It was all shades of blue as far as she could see: out into the horizon, across the vast sea and the empty sky. The light breeze dancing around her, like a partner twirling to an unknown tune, ruffling her clothes and billowing out her hair around her. It was calm today, the sky bare of any clouds; pure, a reflection of the rippling water underneath her. It was just like before, all of it was just like before.
A creak of the board she was standing upon, the wood supporting her, for now, as it reached out and away from the great vessel she had her back to. The waves of the water not far beneath her lapped gently at the hull of the ship, it was such a peaceful day. Maybe… that was a good thing. If this is the last thing she would ever see then, maybe this isn’t so bad.
“Edelgard von Hresvelg. You are charged with treason against the church of Seiros.”
A powerful, booming voice spoke out behind her, on the ship of the church: the grand, gaudy vessel decorated with powerful and majestic dragons winding around the full body of the ship, operated and filled with servants following the Archbishop blindly, who were promised protection and acceptance, if only they kneel and obey. To follow their twisted laws and corrupt senses of what is right and just.
She knew that voice, the voice of Seteth, the closest advisor to Lady Rhea the Archbishop herself. That almost made Edelgard laugh; nothing but a monster hiding in human form, enforcing her will alone onto the people. Edelgard didn’t know if this supposed goddess of hers ever existed. But, Edelgard imagined, if she did, she would be shocked at the corrupt and poisonous nature of the church.
“How do you plead?”
Edelgard still didn’t move, what would be the point in saying anything? Her fate was already sealed. She was already guilty. And proud of it. She would do it again.
The people did not deserve to be used and lied to like this. To be used as animals and thrown away when they outlived their usefulness: that wasn’t a life.
She could feel herself shaking, her body trembling as she stood out on the single plank of wood, holding her weight, for now; the only thing between her and the water of her death underneath.
No… she would not give them the satisfaction. She was not afraid, Edelgard sucked air into her lungs even as her light, almond brown hair brushed against her face: calm down, focus on her breathing. In through her nose, out of her mouth… slow, calm. She felt ready, a well of warmth rising from inside her: wrapping herself in that energy, knowing her death was imminent. And there was nothing she could do.
A grin grew on her lips even as she knew this. Tears threatening, even as she held them back with everything she had left. She was not going to let them see her cry, a small bubble of anger rose up in her gut. They would never see her as scared or crying, she was not just another pleading slave. She was Edelgard, Emperor of Adrestia, the state that dared to defy the church.
This day was just like that day: she remembered the same sky, the same waves, the same blue of the world at sea. Like paint thrown over a canvas, shades of blue dancing across the page, moving and twisting together, alive. The day she had fallen from her father’s boat as a little girl.
The hustle and bustle of loading, the shouts and cries of the crew as men and women of the Imperial Navy moved foodstuffs and equipment. Edelgard ignored it; she wasn’t interested in the ordered chaos sweeping around her. It was another day on her father’s ship, the flagship of the Imperial crown: the Emperor of Adrestia. He was here somewhere; she had been at his side a few minutes ago, and she was supposed to stay with him, but she was too fascinated by the waters around the vessel. The little princess wanted to see more of what lay underneath the water, see what was in it, what swam around the deep blue.
Her small frame struggled to see over the raised wooden rail on the deck of the ship, designed to stop anyone from accidentally falling overboard, but she had been here so many times, so it was fine. Like many times before, she pulled herself up onto the thick wood, supporting her weight as her feet dangled in the air, her hair falling down past her face as she stared with glee at the waters rippling against the sides of the ship. The waters were so clear this time of the year, the weather so calm.
She could almost see past the surface, if only the water could still.
Her eager eyes flitted over the deep blue liquid, scanning for life, for the moving bodies of the animals she was never allowed to see up close. Her father or her duty always called her away. But she was so bored of it all today, why couldn’t she just be allowed to see what was in the water they lived by?
A flash of movement caught her eye. Her glee-filled features locked on now, watching the form, trying to work out what it could be. A fish? A dolphin? What could it be? Her heart thudded in excitement as she leaned further out over the ship’s side, trying to peer into the water below. The deck of her father’s royal vessel was high above the sea, so it was all the more difficult to see. Whatever she was staring at had stopped moving… confusion snaked up her spine as she tried to see why. Something was definitely there… but… stopped. As if something was staring right up at her through the water. But… what would do that?
A sudden shout behind her, a cry of panic that made Edelgard yank her head back up to the inner hull of the ship, just in time to see a barrel careening over the wooden planks and straight for her!
