?  It was the first Relic She bestowed upon mankind, after all.”

 

“Rhea,” Byleth pleaded, “that’s not going to cut it for me.  Every Relic is said to bestow power upon its wielder, but mine feels like it draws upon some well of power within me that I didn’t even know I had.”

 

“And why do you think I know anything about this?” Rhea probed, eyes sharp.

“It seemed like your idea for me to have it to begin with,” Byleth said, silently thanking the Goddess for her impassive face.  “You are also the most knowledgeable person in the Church when it comes to such things.  It just seems like you know more than what you’re letting on.”

 

Something seemed to give behind Rhea’s eyes as she stared into placid blue.  With it, her posture loosened, and she gestured to the advisory room.  “My apologies, dear Byleth.  You are quite right, there is plenty that I have yet to tell you.  The truth of the matter is an unpleasant, and lengthy, one.  Shall we sit while I explain?”

 

Byleth nodded and followed the Archbishop into the room.  She closed the door and sat across from Rhea as the latter began to explain.

 

“You remember my lessons on the history of Fódlan before the foundation of the Church, correct?” Rhea started.

 

“I do, yes.”

 

“They were, for the most part, lies,” Rhea explained, eyes settled on something that wasn’t in the present.  “It is the official history, according to the doctrine I have laid out over the years, but they were lies just the same.”

 

Byleth sat there for a few moments, dumbstruck, before she found her voice.  “But why?”

 

“Protection,” was Rhea’s response, said with the intonation of having used the justification before, on herself and others.  “The full reasoning behind this will become apparent as I teach you the true history.  But you must promise me that what I tell you will never be spoken of outside this room to anyone other than myself, Seteth, or Flayn.  Am I understood?”

 

She was only able to nod mutely in response.

 

“Promise me, Byleth.”  Rhea all but begged.  Byleth had no choice but to acquiesce.

 

“I promise.”

 

At that, Rhea relaxed a bit, took a steadying breath, and began.  “Perhaps it would be best to start at the beginning.  Long, long ago the divine dragon Sothis alighted upon Fódlan from afar.  She took a form resembling a human to intermingle with the humans that lived here.  She provided them with knowledge and wisdom so that they would prosper, but they were fleeting, living and dying in the blink of an eye for the Progenitor God.  Thus, from her blood, she created a people.  These were the Nabateans, the Children of the Goddess.

 

“Like her, they were dragons and like her they lived on a timescale beyond human understanding.  But they were not just any one sort of dragon.  No, they took many shapes with many specific powers.  These powers manifested in the form of the crests that they bore, with each type bearing a different crest.  All crests paled in comparison to the power of the Crest of Flames, the crest of Sothis, the crest of our Progenitor, the true power of which is beyond mortal ken and that we mere children could not hope to match.

 

“We were happy, for a time, and made our home in Zanado.  But one of the human nations, Agartha, was not satisfied,” Rhea’s expression darkened as she said this.  “They went beyond the guidance and warnings of Sothis, taking their growth into dangerous territory.  Agartha eventually declared themselves gods and attempted to subjugate the rest of the continent under the false belief that they and their way of life were superior.  The resultant war devastated the land and people, with most humans dying.

 

“The remnants of the technology of the Agarthans were buried as Sothis worked to revitalize the land.  Her efforts took centuries to bear fruit, but in time the Progenitor God was able to restore the land to what it once was.”  Rhea paused, expression turning into one of grief before she continued.  “This effort exhausted Her to the point of death.  Before She died, She bade Her children to guide humanity in Her stead, and so we did.

 

“We did not want humans to repeat the mistakes of Agartha, so we ruled for them, with various Nabatean governors managing Fódlan to ensure the safe growth of humanity.  Alas, they resented our rule, unable to see that we had their best interests in mind, that we were far more suited to rulership with our long memory and long vision, and revolts were sporadic.”

 

Here, Rhea’s expression became one of unspeakable heartache and rage that left her pupils lines of black in fluorescent green, and Byleth nearly told her to stop, but Rhea cut her off.  “Nemesis, who in truth was a simple bandit, stole the remains of the Progenitor God from the Holy Tomb and defiled Her body.  From Her blood he gained Her crest, from Her bones he carved the Sword of the Creator, and from Her heart he plucked Her crest stone and used it to power his ghastly weapon.  In truth, Her very essence gave the blade its power, for our crest stones are the seat of our souls, the core of our power, the heart of our very being.

