Byleth grew up knowing at least one thing for certain: the world wasn’t made for her. Not for the likes of mercenaries and runaways, which is what she assumed her father was, traveling alone with a pack of miscreants and brigands. Of course, those miscreants and brigands were family - or at least the closest Byleth had ever had. This life was all she knew. The politics, the bureaucracy, the hierarchy of the world, was all beyond her knowledge. As far as she was concerned, it didn’t matter. She did what she was asked. Jeralt watched her back, and she watched his.
“Hey. Time to wake up.”
She woke in a cold sweat, having dreamt of a great war - and a strange girl with green hair that she apparently shared a birthday with. It wasn’t the first time they’d met, but she tended to forget most of their conversation the next day. Lately, she was remembering more and more, but perhaps that was just because the dreams were becoming more frequent. She groaned as she got out of bed; she’d fallen asleep entirely clothed from the day before, which of course was a testament to how late she’d been up last night. Jeralt looked at her with the same usual worried look.
“Were you having that dream again?”
He looked concerned as ever, like he already knew the answer.
“It was the girl,” she replied.
“You’ve described her to me before, but I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone like that,” Jeralt said, running a hand through his sandy hair. It made sense that he hadn’t. She’d never seen anyone looking remotely like her either, with bright green hair that matched her eyes and clothes unlike any she’d ever seen. But as mystical as the girl was, she was also very clearly a child.
“In any case, just put that out of your mind for now. The battlefield is no place for idle thoughts. Risking your life is part of the job for mercenaries like us. Letting your mind wander is sure to get you killed.”
She’d heard it all before, but nodded in agreement nonetheless. He talked about death so casually, and she was used to it, but part of her was also sure that other fathers and daughters didn’t live this way. She wondered what it was like - but only a little. There was no use wanting for a different life. This was what she had.
“Time to get moving. Our next job is in the Kingdom. I told you before - it’s far from here, so we leave at dawn.”
There was a storm in his dark eyes, just under the surface. She swore it had been getting murkier as of late, but it was hard to tell; maybe he was just getting older. Getting tired.
“Hm? Good grief,” Jeralt said, shaking his head at her sudden obedience. “Everyone is already waiting for us outside.”
One of the mercenaries burst into the door of the cabin then, skidding to a stop right before them. He looked flustered.
“Jeralt, sir! Sorry to barge in, but your presence is needed!”
“What’s happened?” Jeralt asked. The mercenary tilted his head, gesturing towards the front door. Byleth followed him and Jeralt as they left the front door, greeted instantly by the cool morning air. It was still dark, but sunrise couldn’t have been far away. Mountaintops nearby were painted in a faint orange light of the rising sun, and the moon hung above them, barely a sliver in the turquoise sky. In the road, three brightly-dressed individuals were waiting for them. The tallest one, a young blonde man standing in the middle, bowed deeply to Jeralt as they arrived.
“Please forgive our intrusion. We wouldn’t bother you were the situation not dire.”
Byleth quirked an eyebrow - he didn't sound normal. In fact, now that she looked at each of them in turn, they didn’t look normal either, not with clothes that colourful and faces that… clean.
“What do a bunch of kids like you want at this hour?” Jeralt asked, gruff as ever.
“We’re being pursued by a group of bandits. I can only hope that you will be so kind as to offer your support.”
“Bandits? Here?” Jeralt asked, glancing over his shoulder back at Byleth. She shrugged - surely stranger things had happened.
“It’s true,” another interjected, a young woman with long white hair and violet eyes that betrayed nothing. She exuded confidence. “They attacked us while we were at rest in our camp.”
“We’ve been separated from our companions, and we’re outnumbered. They’re after our lives, not to mention our gold,” the last said, a man with russet brown skin and windswept dark hair. His emerald eyes landed on Byleth, looking for sympathy. She frowned. He looked upset, but something about his expression was fabricated, and it was hard to dredge up any compassion for a noble missing his money.
“Well, I’m impressed you’re all so calm considering the situation. I- wait, that uniform-”
“Bandits!” another mercenary suddenly shouted, running up to them. “Spotted just outside the village. Damn - there’s a lot of them!”
Jeralt let out a frustrated breath, shaking his head. So much for whatever job they had planned that morning.
“I guess they followed you all here. We can’t abandon this village now,” Jeralt said decisively, looking grim. He looked at Byleth tiredly. “Come on, let’s move. Hope you’re ready.”
When they got to the village, the bandits had already arrived on the far end of town.
“Let’s take care of those thieves before they overrun the village. Get the ones in front first. That should take the wind out of their sails.”