The little girl had no time to move out of the way; with eyes wide and cold panic piercing her heart, the heavy barrel smashed into her legs as they dangled above the floor. Knocking her balance and forcing her forward… she couldn’t keep her grip, her fingers struggled for purchase, a scream ripped from her throat as she fell. Edelgard felt air slice past her as the water quickly rushed up to meet her.
She smashed into the cold water below, breaking the surface from such a height and such an awkward fall slapping her skin from the force. Pain pulsed to life from the side where she fell, over her arm and thigh, losing the air from her lungs as she plunged into the depths. Blind panic and absolute fear pumped around her form, filling her, overwhelming her: where was her father?! Hubert?! Anyone?! Her arms and legs kicked out in fear-induced adrenaline, yet her efforts only made her sink further… why wasn’t this working?! She needed air, her lungs burned, crying out for her to take a breath. No… please… no.
Suddenly, her eyes caught sight of something in front of her. A figure before her in the water with her, she didn’t have time to analyse who this was or even why, as she still struggled and fought for her life as she drowned. Arms grabbed hold of the material of her shirt, wrapping fingers around it: what was going on?! Who was this?! What were they doing?! She opened her mouth as fear and confusion caused her to try and gasp for a breath in the water that was about to kill her. A face came into view, even in the murky, blurred vision of her weak eyes ill-suited for the water, she could see the face of a girl…
Suddenly, she opened her eyes once again, the hard wood of the deck underneath her. Gasping for breath and hacking as her system struggled for air once more. Her vision blurred and spotty, even as she recognised the fearful faces of her father and her faithful friend, Hubert, above her. The utter relief on their features when they saw her awake...
Edelgard opened her eyes, back to the here and now, back to this thin plank above her death. Back to the wind brushing against her skin, back to the dull pain of her various wounds. Evidence of the ‘hospitality’ of the church, a fresh open wound in her leg still seeping blood; many more crossed her form, but such damage wasn’t important. The crimson life fluid dribbling down her leg and to the plank underfoot, pooling where she stood. The Emperor probably needed to be seen to, the evident pain she must be in was being blocked out with her imminent death. She hardly felt it right now; all she could think of was that every second that ticked by was one less second of her life.
She had, and would, never forget that day. Not that she had much longer to live. The image of the girl stayed with her, a frozen picture in time that had lived in her mind. The soft features, the worried expression, the indigo of her hair. Of course, she had told her father and Hubert about what she had seen, but no such person was on board, nor at the port they were in; there was no one else when they fished her from the water.
Apparently… a hallucination her panic-filled mind had created, a needed saviour in her darkest moment, that was what her father had told her. Yet… why would she create such a person?
No matter… if it was just a hallucination created by her own mind, then maybe… she could see her again, very soon. Edelgard would like that. The person that had plagued her thoughts, no matter how hard she had tried to forget it, forget her. No matter what the others said, something inside her felt that she owed her life to that mysterious girl.
Edelgard turned on her spot now, turned to see her captors and executioners.
These were her enemies, numbering many on the ship. All of them staring at her, all of them with hate and poison in their gazes. But of course, she had wronged their false goddess: a blasphemer, a heathen, nothing but a vile enemy to be destroyed. She blankly stared right back, her frayed nerves now numb to their looks. She would find no friend here.
Her eyes scanned over to the fabled knight of Seiros: the fierce strike of blonde hair with the powerful frame in full regal armour, the determined gaze that Catherine gave her. They had chatted once, joked, Edelgard remembered her laugh. But that felt so long ago, now, according to Catherine, Edelgard was nothing but a filthy traitor who dared to bite the hand that fed her. The Emperor felt nothing for her now, the hope that Catherine would one day see the evils of the archbishop, the sliver of hope that perhaps Catherine would speak on her behalf was gone.
“The accused does not wish to answer…” Seteth once again spoke up. His somber words caused her to harken back to a Seteth she once knew: an older brother fretting about his younger sister, advising the young Edelgard on the mantle of leadership that would be expected of her one day. She ignored such thoughts: she had accepted that she would make enemies of people she once knew, that was the risk she took for the greater good. Even now, staring these same people down, she had not erred in judgement. No sudden guilt overtook her, no fear of second thoughts nagged her: she was firm in her decision.
Just looking at the centre of the audience was all she needed to convince her.