 

“Wielding the power of the Progenitor God in the clumsiest and most destructive way possible, Nemesis laid waste to Zanado, and created the rest of the Relics from my kin.  The only survivors of the massacre of the Red Canyon were him, and Seiros.  Me.  His lieutenants, the so-called Elites, set to work killing the rest of the Nabateans across the continent with their own stolen power, leaving only a handful of survivors, the ones known as Saints to the Church I would later found.

 

“After the massacre, I was... lost.  I hid myself for years and took to performing miracles in the newly founded Enbarr, trying to do good with what little power I had.  Eventually, dear, sweet Wilhelm took me in and gave me a proper place to live.  There, I formulated a plan for revenge and to try to right the course of Fódlan’s history.  I gathered the rest of the Children of the Goddess and laid the foundations for the Church.  With the nascent Church I gave Wilhelm my blood, granting him my crest and power beyond that of a mortal and blessed him to found his Empire.  Together, we went to war.

 

“It was a long, difficult war that left both Wilhelm and Cichol’s wife dead, but in time Adrestia conquered the land and Nemesis and his Elites lay dead by my hand.  When I reclaimed the Sword of the Creator and felt Her presence, I knew then what I must do.  The only one that could make this right and guide Fódlan to peace and prosperity was Sothis.

 

“From Her heart, I began creating vessels for Her to inhabit.  When the first few were abject failures that failed to live even hours, I knew that it would take time and patience to see this through.  I took on the alias of Rhea, the Archbishop, and systematically purged records that told the truth of Fódlan’s past to replace them with my carefully crafted history so that humans would never find us and that I would have all the time and resources that I would need.

 

“In total, I created twelve vessels for Her.  They were all failures that, while superficially similar to our kind, were frail and could not even change forms.  The twelfth, Sitri, was your mother.  When she fell in love with your father, I earnestly wished for their union to be a happy one.”  Rhea smiled at this, recalling the love she saw them bear.  “Unfortunately, it was not to be.  Your mother, weak as she was, was unable to withstand the rigors of childbirth and lay dying after her child was born.  You, Byleth.  You yourself were not much better off, as you were stillborn and without a crest stone.  Cognizant of what she was, your mother... begged me to save you by giving you the crest stone she bore, the heart of the Goddess.  It worked, and life was breathed into you at the cost of her life and you became the thirteenth vessel for Sothis.

 

“Jeralt suspected that something was wrong and took you when he left, but you found your way back home by managing a feat no other vessel had met before.  That your sword feels like it is a part of you is merely a reflection of the fact that it very much is.”  Rhea paused, as if to finally, finally give Byleth time to process all of this information, then added, “In all honesty, I had meant to tell you the truth of who you were sooner, but I was—I am—afraid that you would think me a monster.  I am forever grateful that Cethleann and Cichol do not.”

 

The poor girl just stared mutely at Rhea, at Seiros, as her worldview shattered before her.  It had been some time since she stopped actively trying to process the information that she was given and was simply absorbing it to dissect later.  Some distant part of her mind made the connection that Cethleann was Flayn and Cichol was Seteth, but any hope of actively participating in this conversation was dashed long ago.  Byleth wasn’t sure when exactly it happened, but she found herself nearly running to her room, desperately hoping that this was all just some bizarre dream she was having.  When she awoke the next morning and Rhea couldn’t meet her gaze, she knew it wasn’t.

 

*****

 

It was only after Byleth understood that Rhea was not lying that she could finally process the information that Rhea had given her.  Once she had, however, she sat on her bed, knees drawn up to her chest, eyes burning holes into her Relic.  She was afraid of what the truth she had learnt would mean for her.  What did it mean that every prayer ever uttered in the history of the Church went unheard?  What would she do now that the Church that she had begun to dedicate her life to was built upon falsehood?  How many more lies were in her life, waiting to be uncovered?  What had she done, killing in the Goddess’ name when the Goddess she knew didn’t exist and the Goddess that really did was dead?  If crest stones were the seat of her people’s souls, and hers was Sothis’, what did that mean for her as a person?  Where did Sothis end and Byleth begin?