Tactical as ever, Byleth thought to herself, tightening the grip on her sword as she looked sideways at the three strangers. Each of them had a different weapon, and by the looks of it, they knew how to use them. Before she could go for the first bandit, the woman in red went first, swinging her axe down decisively on the first thief and ending him in one hit.
Byleth blinked. So these nobles knew how to fight.
The rest of them advanced, and she found herself standing next to the axe-wielding woman. They waited as the enemies approached, and Byleth could feel the other’s eyes on her.
“You have a strange aura about you,” she said suddenly. Byleth was silent - I could say the same about you. “You say you’re a mercenary, so show me what you can do.”
“Let’s take up position in the forest,” Jeralt suggested, calling from behind them. The four of them nodded at once in response, and advanced into the trees, waiting in the dark as the enemies advanced. The blonde man with the lance approached Byleth silently, nearly surprising her as he came.
“Thank you for your help. We’re in your debt.”
“You’re welcome,” Byleth said simply, only taking a moment to meet his piercing blue eyes before looking back at the thieves as they came.
“I didn’t expect to run into mercenaries like you in some remote village,” the archer said, grinning. “The god of fortune must be smiling on me.”
Byleth looked at him warily. He looked like the sort of person who was often smiled upon by the god of fortune, if such an entity existed. His smile was contagious, to say the least, but she was too preoccupied at the moment by the bandits clumsily making their way towards the woods. This would end fast.
One of them attacked the lance-bearer, who grimaced as the sword slashed his arm, but hit back with tenfold strength with his lance. Not a second later, an arrow went whistling past Byleth’s face and finished off the bandit, sending him staggering backwards and onto the ground. The woman, meanwhile, had gotten in an all-out axe brawl with the two remaining bandits; one was finished off, and the other, Byleth ran through with her sword. Easy.
All of the bandits were easy, now that she thought of it. It wasn’t a matter of skill - only numbers - but even the three nobles seemed to understand that. With the extra help, they had no trouble working their way through the village, until the bandit leader was the only one left. The lance-bearer ran at him first, clearly a justice-chaser.
“I’ll kill you where you stand!” the man declared, but the noble was unperturbed, going ahead with the attack even when it left him open to an axe attack that slashed down the front of his robe. He’d already taken a few hits, but seemed more than ready to take more; thankfully, his friends were there right away. He went to run, but Byleth ran to cut him off.
“Hey, you with the blank stare - outta my way!”
Blank stare. Even a dimwitted man like him could see the lack of expression in her face - great. She steeled herself, wheeling her sword around and down on him, straight through his shoulder and cutting through his chest. He fell to the ground. It was over.
She turned to look at Jeralt, but saw his eyes widen and focus over her shoulder; the man was back up. He ran at Edelgard, axe at the ready; she pulled out a dagger, not having time to get her own weapon, but Byleth knew that wouldn’t be enough. She broke into a run, throwing herself in-between the both of them and shutting her eyes tight as his axe came down.
It all stopped.
She was back in her dream.
Am I dead?
The same girl with the green hair was sitting in front of her, on that large stone throne she always sat upon.
“It’s like you’re trying to get me killed, you fool!” she said, resting her cheek on her hand and looking almost… bored. But definitely stressed. “Well, it’s fine. After all, if you don’t know the value of your own life, you’re not going to protect it very well, are you?”
Byleth only stared. She didn’t have time for this.
“Course not,” the girl answered her own question. She stood up, clapped her hands together, and walked down to meet her. “I guess it’s on me then to guide you from now on. You can call me Sothis, but I’m also known as The Beginning.”
“What are you talking about?” Byleth finally asked, trying not to sound too impatient.
“I was not able to recall my name, until just now,” Sothis explained, looking as confused as Byleth felt. “And just like that, it came to me. How odd.”
Her brow suddenly furrowed.
“That look upon your face - did you think me a child? A mere child who forgot her own name?! Phooey! That child just saved your life! And what does that make you?”
“I’m not a child,” Byleth responded back defiantly, though she wasn’t sure if she was entirely an adult either. She was grateful, but too stubborn to show it, and too confused to understand if she was actually alive or not.
“Such arrogance!” Sothis scoffed. “You look the part, but are you truly an adult? You threw yourself before an axe to save just one young girl. Yet all is well, as I have stalled the flow of time for you. You would have died had I not intervened.”
“Thank you,” Byleth finally said, nodding slowly. Sothis’ expression immediately lightened.
“There now, was that so much to ask? I did deem you worth saving, after all. Though it is only momentary, time has stopped. However did I manage that…”
“What will happen when time resumes?” Byleth asked, not sure she wanted to hear the answer.