There she was. Rhea herself. The Archbishop of Seiros, the highest station someone could achieve, the voice of the false goddess. Edelgard huffed at such a position. She was unchallengeable: to dare speak against her was heresy. There she was, just the same as the Rhea in her memory. Dressed up in that regal outfit that flowed around her, but what stood out to the Emperor were those eyes of hers. Edelgard had never, not once, felt comfortable in her gaze nor her presence; seeing her pass judgement on others, forcing them to live by her rules and her rules alone. Forcing her will on them, to live according to her wishes, and the wishes of the goddess. She had never been fooled by that smile: the smile of the archbishop had only ever filled her with raised hackles and a twitch, a sick feeling in her gut, like cold slime trailing down her throat. She hated it.
Those sick eyes of hers now stared at her. The eyes of the monster who decided what good and evil were, who executed anyone who dared to speak against her.
“She will not answer us, Seteth. Edelgard von Hresvelg has admitted her guilt. May the goddess have mercy on her soul.” Even her voice was light, delicate, yet filled with venom. Like a poisonous flower: maybe beautiful on the outside, but inside, nothing but death.
That only made Edelgard grit her teeth; may the false goddess have mercy on Rhea, when someone finally took her out of this world. Seeing her standing there among her followers, stood amongst them but not truly one of them; she was apart, different… far above each and every one of them. Disgusting. Rhea stood there in all her holy glory, watching Edelgard as she stood on the plank, not allowing her fear to show. If all she could hold onto right now was her hate, then she would let it burn, let it show for everyone to see.
That one word, the one word that struck a chord deep inside of the Emperor. She shuddered, but took a deep breath as she tried to hide it. Don’t show it, don’t give them the satisfaction.
The armoured servant of Rhea stepped forward and withdrew her sword; that ugly, crackling blade was now pointed right at her. Edelgard had to choose. To stand her ground and be sliced by the so-called knight of Seiros, or… the Emperor twisted her neck to the almost serene waters below, to jump. She pulled her gaze up at the blank face of Catherine. Edelgard narrowed her eyes at her enemy: a fake choice, choosing her own death. How disgusting.
Catherine stepped closer and closer now, Edelgard couldn’t help herself, nor stop her body from taking a tiny step back. The plank wobbled as she moved, her eyes widened as the armoured warrior took a step on the extended wood now, the plank struggling to hold both of their weight. Her eyes scanned out as she swallowed down a cold ball of panic roiling in her stomach, threatening to lose something from inside her. Her instincts making her weigh up her options: even if she somehow managed to stop the fabled Thunder Catherine from slicing her to ribbons, there was… nowhere to go.
She was going to die.
That realisation forced her body back another step, but… she stepped out onto nothing. Edelgard threw out her hands as she wobbled and nearly lost her balance on the thin board, reclaiming her feet back under her, the board creaking and bending with her movement. Tears budded at her eyes, she blinked them away; Edelgard panted as she barely held her inner panic in check. Clamping down on her emotions, even as she stared down at the knight edging ever closer, doing the dirty work of the Archbishop herself…
Suddenly, a yell shouted out over the cheers and jeers being thrown her way; mumbles and turns of heads, like a stack of dominos all tumbling from the crier. Soon, everyone turned their heads and eyes to see what was pulling everyone’s attention, even Edelgard craved to see what had so captured everyone over her own impending death. As soon as Catherine lowered her weapon and also moved her head, her features dropping from the grim determination to one of shock and worry… Edelgard risked a glance back, quickly now.
She recognised it immediately.
It was her own ship. The royal flagship of the Adrestian Empire. She knew every inch of that vessel, remembered falling from it as a child. The ship she had grown up with and had grown with her. It was here. The flag of Adrestia flying proudly in the wind, billowing out for all to see, the wind rising from a light breeze to something harsher, as if the weather itself knew of the impending events taking place. The great sails spread wide as it careened over the ocean, heading right for the church ship. Her heart leapt into her mouth, a hope bloomed inside her. Maybe… just maybe...
She wrenched her vision away from the friendly welcoming site back to the danger right in front of her.
But Catherine, while still standing on the far end of the plank, did not raise her weapon.
“Send them away.” That was the voice of the Archbishop. Of course, the hound had stopped its attack to wait for orders from its master. “Send them away, unless you wish to be responsible for more deaths today.”
Edelgard gritted her teeth so hard she started to grind them together. She was livid, the hot anger boiling inside her chest; of course, she was now a hostage, to make them turn away. But she would never be used like that. Never!
If her death meant that her long term goals could be realised, she would gladly give it.