 

Her head spun, trying to understand.  Perhaps she should have waited for her dad to return from his own mission.  For the time being, it would be best to simply decide what she would do with the Relic in her possession.  She at least understood Seteth’s—Cichol’s—trepidation at giving it to her.  It was strange that Rhea didn’t seem to feel any, but perhaps she had simply swallowed it in her desperation to revive Sothis.  Byleth could attempt to give it back, demand that they take it from her, but the thought of giving it up triggered a sense of loss within her.  Rhea’s words that the sword was a part of her echoed in her head, soundly eliminating one option.  Byleth could keep it but not use it, but nothing good would come from simply leaving the sword laying around.  She decided that she would keep it but redouble her efforts to treat it with the respect it deserves.

 

That at least some of the saints she revered turned out to be people she considered family hit Byleth belatedly, but no less hard.  At some point as she was mulling over the implications that the Flayn she caught fish for was Saint Cethleann and the Seteth who wrote the book Jeralt would read her stories from was Saint Cichol, she fell asleep without realizing.

 

When Byleth awoke, she found herself in a black void.  The texture of the ground beneath her was that of stone, yet it was perfectly black.  She quickly scrambled to her feet and took stock of her surroundings.  A strange green glow clung to her, and the void itself, while black, didn’t feel dark, but more like there simply wasn’t anything to illuminate.  Nothing, aside from the dais and throne she found herself in front of, at least.  They were perfectly lit and visible, bathed in that same gentle glow that embraced her.  The dais rose out of the void with a dizzying number of steps, and the back of the throne upon it gave the impression that it reached to Heaven itself.

 

Curled up on the throne, Byleth noticed a woman and the green light seemed to radiate from her specifically.  Cautiously, Byleth climbed the dais to get a better look at her.  The climb, she noticed, seemed to happen in but an instant, one moment she was on what passed for the ground, and the next she was level with the throne.  She silently thanked them for their brevity and took a look at the woman, who Byleth found achingly familiar in a way that she couldn’t place.  Her long verdant green hair was well kept and crowned with a relatively simple gold diadem adorned with lilies.  The woman’s robes were reminiscent of Rhea’s, simpler without the cloak but made of a higher quality material.  Byleth’s eyes were drawn to her ears which were sharply pointed and twitched lightly in the woman’s sleep.  Byleth was no fool and suddenly she drew back once she realized just who she was staring at and where she was.

 

The woman—Sothis—seemed to sense the change in atmosphere and stirred.  Languidly, she stretched and yawned before she took notice of the sole other occupant of her throne room.  Her eyes, a brilliant shade of green that bore the weight of ages within, focused on Byleth, and the priest froze.

 

“It is quite rude to interrupt a moment of repose, you know.  Quite rude indeed,” Sothis chastised and rested her head on her hand, leaning on the arm of the throne of knowledge.  She hummed in thought and continued, not willing to wait for a dumbstruck Byleth to come to her senses, “Tell me, who are you?”

 

A direct question, thankfully, was enough to snap Byleth back to what passed for reality here.  “My name is Byleth Eisner, priest and knight-in-training of Seiros and daughter of Jeralt the Blade Breaker,” she explained with as deep a bow she could manage.

 

Sothis blinked at that statement and Byleth squirmed under her gaze.  At length, she responded, “I must admit, I do not know what you mean with any of that, Byleth.  As for my name it is...  How strange, I appear to be unable to remember it.”

 

This time, it was Byleth’s turn to be confused.  Was the Goddess playing a trick on her?  “You don’t know your name?  Or the Knights of Seiros?  Or the Church?”

 

“That is what I said, is it not?” Sothis harrumphed.  “I am sure my name will return to me, however.”

 

Byleth was certain now that, despite how real everything felt, this was clearly a dream.  The thought of the Goddess herself not so much as knowing about the Church of Seiros, let alone her own name, was too much.  This was just a strange trick her mind was playing on her after being overtaxed by the revelations Rhea had given her.  Just the same, Byleth played along, sensing that there was no way out but through.  “If I may, I believe that you’re Sothis, the Goddess of Fódlan and the same one that we revere,” she filled in.  “Do you truly not know?”

 

Sothis’ eyes widened at that, and she glanced down at her throne.  “I suppose that would explain the throne, I feel you may be right,” Sothis agreed.  “And once more, no.  If I am being honest, I do not remember much of anything.  The name Seiros is familiar, but I cannot tie it to anything.”

 

“You can’t remember...” Byleth began, before she slumped to the floor, “anything?”

