Byleth awoke hearing the sound of Sothis’ voice echoing from a dream whose details she couldn’t remember. She sounded... remorseful, but the reason why slipped through Byleth’s fingers like so much water upon waking. Byleth had missed the sound of her friend’s voice, and that ache was refreshed, even if Sothis’ presence was still very much tangible within her. Taking stock of her surroundings, she found herself buried under rubble and half-submerged in a river. That was a problem.
It took less time than Byleth had expected to pull herself out of the rubble and retrieve her sword, but she still wasn’t used to the strength she had gained from merging with Sothis just a few moons ago. So much had happened between then and now, it made her dizzy thinking about it. Absentmindedly, Byleth glanced at one of the bricks that she freed herself from and noticed that it looked as though it was melted where it had made contact with her. Strange, she thought.
Getting a better look at her clothes and armor, Byleth realized that they were tattered and decrepit. If she didn’t know better, she’d think they were relics from a bygone era, but she reminded herself she had a keep collapse on top of her and was laying in the river for who knows how long. Her hair was startlingly long as well, but that would be easily fixed with her dagger. Or, it would be, had it not been completely covered in rust. Byleth was mortified that it was in such a state, it was a gift from— Just thinking about him made her heart ache. She had managed to pull herself together enough to take revenge and teach her students once again, but the pain of his death was still fresh. Byleth recomposed herself and returned the dagger to its sheath, it would be dealt with later. For now, she tried to make sense of how she got here, anyway.
The last thing Byleth could remember was
Seiros taking her true form Rhea turning into a beast and bringing a fair bit of Garreg Mach down onto her. Then, everything was black. If she had to guess, the cliff must have collapsed into the ravine and now she was directly below Garreg Mach. Looking up she could see what could be Garreg Mach, maybe, but it was hard to tell. She really was quite far down. Byleth hoped her Eagles had managed to win or were at least safe. The only way to find out would be to get out of the ravine and find some semblance of civilization, though. Step one would be making herself slightly presentable.
Byleth took care to not ruin her clothes and armor any more than they already were, and she felt like she did a good job, all things considered. Despite what would be implied from how she found herself upon waking, physically she was fine. She had a few new and faint scars, but she didn’t look terribly different than she did when she went into battle. Surely she couldn’t have been asleep for that long, right? Cleaned to the best of her ability given the circumstances and with her hair tied back with a scrap of her cape, Byleth followed the flow of the river along its bank, hoping to find a warm meal and her friends.
1286. That was the year. Byleth had been asleep for over a century. Over a century! No wonder her things were nearly falling apart! How she wasn’t falling apart right along with them was something she could only chalk up to Sothis’ power burning within her, keeping her alive and whole when she should by all rights be dead. Byleth was unable to catch much else from the peasant, the rising tide of panic drowning out any other useful information. She almost certainly slept past the war. She definitely slept past her friends’ lives. She slept past her own life. She was alive, sure, but what did she have to show for it? In a haze, she stumbled towards the inn in the village she had happened upon, managed to barter for a room and food with a golden ornament from the robes Rhea had given her, and tried to wrap her head around her situation. She did little more than eat her fill and sleep that day.
“I’m so thankful that you chose me, my teacher,” Edelgard said, a soft yet bright smile upon her lips and sparkling in her eyes. “I was afraid, when you became one of them, you would choose to side with Rhea. I’m glad I was wrong.”
The words of Byleth’s response were on her lips when she opened her eyes to the ceiling of her room at the inn. As the fog of sleep left her mind and she remembered when and where she was, Byleth was once more wracked with grief. She was well and truly alone, with nowhere to go.
After she got breakfast and calmed down a bit, Byleth decided that she needed a plan. She needed clothes that were remotely wearable, and a long-term plan for food and shelter. She could simply go back to mercenary work for a time while she thought up a more concrete solution. For better or for worse, teaching at Garreg Mach and connecting with her Eagles made the thought of simply swinging a sword without thought for money feel hollow. Regardless, it would do for now. Before that, she needed a measure of closure to find out what became of her friends while she slept. The once-more mercenary decided that the innkeeper behind the bar would be as good a person as any to ask. She seemed old and might have had a grandparent fight in the war.
“I have a bit of an odd question,” Byleth ventured, walking up to the bar.
“Yer a bit of an odd person,” the innkeeper said, blunt. “Shoot.”
Byleth hesitated a moment, then posed her question, “What was the outcome of the war? The one between the Empire and the Church?”
Lucky for Byleth, it did. “The war? Why’re you askin’ about that?”
“Please, it’s important to me,” Byleth explained without explaining much of anything. She doubted the innkeeper would believe her.