The wind rushed past them and blew around them as the sails caught the gusts and the massive vessel sailed ahead, riding the waves as they crashed through the water. Pushing the ship to move faster, orders and yells as the crew pushed with everything they had. Strands of hair blew over his eyes as he stood back and watched the sailors drive the ship. Frantic energy on all of their faces: this was a rescue mission, having heard word of the execution of their dear Emperor today, the flagship had made ready at first light. No time or drive to immobilise more; the military, the navy, they had their orders. The great Emperor would not be happy if she found out that her life was deemed more important than that of her army, her mission, her goals. That was the church’s way. Not hers.
The leader of the Blade Breakers held back: he was no sailor, so he stayed out of the way. Leaning against the cool wood of the ship, he knew what he and his crew were: muscle. But he was glad of it, glad to be fighting for a good cause; the money was good of course, plenty to look after him and his family. Especially… he glanced down to the side of him. There she stood next to him: his daughter, the Ashen Demon of the Blade Breakers, Byleth Eisner. She was just the same as him: she was no sailor, so she stood back all the same.
Jeralt Eisner wasn’t sure if this was the best idea, however… he stared over the sailors huffing away and to the familiar mop of dark hair, wearing his military uniform proudly, even now. Hubert was on the bridge of the vessel ordering the crew. He was no Edelgard, that was for sure, but there was a single-mindedness to this mission, that they all could agree on. Even Jeralt found himself swept up in the emotions; he too, wanted to see the young Emperor safe.
But he was not ignorant: the church’s vessel would not be alone, it could not have been, not unless they doubted the loyalty of their precious servants. This could very well be a suicide mission, assuming they could even get there in time. Edelgard could already be dead, for all they knew.
A mote of sadness filled his heart. She didn’t deserve that. No one did.
He glanced down at his daughter next to him; her loose white shirt billowed in the wind, her indigo hair likewise, but her gaze was down, he couldn’t tell what she was thinking. He wondered what she thought of all of this: what rescuing Edelgard meant to her, if she thought it was possible. He recalled the day they first appeared before the Emperor herself, a well-meaning girl; driven, very driven, almost to a fault. Susceptible to a certain blindness of such drive that causes mistakes, yet… he had seen her strive to connect with others and she genuinely cared about everyone under her command; she wished for everyone to be free and live happily. This was no selfish royalty out for themselves. Jeralt respected her, she was a leader.
But the memory that stuck with him was the almost ghastly look on her face when she had seen Byleth. She had turned white as a sheet, like she had seen a ghost, something inside the Emperor seemed to recognise his daughter. Yet… she shook her head and appeared to dismiss it just as quickly, walking away from them just a bit too fast.
Nothing had come of it, from it, and it was never brought up again. But, Jeralt knew that the Emperor knew more than she was letting on, perhaps even more than she could admit to herself. He didn’t ask his daughter what it was about, or if she knew why the Emperor could possibly have such a reaction. If she had something to say, she would say it; he didn’t like to pry or press matters unless they needed to concern him.
Yells and shouts erupted over the deck, Jeralt pulled his thoughts back to himself now, as he peered over the sides of the ship: there it was… the flagship of the church.
He knew that boat, had once been aboard it, and knew exactly what it was capable of.
A small snap of surprise rippled through him as he scanned all around… it was just the one vessel. He really hadn’t thought this would be a fair fight… really? Another scan as he doubted his own eyes. Yet, apparently, the church was this confident or paranoid that they were here with just the one ship. Maybe Jeralt didn’t know the church anymore. However, just because their own survival rates had shot up, it didn’t mean the Adrestian Emperor’s had gotten any better. The ship was coming into view now, but he still couldn’t quite make it out. Jeralt made a move to the edge of the deck to see better, yet… Byleth moved before him and slammed herself into the railing, trying to see out. Jeralt peered over the top of his daughter. Figures could be seen, moving about, but it was like watching ants: he couldn’t make anything out.
“Sir! Sir!” A male voice screeched out from the bridge, even Jeralt could hear him, the mercenary snapped his gaze to the shouter in curiosity. He passed a telescope to Hubert, even as he continued to furiously point to the enemy ship.
“This is your last chance to save them. Their deaths will be on your head.” Once again, the Archbishop spoke haughtily, trying to blame Edelgard for the impending battle, attempting to force Edelgard to tip the scales in the church’s favour. But, the Emperor saw right through such vile tricks; she knew exactly how the church and Rhea worked. She would not be saying anything to that effect.
Edelgard swallowed, trying to moisture her dry and parched mouth; she needed water, yet the only water here would kill her. But that didn’t matter anymore, not like she would need it soon. She clenched her shaking fists as the wind once more whipped up her hair around her; she could hear the waves behind her begin to rise and beat against the hull of the ship, the waters beginning to bristle and froth, as if eager for the coming battle. She knew her own flagship was coming into view behind her, but she dared not hope for rescue. She couldn’t let that hope counteract her resolve.