 

“I am sorry,” Sothis apologized, frowning.  “If it is as you say and that your order reveres me, I am sure this is a disappointment.”

 

Head in her hands, Byleth dismissed her apology.  “It’s okay.  I’m pretty sure this is just a dream anyway.  My...” What was Rhea to her?  Religious leader?  Parental figure?  Mentor?  All three?  In light of all that she told her, none any longer?  She swallowed thickly and picked at random, “My mentor had just torn down everything that I thought to be true about the Church all at once.  I’m sure this is just a result of trying to come to grips with that.”

 

Sothis’ frown deepened at that, “I am quite real, you know!  Even if this is a dream, this is also real.”

 

“That doesn’t make any sense.  One of the things she told me was that you were dead long before I was even born, anyway.”

 

That seemed to genuinely catch Sothis off guard, but it didn’t take long for her to recover and she bristled, “How dare you, I am most certainly alive!”  She calmed and continued with a sad smile, “I cannot speak to my state before I awoke here, however.  You seem to know more about me than me, so it may very well be true that I was at one point dead, but I am alive now just the same.”

 

Byleth stared at the mercurial deity, unsure how to continue.  The words came tumbling out unbidden, as she thought on it.  “I think I’m why.  Rhea—Seiros—wanted to use me as a vessel to resurrect you.  Or wanted me to be your resurrection.  I’m not exactly sure which.  I have your heart, which Rhea said housed your soul, and I wasn’t alive until she put it inside me.  I don’t know if I’m really a person or just a bridge from wherever ‘here’ is to reality for you to cross.”

 

This time it was Sothis’ turn to stare at her conversational partner, who had started steadfastly looking at the ground halfway through her explanation.  Sothis smoothly got up from her throne and walked over to Byleth, then embraced her.  “Byleth, no matter what, you are your own person,” she said, rubbing gentle circles into her back.  “The circumstances of your existence are out of your control, but the only person who gets to decide what they mean is you.”

 

Words had left Byleth at this point, so she just hugged Sothis back, as tightly as she could.  When she opened her eyes next, she was back in her room, awoken from the dream.  The experience lingered with her like a true memory, and she wondered what it could mean.

 

“I said that even if it was a dream, it was real!” Sothis reminded her as she materialized out of nothing into Byleth’s room.  “Now, do not give me that look of wide-eyed shock.  You yourself explained how we are connected, and now that I am awake, I shall always be with you.”

 

Byleth could only manage to nod mutely, and Sothis continued, “Perhaps it would be best to continue filling me in on what you know about me?”

 

The priest just nodded again and began to explain what little she knew.  Once on the same page, together they decided two things: The first was that Byleth would do what she could to learn more about Sothis and Nabatea from the remaining Nabateans, and the second was that under no circumstances could Rhea be allowed to know their situation.

 

*****

 

Even as Byleth necessarily spent more time with Rhea to learn what she could, the rift between them grew ever more palpable and it was apparent that it was here to stay for some time.  When Byleth was finally formally knighted in the winter of 1179, her gaze towards Rhea as she said her vows was as cold as the mountain air.  Rhea, for her part, was patient.  She had the decades to wait for Byleth’s disdain for her to soften, and even if it didn’t, she couldn’t say that she didn’t deserve it.

 

So, when Rhea handed Byleth a mission shortly after the spring equinox and start of the new year of 1180, she wasn’t surprised Byleth wordlessly looked it over, accepted it, and left without a goodbye.  From her balcony, Rhea saw Byleth off as she picked through the throngs of students coming in for the new year at the officer’s academy.

Chapter Text

Edelgard was tense as she waited for the trap she had set to be sprung.  While her Flame Emperor armor was too bulky to smuggle in on this mission in its entirety, she had her mask and robe, the most important identifying parts, tucked safely at the bottom of her bag, out of sight.  They would be her protection from her own hired thugs, she couldn’t have told them as the Flame Emperor to spare the Hresvelg heir, that’d be too suspicious.  Edelgard was already thankful someone else had suggested this little camping trip.  Just the heirs of the nations of Fódlan and a professor out on a bonding exercise?  It was too good to be true.  Yet, it was, and she made the most of it.  She had to make a conscious effort to not let her nerves show or check her gear to make sure it was in easy reach.  Dimitri and Claude chatted amicably around the fire  the three shared, ignorant of the coming chaos.  It truly was a shame that they had to die.