“You were right about it bein’ an odd question,” the innkeeper said with a chuckle. “Well, the Church o’ Seiros won, eventually. For a long while it was a stalemate between the Empire and everyone else after they grabbed hold of Garreg Mach. What finally broke the Empire was their Emperor dyin’ of some strange disease and that split ‘em into the faction that wanted to keep the war goin’ and the one that wanted it to be over with already. Unable to put up a unified front, it was a simple matter for the Archbishop to swoop in and pacify ‘em and crown a new Emperor, loyal to her.”
A low buzz muffled the innkeeper after the second sentence, but Byleth managed to store it all in her head to unpack later once the chorus of ‘I should’ve been there’s died down in her head. She should’ve been there with her students, fighting alongside them. But here she was, finally awake a century too late. In a fit of manic desperation, Byleth considered straining herself and turning back time as far as it would go. The only reason she didn’t was because she couldn’t push time back farther than several hours, and that was only after the line between Sothis and Byleth blurred to non-existence.
“Could I have some water?” Byleth managed to croak after what felt like an eternity, mouth unbearably dry.
The innkeeper eyed Byleth strangely but nodded and moved to get the drink just the same. The mercenary gulped it down like it was the first good drink she’s had in years. She wasn’t sure it wasn’t.
“I have another question,” Byleth began, trying to quell the resurgent panic. “Do you have any clothes I could buy?”
“I don’t, no, but there’s a tailor down the road.”
It cost the last of the gold she could pry off the robes Rhea had given her, but Byleth had decent wool cloak, a new sword belt, a tunic, trousers, and boots that weren’t falling apart. It was a simple outfit, but it was clean and whole, and a surprising boost to her state of mind. She missed her old coat, but she was certain that Rhea would’ve gotten rid of it long ago. She missed a lot of things, she found. She had her mother’s ring that had somehow survived the battle, her fall, and the subsequent century. She had her dagger, restored the night before in a mindless effort to exhaust herself to sleep. She also had the Sword, which had felt the century much the same way she had: seemingly not at all. Most importantly, Byleth had herself, but little else.
Something occurred to Byleth on the way back to the inn. Was Rhea still looking for her? Was she a wanted woman?
Time flowed over her kind like water over an oilskin Edelgard had said that Rhea had lived for centuries, so it would make sense if she was still around and Byleth’s last interactions with the Archbishop weren’t pleasant. Thinking about it, Cethleann and Cichol were also Nabateans Flayn and Seteth felt the same as Rhea to be around, so they might still be around, too. So, she at least knew some people from her era. The problem, however, was that none of them would be happy to see her. She supposed that if she was wanted, that matter would make itself known sooner or later. For now, she would just avoid churches.
Sitting in her room at the inn, Byleth considered her next moves. She wasn’t in a position to spend days mourning what she had lost like she had at Garreg Mach. What would Edelgard want her to do? Start fighting again in her name? Make peace with the fact that they had lost? What about the rest of her students? ...What about herself? What did Byleth want to do?
The question stuck in Byleth’s mind like a fishhook. When had her wants mattered before when it came to what she needed to do? Her dad always got them contracts when they were working as mercenaries. Rhea had decided that she would be a professor before she even met her. The handful of choices of consequence she made had to do with Edelgard and her Eagles. Byleth chose that house, Byleth chose to go with Edelgard to Enbarr, and Byleth chose to protect her. Now those catalysts of choice were gone, but decisions still had to be made. Ultimately, however, Byleth realized one thing. Edelgard always emphasized the freedom of choice. She never demanded anything of her, only asked for it, and Byleth had always given willingly. She supposed Edelgard and Sothis were similar in that way; they both told her, implicitly or explicitly, to make her own choices.
It wasn’t like Byleth had no wants, either. They were just inconsequential like wanting to have tea with a friend or wanting to relax and fish. They weren’t answers to a big question like how she would spend her life. Wants were basically just desiring things you liked, right? What did Byleth like? Fishing, fighting, the smiles of people she helped, being needed, teaching, gardening, tea. Her students. Now did any of that get her any closer to what she wanted to do? She enjoyed her time at Garreg Mach but staying in one place for so long made her restless. Maybe she could just... travel? And help people while doing so? She had learnt how to heal at Garreg Mach, and she knew there would be no shortage of people needing muscle, so there were two things she could do. Yeah, that’d work. Byleth would be a mercenary, but not just for coin, it’d be to make the world a little bit better!
It was bitter, the thought of wandering alone after Byleth had grown accustomed to friendship. Even before Garreg Mach she at least had her dad and the mercenary band. For now, at least, it was a path forward. It was a start.