She stood proud and tall at the end of the plank, she stared right at the Archbishop now, glaring right into her pale green, poisonous eyes.
“Any deaths today will be on your head, Archbishop! You may strike me down, but the Empire of Adrestia will be free from your tyranny! We shall never fall! We shall never surrender! We will crush you and unite all of Fodlan for a better future!” Her words rang loud and clear, true, as she knew these would be the last words she would ever speak. Adrenaline and power fuelled her body and her words, a swansong effort. The shaking of her limbs ceased, the fear she was pushing back vanished.
Mumbles and hesitation worked through the crowd now; Edelgard wasn’t sure what would be in the future: she didn’t want her people to sacrifice themselves for a lost cause, but she hoped that what she said would rock the cores of the blind followers on this boat.
“So, that is your answer…” With that, Rhea tore her gaze away and, instead, ordered the cannons and mages on the ship to their battlestations.
“Carry out the sentence.”
With that one sentence, Edelgard’s gaze and stomach dropped, back to her executioner, back to Catherine, who looked back at her with… a sorrowful determination, not the same as before. Her face bore a mote of sympathy underneath: a hint of the kind woman Edelgard knew existed beyond the mantle of the knight of Seiros. But, kindness and sympathy were not enough to save her.
The blonde armoured warrior, unaffected by the shouts and commands of the rush before the battle, as if only the two of them existed right now. She raised up her crackling sword once more, that despicable blade that gave her the moniker of ‘Thunder Catherine’, the sharp weapon was now held up and… pointed right at her.
Jeralt didn’t move from his position at the side of the ship; they were drawing closer now, even he could see the movement of the ship ahead of them. The frantic pace of the crew, preparing to attack. This ship too was making quick preparations, on instinct, his fingers found the hilt of his sword. His eyes scanned the men and women aboard the enemy vessel, gauging the threat and power against their own: it seemed to be an even fight. He wasn’t sure who would come out of this. Not if they fought to the death…
“I have to go.”
A sudden familiar voice spoke up at his side. Byleth. He blinked as he had to quickly process her words.
“What?” Was all he managed in response, confusion running through him, as everything else was drowned out, except just him and his daughter.
“Edelgard needs me. I have to.” A burst of protective instinct flowed through him, his worry for her almost making him deny her. But… He drew his head back up and to the other vessel: there she was, he would recognise that striking almond hair anywhere. She was on the edge of a plank, wobbling, so close to the edge, facing off against some unknown assailant. Byleth was right. She needed her. Jeralt swallowed that urge to protect his daughter; she was all grown up and could make her own choices. After all, she was feared as the ashen demon of his mercenary band, she was not a child.
“I won’t be able to protect you anymore.” That fear in his gut at what she was about to do was kept at bay by his own will. But, she only looked up at him with that small smile on her face. Those azure eyes reminding him so of her mother, the pure blue of the waters he had loved to be by. As if the cries and tension all around him didn’t even exist, he stared down at her now, smiling affectionately right back at her. The familiar warmth settling inside his chest.
“Quickly now, kid.”
Without another word, Byleth got to work, a clank as her belt was dropped, her sword with it, she kicked off her shoes as she ripped open her shirt, buttons flying as she hauled herself onto the thick wooden rail of the vessel.
Suddenly a high-pitched cry broke through the din of pre-battle scrambling. The shouting and fretting even made Jeralt turn his head once again. Back up to the enemy, just in time to see a sight that made his heart freeze as a knife of ice cut into it. The body of the Emperor of Adrestia, the fierce and determined maiden who led them, fell from the plank and plunged into the cold, unforgiving sea.
Jeralt snapped his view back to his daughter, just in time to see a blur as her half-naked form dropped from the deck and dove into the waves below.
It was all around her: engulfing her, covering her, consuming her. Like a creature from the depths opened its great maw and swallowed her whole, she dropped through the blue. Yet… she didn’t struggle, she couldn’t; her strength had left her, she had already accepted what would happen as soon as she stepped onto that plank.
She had narrowly avoided the swipe of Catherine’s blade; she struck to kill, Edelgard saw it in the grim determination of her eyes, she jumped back on instinct. Saving her guts from being cut from her body… but she stepped back onto… nothing. Her arms flailed widely even as she heard the crash of the waves behind her, the boat that was incoming, but too far away. And she had fallen.