 

The plan to assassinate her fellow heirs wasn’t Edelgard’s first idea, or even her second or third.  She tried and tried to find a way nobody would have to die and failed.  The Church was too entrenched in the Kingdom to escape its grasp and the Alliance lords lacked a truly unifying leader for her to even attempt to sway.  It was unpleasant to consider assassinating people her own age, but that was precisely the reason that they must be eliminated.  They were young, strong, and capable.  Grand Duke Riegan was too old and infirm to rule effectively, and Duke Blaiddyd was notorious for being too busy chasing skirts to rule as regent.  Were either Dimitri or Claude allowed to live, they would strengthen their nations and prolong her coming war, causing untold more people to die.  This was for the best, she continually told herself in a vain attempt to quench the malaise that had made its home in her stomach.

 

It wasn’t clear to Edelgard why all three of them were up this late, or at this point it might be better to say this early.  Perhaps they weren’t as ignorant to the danger as she thought, perhaps they sensed what was about to happen.  She didn’t have much time to ponder, because her trap had finally sprung, and her plan was already starting to unravel.  Edelgard moved to grab her gear but could only grab her axe before she had to dodge an attack from a bandit that seemed keen on keeping her separated from the rest of her things.  Shit.

 

The camp erupted into chaos, and both her marks were quick to react, unfortunately.  Dimitri always had a weapon on him and assumed a fighting stance in seconds as though it was what he was born to do.  Claude went for his bow and quiver and eyed an escape route like he had already practiced this exact scenario.  As such, Claude was quick to bolt, and Dimitri followed after him, which forced Edelgard to trail after them or risk being overwhelmed.  The professor wasn’t with them, probably having fled when things got hot.

 

For a while they trailed through the forest and seemed to lose the rogues, but Claude was leading them to the nearby village of Remire, which caused Edelgard’s heart to sink.  She didn’t want to involve innocent townspeople in this and she doubted that her hires would feel the same.  Things were just turning from bad to worse.

 

“I knew this town was around here somewhere,” Claude said.  “Let’s see if there’s anyone here that can help us.”

“Good thinking Claude!” Dimitri commended.  “Look, I think I see a knight coming out of the inn.”

 

Edelgard wasn’t sure if she should curse her luck for turning her plan into a complete failure or simply be thankful that this village wouldn’t be defenseless.  Dimitri ran up to the knight and asked for help with Claude filling him in on what he thought the situation was.  She simply concurred that they needed help as her eyes landed on the blue-haired priest that appeared behind him.

 

Her hair was messy and shoulder length and covered her ears fully.  Her robes were the standard fare for a priest in a dark gray with pink accents.  The major deviations she noted were a white capelet covering her upper torso and her flowing sleeves that hinted at a needed ease of movement.  Those, and the longsword at her side with a surprisingly ornate scabbard.  Belatedly, Edelgard noticed that there was a resonance to her.  She had felt something similar with Rhea, but it wasn’t this strong.  The priest’s words snapped Edelgard from her thoughts before she could understand what that meant.

 

“It sounds like the bandits will be here before we’ll be able to saddle our horses, dad.  Should I go deal with them while you take care of our mounts and sweep up any stragglers?” she asked the knight, her father apparently.

 

Before he could answer hollers came from the forest, it seems the bandits found their new prize.  “Sounds like it.  I’ll saddle up and join you in a bit,” he agreed.

 

“Wait, we would not want to impose.  We can fight as well now that we’ve regrouped,” Dimitri volunteered.

 

“Indeed, we are quite capable,” Edelgard agreed, seizing the opportunity to dispose of Kostas.

 

The priest just gave them both a look.  Her face was relatively blank but there was something in her eyes that suggested she was taking the measure of them.  At length, she glanced to the woods and replied, “If you want, but I’m not sure how much fighting you’ll actually get to do.”

 

“I wouldn’t underestimate us,” Claude offered with an easy smile and calculating eyes.  The priest gave him another look like before and set off towards the town gate at a brisk walk.  He seemed to falter a little at that and followed.

 

“How should we approach this?” Edelgard asked once they were at the gate.  The priest said nothing and drew her sword, which blazed to life in crimson fire once it was free of its scabbard.  Oh, it’s her, the Ashen Demon, Edelgard thought.  Once again, she found herself baffled at her own luck.  There would almost certainly be no survivors to question, but likewise no chance of her plan succeeding.