The searing pain from her wounds in the liquid were sharp, but they were of little consequence, the last breath before she had plunged into the waters of her impending death was the only thing keeping her alive. She drifted down through the water, almost calm, the noises above drowned out by the waters surrounding her, something deep inside wondered who would win, but… not like she would find out. Bubbles of air passed from her nose as she slowly breathed out her last.
The pain in her lungs started now, demanding air. Like a knife just beginning to dig into her skin.
She wondered if she would see her again. The blue of her hair, the girl she saw last time. She hoped so; it would be a nice way to go.
The pain in her lungs grew worse, the knife digging past her skin, begging her to breathe, take a breath. Her survival instinct at war with her acceptance.
She knew she should just let it happen, but something still pushed her to fight. How troubling. She stared up at the sun as its light rippled through the water, the sloshing liquid as a fight erupted up on the surface. She reached up to the light that she was falling from, she couldn’t feel the warm rays anymore. Just the cold of the cruel waters.
Suddenly, a sight appeared above her! Something had moved just before her, blocking out the sunlight filtering through the waters. Her eyes widened: she recognised the figure. It couldn’t be…! The same hair, the same face… she knew her!
A sudden unbidden flashback to a woman on the boat, the daughter of a mercenary that had joined them. She remembered feeling so off-kilter when she saw her face. It was the same… The face of the girl who saved her so long ago. Yet it was nothing but a coincidence, how could this woman match the girl of her hallucination? Her mind was clearly playing tricks on her…
Yet, the figure above her didn’t wait for Edelgard’s mind to sort itself out and assess the situation, even as the Emperor’s body was in so much pain to make her take a breath, the knife plunged fully into her lungs now, the pain so bad she wanted the agony to stop. Edelgard barely had time to register the worried and panicked expression on the new hallucination’s face as the figure darted forward through the water.
Something gripped the front of her shirt, a hand… another hand held the back of her head, it all felt so real. Before the woman drew her face forward and...pressed their lips together!
The force was harsh, rushed, as their lips smashed together, the woman demanded entrance into her mouth. Now! Teeth bit into the soft tissue of her lip and a tongue prodded hard at her bruised, bleeding and chapped lips. Fresh panic surged up from within, as her acceptance of her own death all but vanished as her mind flailed and kicked against this intruder. Without intending to, she gasped and opened her mouth. Her hands with adrenaline-fuelled strength rose and gripped onto the bare arms of the now very real woman attached to her in the water.
But water did not rush into her mouth as expected; instead, the strange woman’s lips formed a seal around her own and she… breathed air into her mouth… the air tingled and pulsed inside her mouth… popping against the soft tissue and passing down her throat and into her lungs, her chest feeling warm and the same light tingling. Alien feelings that she recognised quickly as... magic. The knife plunged deep inside her chest was slowly pulled out as the pain vanished, her lungs full of air tinged with sorcery. Magic she didn’t know. Magic she had never heard of, but the unmistakable feel of it all the same,
Edelgard’s hands lost their grip as the panic eased somewhat, the acceptance of her death was now all but buried, and her adrenaline-fuelled panic also ebbed away; all she had left was confusion, as she felt the lips of the woman before her leave her own. Her eyes struggled to focus through the water to see her, the clear liquid stinging her eyes which were ill-suited for underwater; she could make out the form of the woman she definitely knew from her own Imperial vessel; she must be, there was little doubt. However, just as she started to regain her bearings somewhat, the woman before her raised a hand and covered her eyes. It was quick and sudden; before Edelgard could wrench her head back and away, the strange woman had already pulled her hand away. The Emperor felt that same odd tingly sensation in her eyes this time, she had to blink several times as if they itched. Her vision blurred worse as Edelgard wondered what had just happened…
She opened her eyes once again… to see as clearly as she can above land.
What magic was this?! As if the pair of them were standing before each other on dry land, not in the rippling and moving waters of the sea. The first thing she saw was the softly smiling face of her rescuer… the so-called hallucination of her youth was right before her. Edelgard’s eyes searched her face, that relieved smile, the woman had backed away somewhat now, giving the Emperor needed space. That same cold confusion rocked through her form: she just didn’t know what was going on here. Who… was she?
But, as her vision focused on the other woman’s form now… she realised that this woman… was not a woman at all.