 

*****

 

True to her word, the most fighting the three of them got to do was Claude taking a few potshots at bandits that turned tail and fled.  Byleth’s expression hardly changed as she cut down the ones that didn’t have the sense to stay as far outside the range of the Sword of the Creator as possible.  It was as unnerving as her movements among the flames were elegant, like the Relic was made for her and her for it.  Edelgard was satisfied when she spied Kostas laying on the ground motionless.  He was the only one that saw the Flame Emperor, and with him gone so too was the only link back to her.

 

Or so she thought.

 

Somehow, Edelgard got separated from the rest of the group.  Somehow, Kostas wasn’t dead.  And somehow, he chose her specifically to make a last-ditch attempt to make good on his contract.  She had left her axe leaning against a tree behind her, so all she could do was raise her dagger in defense and hope that that was enough.  It didn’t matter in the end fortunately, because Byleth had sprinted over and put herself physically in between Edelgard and Kostas.  Unfortunately for Byleth and more fortunate still for Edelgard, the major potential thorn in her side decided to use her back to block his axe instead of her sword.  At least, Edelgard could have sworn that she witnessed Kostas make himself useful and eliminate an obstacle for her, then she blinked, and she was once again watching Kostas barrel towards her.

 

Byleth again leapt in front of Edelgard but managed to use her Relic to parry Kostas’ axe and send him flying this time.  She seemed satisfied with him fleeing and turned to look over Edelgard over for any injures, healing the cuts and scrapes she received from clawing branches.

 

“Any other injuries?” Byleth asked, eyes intently focused on her.

 

“No,” Edelgard started, only to have a realization cut her off.  Byleth’s pupils were slit, and rapidly going back to a rounder state.  Internally, she drily laughed at a Child of the Goddess bearing the moniker of demon, but externally she recovered before her discovery could be noticed.  “Those were all I had.”

 

The knight’s expression softened at that.  “Good.  I’ll go tend to the other students then,” she said, satisfied, and returned to the boys.  It wasn’t long after that that Byleth’s father, Jeralt the Blade Breaker, Edelgard realized, appeared to do his own check of the situation as Alois appeared from the road to the monastery with a contingent of knights and ordered them to catch the stragglers.

 

Edelgard was both disappointed and relieved that her plan failed, and she wasn’t sure which impulse she should crush.  Regardless, Kostas was now a loose end that the Flame Emperor needed to tie up, so she suggested that they return to their camp to retrieve their things before they headed back.

 

*****

 

“You want me to what?” Byleth asked incredulously and turned back towards Rhea to give her her full attention.

 

“I said that you are to be the new professor for this year’s class of students,” Rhea repeated.  “The house leaders have already taken a liking to you, and... I think it would be good for you to be around more people your own age.”

 

“As a professor,” Byleth stated, not questioned.

 

“Yes.  I doubt there is anything the officer’s academy could teach you that you do not already know, so yes, as a professor.”

 

Byleth worked her jaw and considered her options.  Saying no to Rhea was a possibility, but that would limit her freedom to deny her for a time.  Even she can only push so far, after all.  On the other hand, becoming a professor was something she felt was out of her depth.  Seteth was too resigned to this to be of much help, either.

 

What do you think, Sothis?” Byleth mentally asked.  Their thoughts were mostly separate but if one thought at the other, they could talk fairly easily without anyone giving them strange looks.

 

I think it would be a good way to learn more about the girl that bears our crest,” Sothis replied.  “The one you were so quick to throw our lives away for.

 

“I’ll do it,” Byleth finally said externally, aware that to everyone else her response was taking a while.  “I told you, I panicked.  Attacking him at range wouldn’t have broken his momentum.  And while she seems to bear our crest, there’s no way that she could actually have it, could she?

 

Rhea genuinely smiled at that.  “Wonderful.  Why don’t you meet the rest of the students you will be guiding before you come back here with a decision on which house you would like to teach for the year?” she suggested.  “You will be able to make your choice tomorrow with the other professors.”

 

What else could make us feel like that?” Sothis prodded.  Byleth nodded in affirmation to Rhea and made her way downstairs to meet the students she would apparently be teaching.

 

I don’t know.  What I do know is that we’ll find out while teaching the Black Eagles.

 

*****

 

When Byleth came down from what was presumably an audience with the Archbishop and started asking Edelgard about her and her classmates she was suspicious.  Was she a suspect?  Was Kostas caught already?  She eased some when Byleth explained that she was to be a professor for one of the houses this year and wanted to get to know the students.  Edelgard found the hint of frustration in the soon-to-be professor’s voice and eyes amusing.  Apparently it wasn’t her idea to be a replacement.  It was a minor setback that Jeritza wasn’t chosen, but Edelgard made sure it didn’t show on her face.  She also felt a minor swell of pride when she noticed that Byleth was much less attentive when questioning the other house leaders.

 

Because nothing could be easy for Edelgard, Byleth chose the Black Eagles to teach.  While her battle prowess would certainly help the Eagles and herself grow, having a Child of the Goddess so close would make her activities even harder, especially one that seemed particularly interested in her specifically.  She would need to be extra careful if she didn’t want to rely on a backup plan.  Still, Edelgard hoped that she would be able to enjoy this last year before war a little.

 

*****

 

Hubert paced in front of Edelgard in a small circuit, enough to express his nerves but not so much that would put him outside of whisper range.  The library was their go-to meeting spot for things of this nature, the books here caught the sound of their voices and one of their agents was the librarian, making this one of the safest places in the dragons’ den to plot the first half of their war.  Thankfully, it was also largely empty since classes would only start after the mock battle in a little over a week’s time.

 

“And you are sure you saw her eyes change?” Hubert questioned.

 

“Are you doubting me?” replied Edelgard, tone even.

 

“Of course not, my lady,” he said with a deep bow in apology.  “It’s just that they made it clear that the Children of the Goddess have green hair and eyes.  Our professor is rather blue in those areas.”

 

“Her father seems very much human, so her features could be a result of him,” she countered.  “Regardless, I know what I saw.”

 

“Of course, Lady Edelgard,” he acquiesced.  “Shall we let our... colleagues know?”

 

Edelgard mulled the thought.  “Without better proof, they would be far more dismissive about my finding than you were.  We also need not tell them any more than they need to know.”

 

“As you wish, Lady Edelgard.  I also find this course of action to be prudent.”

 

*****

“Oh, you chose my favorite tea,” Edelgard said with a smile.  The Professor had felt that she needed to get to know everyone’s goals for the year and, to that end, decided to invite everyone individually to tea in the gardens.  Much of the monastery had an oppressive atmosphere for Edelgard, but the gardens were an exception, and she allowed herself to relax a bit.

 

“Did I?” Byleth asked, glancing at their cups.  “Bergamot’s one of my favorites as well.”

 

“Indeed, it’s rather soothing, isn’t it?”

 

Byleth hummed in agreement at that.  “Well, you know why I invited you here.  I have a few ideas from the roster, but what areas of education would you like to improve upon?”

 

“Heavy armor doesn’t bother me, really,” Edelgard began.  “And I favor the raw power of the axe as a weapon.  So, I suppose that I would like to focus on those.  I also came here to learn how to lead better.  I am to be Adrestia’s next Emperor, after all.”

 

The Professor nodded and scribbled a few notes.  “Any areas you would like to avoid?”

 

“I’ve never been good with a bow,” Edelgard said.  She then hesitated, worrying that she would offend her new professor or worse, but replied anyway, “I’d also like to avoid instruction in faith.  I know this is a monastery, but...”

 

“No, I know faith isn’t for everyone,” Byleth said, shaking her head.  “Especially not faith in the Church.”

 

“Really?  I’m surprised to hear you say that,” Edelgard replied and she was sure her shock showed on her face, too.

 

“I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t had a crisis of faith before,” she explained, eyes dark.  Now that’s interesting, Edelgard thought.  Byleth recovered and continued, “We’re supposed to be discussing your goals for the year, I’m sorry.  Finally, are there any areas where you would like to explore?”

 

Edelgard considered the question for a moment before she gave her answer, “Reason magic.  I remember my magical potential being tested as a child and that it was relatively high.”

 

“I’ll take all this into consideration, thank you Edelgard,” Byleth said, finishing her notes and closing her notebook.  “I hope your year here is productive.”

 

If only you knew just how I really want it to be productive, Edelgard thought to herself.

 

*****

 

Byleth was quite proud of the plans she had devised for the mock battle after interviewing her Eagles as she looked over her notes.  She was also confident in the teaching plans she had devised for them, but the battle itself would determine the true course for them.  Someone could easily say they were strong in this or that, and the only way to get to the truth of the matter was to see someone perform.