Her warm smiling face, the features spoke of someone attempting to soothe her, to placate her, that everything was going to be alright, but Edelgard wasn’t focusing on that right now. She stared down at the other woman’s body, past her ample chest that was very much naked… Edelgard nearly blushed as she realised she was staring at another woman’s chest… but yet, the indigo haired woman had what looked to be… fish scales covering her skin on her chest. Yes, that was right; the scales trailed down her sides to connect with her stomach, where the peach light skin of her rescuer morphed into the ocean blue of scales. Her stomach was covered in them… yet when Edelgard’s vision ran even lower. Her eyes widened in shock. It was not legs that met her but the powerful tail of…
The Emperor snapped her gaze up to the ‘woman’ before her. She was no woman, this was… a mermaid. How?! Why?! This was impossible! They were nothing but children’s stories. How could one possibly be before her now?! The long, smooth tail of the mermaid bore many smaller fins branching off the scales, it reminded her… of a leafy seahorse she had once seen. If she hadn’t felt the person... Edelgard wasn’t sure what to call her now, as ‘creature’ seemed far too demeaning, but, if she hadn’t felt the woman touch her, she would be passing this off as another hallucination.
Speaking of her touch, she watched as the indigo appeared to mouth a word to her. She was moving her lips… but she couldn’t see what she was trying to say. Edelgard narrowed her eyes with her new vision in the water.
That was what she was saying. But… she would drown! The air in her lungs gave her another chance of life but… she wasn’t… going to do it again? Another unbidden blush as she thought of the mermaid kissing her again… but softer this time.
Unless… she tried to think why the woman would say this. Was it the magic? Edelgard didn’t know what to do. She pulled her head up to see above the waters; above her, the fighting only grew worse, shots being fired, wooden planks and rope began to fall into the water. But, they were deep enough that she was safe. She felt a poke against her chest now.
She snapped her gaze back down to see the indigo woman with a renewed worried expression, taking her hand back as she had tapped a finger to Edelgard’s chest.
‘Breathe.’ She repeated herself; true, the familiar pain of her lungs demanding she take in air. But… what if…? Her mind was a jumbled mess, struggling to work, like cogs too rusted over, trying to work, squeaking against each other. But… she remembered the mermaid forcing her lips against hers, the magic that was still inside her and on her lips…
Edelgard couldn’t make it to the surface in time, nor would she be safe from the fighting.
So she… breathed in.
The expected rush of water never came.
She breathed in… air. As if an invisible filter was covering her face and nose, something stopping the liquid from making it inside her body, and instead, the magic pulled air straight from the sea. How… how was this possible? If… if this magic could be learned… could be spread to more people… the possibilities!
She couldn’t help the smile on her face now, as she could breathe while underwater, imagining this gift being taught to more people, the chances! The opportunities! She felt giddy with such energy, the smile on her face as she felt renewed strength return to her. This was amazing. She stared at her own hands as she breathed while underwater, ignoring the battle above.
“Thank you!” Edelgard shouted into the water, unsure how that would work. The woman before her lowered her brow and stared at her lips; it seemed the sound didn’t make it through the water, but after a second, the other woman only beamed another wide smile back at her. Edelgard felt such welcoming warmth settle onto her heart, she understood her. They could understand each other.
She wanted to talk to her, to know more about her: where she came from, if she really was the woman from her boat. So many questions, she couldn’t manage them all. But just as she thought of them all, her mind also reminded her of her duty, her position. Her excitement and merriness made way for worry to worm her way back into her chest. The sickly plant that grew inside her, its sharp spines pushing along her insides, her worry only growing in size. She had to get back, she had to save her people, they had to escape. She couldn’t stay here.
With one last sorrowful look at her saviour, which was met with a worried and confused expression of her own, the Emperor turned and tried to swim toward her own flagship. She wasn’t the best swimmer; in fact, she was pretty lousy, but not having to worry about breathing did wonders. However, it was slow progress; she kicked hard against the current, but she felt like she was hardly moving. Like wading through thick mud that she was sinking into, each step only made her sink further, forcing her back and away from her destination.
Suddenly, she felt a hand against her shoulder, Edelgard looked back to see beautiful, azure eyes peering into her own, before the mermaid moved fully behind her and wrapped her arms around her chest, just under her own breasts. Careful to avoid the many wounds on the Emperor’s body, the mermaid flicked her powerful tail and sped them off toward the Imperial flagship of Adrestia.
The speed at which Edelgard was propelled through the water, she could get used to this, the rush of happiness as the mermaid gripping onto her gracefully made her way through the depths. It was majestic as she moved, the water giving way to her form as she moved. Edelgard even had time to look down and see the deep water below, where not even the sunlight could break into. She watched as the sunlight rippled along the surface, the beauty of it all. A sight not meant for human eyes, was now hers to see.