 

Surprisingly, her fellow professors didn’t balk at her participating in the battle, and indeed seemed to relish the idea of potentially beating such a powerful opponent.  Byleth had no qualms about playing along.

 

I’m surprised, aren’t knights supposed to be chivalrous and give fair fights and all that?” Sothis teased.

 

I did offer that the professors would sit out to make it fair for everyone,” Byleth countered.  “Apparently they don’t think I’m that much of a threat with just a training sword.”

 

Sure, sure,” Sothis continued, unabated.  “You certainly couldn’t be looking forward to this.

 

Byleth said nothing in response, and just jotted down a few contingencies in the event Caspar disobeyed orders and broke rank.  The boy was excitable and could be a problem.  Come to think of it, so could Ferdinand, so eager to prove himself.

 

Then again, you aren’t exactly the chivalrous type,” Sothis hummed in thought.  “Neither Jeralt nor Rhea were keen on things like honor, just getting home alive and winning.

 

They still made sure I knew the rules I would be breaking.”  At least that Edelgard girl would be sure to hold the line with her, she seemed focused if nothing else.

 

If you’re so worried about your frontline failing to hold, maybe you could have Bernadetta act as bait by running in, taking a few potshots, and quickly running out?

 

If I trusted her to not freeze, I would.”  Byleth thought on it a moment, then continued, “That plan still has potential if Petra’s the one doing it, though.

 

I’m full of good ideas and wisdom, as you know,” Sothis said smugly.

 

Byleth just hummed in half-hearted agreement.

 

Hey, don’t just ignore me, I am!” Sothis protested, with none of the dignity her station would suggest.

 

Wisdom like ‘long rides are boring’ and ‘fishing is boring’, yes.  I’ll make sure to extoll the Goddess’ disdain of boring things in the next sermon I give.

 

It’s not my fault both of those things are boring, they just are,” Sothis said.

 

I find them soothing.  Now, if you’re going to be chatty, help me with likely backup plans.

 

Sothis grumbled about being unappreciated and Byleth’s lack of faith but helped the professor anyway.

 

*****

 

It impressed Edelgard at how well her Professor was able to keep discipline among the Black Eagles during the battle.  Of course, much of her strategy seemed to simply be accommodating the Eagles’ individual quirks and putting them in roles that would fit them.  Bernadetta stayed in the back to cover Linhardt, Caspar and Ferdinand were the flanks of the frontline and given the freedom to move as they wished, Petra acted both as a lure and to pick off stragglers, and Byleth, Edelgard, Dorothea, and Hubert acted as the core of their force, able to hammer their opponents.  The composition of the other two houses was far less effective, and with the other two professors staying in the back, lacked the flexibility of the Black Eagles.

 

Hanneman and Manuela grumbled about being no match for someone with real battle experience, and Edelgard was inclined to agree.  The difference in experience was obvious even in the way that Byleth made plans compared to them.  They were keen to split their groups while Byleth made sure any splits in the Eagles were temporary, and she capitalized on their division.

 

“You led us well, my teacher,” Edelgard genuinely praised the knight on the way back to Garreg Mach proper for their victory feast.

 

“Only because the Eagles acted well under pressure,” Byleth deflected, though not without a glint of pride in her eyes.  “Caspar still nearly got separated from us and it was only through the quick actions of you and Hubert that he wasn’t knocked out.”

 

“Maybe, but I could tell that you still accounted for that possibility,” the student countered.

 

The Professor just hummed in noncommittal agreement at that.  Still, Edelgard thought, it seems like I have much to learn from this Byleth.

Chapter Text

Hello, this is Robin, the author of this fic. In case you haven't noticed the publication dates for the other chapters, it's been a while since I've touched this. The work has been on indefinite, informal hiatus for a while now, and I decided it's time to at least formalize that. I would like to finish this, I've got the direction planned out still, but my desire to do so has faded. Both from seeing more mistakes in prose and errors in characterization and things that could have just plain been done better in the extant chapters, and from feeling less strongly about this AU, and indeed the fandom, in general.

School, executive dysfunction, and a number of other things contributed to my halting of this work to begin with, and the above contribute to its continued stagnation. If I pick it up again, I pick it up again. If not, then not. Thank you all for reading and enjoying this work, my first fanfic, as rough as it was.