Yet, that beauty was broken when more wood and now bodies made it into the water now… not far away. That was her ship… her crew.
Edelgard’s happiness and wonder faded completely now; this fight had gone on long enough, and she had to stop it: to guide her ship away, to escape, she didn’t want any more deaths today.
Her rescuer glided through the water and around the end of the ship as it moved slowly through the water, past the rudder and around to the other side, to the side where the church of Seiros would not see them. As they made their way around, the woman holding her shifted, and they began to push toward the surface now.
The boundary between the underwater world and above was rushing toward her, closer and closer now… until… with a blast of air into her face, she finally made it to the surface. Her hair and her clothes were drenched, they weighed heavy upon her form; she gasped as she felt the magic fade from her eyes and chest, the odd tingling that had stayed with her vanished. She knew if she went underwater now, she would no longer be able to breathe. But, no matter, she stared up at the side of the ship. The powerful crimson of the Imperial ship, she expected to have to shout to get attention, however… the same mercenary she recognised with the woman who was still holding onto her, the very same man was staring down at her from this side of the boat. In his arms was what looked to be a rope.
Without a word, he dropped the rope; a rope ladder bashed and tumbled against the side of the wooden hull, even as another boom of a cannon rumbled out, the waves knocking against the ship.
“Come on!” The burly giant of a man yelled at her. She didn’t need telling twice, Edelgard swam over to the dangling rope, she was so weak, her arms and legs almost failing her now, after all this she was so close. Before she had thought she was going to die… but now… she reached out and grabbed ahold of the first step of the rope ladder. So close!
She pulled and heaved herself up, gripping the next and the next. She was going to make it!
Suddenly… she stopped.
She snapped her gaze around, dropping a hand to look back. There, still in the water, was her saviour, she could see her now, hovering just under the surface, watching her. Those scales, her long flowing tail. Clearly not a story for children.
Edelgard put two and two together: seeing the woman and this man together on the boat, seeing the same man appear expecting them. Without a doubt now, Edelgard was sure this was the woman who was part of her crew aboard the flagship. If so… then she belonged here too. She still didn’t understand any of this, she wanted to sit down and talk to her. To learn everything…
She imagined the lips of the woman as she had saved her life… it, once again, made her blush. Why? It was to save her life… but… she found herself wondering what it would be like to kiss her without needing to. To kiss her properly.
She shook her head.
She was too jumbled up, she had to focus on one thing at a time. She would assess and sort out her feelings and thoughts later, but she couldn't deny the pleasant warmth settling in her chest as she looked back down at the woman who saved her life… twice. Also convinced that she had a hand in saving her as a child; it made sense… she had always known she was real, no matter how she tried to convince herself otherwise. She wanted… needed to thank her for that too…
She wanted to see her, get to know her… but…
Edelgard stepped back down a single rung of the ladder now.
“Come back with me…? Please?” She spoke slow, hoping the words made it through the water. Hoping the rippling water didn’t distort her voice or her words.
Edelgard wanted her here with her: she was a part of her crew, she wasn’t going to leave her in the water, even if she was a mermaid. It just felt wrong. But… the woman didn’t move. Edelgard dropped down another rung… her leg so close to the edge of the water once again. Was she saying no? Hesitating? Or could she not hear her? What was wrong?
“If… I... “ The Emperor was so unsure… but her heart told her to reach out, to hold onto her; Edelgard didn’t know if it was the gratitude she so desperately wanted to convey, or if it was something else, but she knew she had to get her crew home. All of them. Including this woman.
“This is your choice. You are welcome here. Would you like to come with me?” She decided to use her words carefully, giving her a choice, even as her gut pleaded with her to reach out. She just had to know more about her, and if she left now… she might never see her again. The ocean blue mermaid lowered her eyes, looked away, as if thinking about it. Even Edelgard could see that.
“Hurry up!” The voice of the man above her, but she didn’t move. Instead, reaching out a hand to the woman in the sea. Their eyes connected once more…
Before the mermaid reached up, through the water, her dripping hand moved toward Edelgard’s own, fireworks burst inside the Emperor’s chest now; just a little further. Before a wet and drenched hand slid over Edelgard’s, one last powerful explosion went off inside her chest now. She felt… so happy. Edelgard couldn’t stop a laugh from trickling out of her throat… the tears finally falling. She wanted to tell her how thankful she was, how much she appreciated it, how much it meant to her, both now and as a child. She wanted to thank her properly… and… to know her.
“Thank you…” It wasn’t enough… but it was a start.