“The axe will tear into your flesh, and you will surely meet your end,” Sothis said decisively. Byleth’s frown deepened. “How rude of you to bring me into this! Now what to do…”
“Turn time back?” Byleth suggested, optimistically assuming that since this girl - this weird dream girl of hers - could stop time, surely she could rewind and control it in other ways as well.
“Of course!” Sothis replied with a smile, as if it was obvious. A bright magic circle appeared in the air in front of her, twisting and turning. “Yes, I do believe it can be done. You really are quite troublesome. I cannot wind it back too far, but all is well; you know what is to come, which means you can protect yourself this time. Now go, you who bears the flames within. Drift through the flow of time to find the answers that you seek.”
It was far too surreal. For a moment, she wondered stupidly if someone had simply drugged her, but a moment later she felt her consciousness flowing backwards, as if through a river; and she was back in the village with the bandit leader getting up to run at the axe-wielding woman once more. Her dagger was out, but this time Byleth was early, holding her sword at the ready and hitting up at the leader even as he swung down. The axe went flying; it wheeled into the air, and the man staggered back. It only took a quick moment of assessment from the bandits before they turned tail and ran.
Jeralt rode to Byleth’s side, looking at her with wide eyes.
“Hey, did you just-”
“The knights of Seiros are here!”
A sudden announcement caught their attention, and everyone looked up to see three newcomers in full armor preparing to help in the battle. “We’ll cut you down for terrorizing our students!”
“H-hey, the thieves are running away! Go after them!” the one in command yelled, and the other knights left in pursuit. The commander approached then, a brown-haired man with a particular moustache and sparkling green eyes.
“The students look unharmed. And who’s this?”
A groan escaped Jeralt.
“Captain Jeralt?! It is you! Goodness, it’s been ages! Don’t you recognize me? It’s Alois! Your old right-hand man! Well, that’s how I always saw myself, anyways. It must have been twenty years ago that you went missing without a trace. I always knew you were still alive!”
Byleth looked sharply sideways at Jeralt, but he kept his eyes fixed on Alois.
“You haven’t changed a bit, Alois. Loud as ever. And drop that “captain” nonsense, I’m not your captain anymore. These days I’m just a wandering mercenary. One that has work to do. Goodbye, old friend.”
“Wait! That isn’t how this ends! I insist that you return to the monastery with me,” Alois protested.
“Garrag Mach Monastery…” Jeralt sighed. “I suppose this was inevitable.”
“And how about you, kid? Are you the captain’s child?”
“I’m a bandit,” Byleth replied, without even thinking. She didn’t feel the need to tell him the truth. But he only laughed; it seemed like he already knew the answer.
“Great sense of humor, this one! Clearly cut from the same cloth! You will join me, won’t you?”
She nodded, resigning herself to whatever was to come. If Jeralt was going, she would too. But notably, he didn’t seem to pleased at the prospect, and Alois seemed to notice.
“What’s troubling you, captain? You aren’t about to run off again, are you?”
“Even I wouldn’t dare run from the Knights of Seiros.”
“The Knights of Seiros… they do seem rather skilled. ”
The voice caught her off-guard; it was undoubtedly Sothis, but when Byleth looked around, she couldn’t see her anywhere.
“Ah! It seems your presence is required. Get going!”
Byleth followed, but the three students from before stopped her to give their thanks.
“I appreciate your help back there. Your skill is beyond question,” the woman said. “You’re clearly an experienced mercenary. And your father.. That would be Jeralt, the Blade Breaker? Former Captain of the Knights of Seiros, oft praised as the strongest knight to ever live. Have I missed anything?”
“Who are the Knights of Seiros?” Byleth asked, though she felt like she had a million more questions still. The woman’s eyes widened in shock.
“You haven’t heard of the Knights of Seiros? The most famous order of knights in all of Fodlan?”
Byleth shook her head.
“Hey, you are coming with us to the monastery, right? I’d love to bend your ear while we travel,” the archer interrupted. “I should mention the three of us are students of the Officers Academy at Garreg Mach Monastery. We were doing some training exercises when those bandits attacked. I definitely got the worst of it.”
“That would be because you ran off, ” the woman chided him.
“Too true! I was the first to make a strategic retreat,” he replied with a grin, shooting a wink towards Byleth. She felt a smile tugging at her lips despite his perceived cowardice. “Everything would have worked out if these two hadn’t followed me and ruined everything. Every single one of those bandits came after us. Utterly ridiculous.”
“Ah, so that’s what you were thinking, Claude,” Dimitri said with a stern frown. “And here I thought you were acting as a decoy for our sake.”
“His intention was clear as day. You will prove a lacking ruler if cannot see the truth behind a person’s words,” the woman said.
“Hm. You will prove a lacking ruler if you look for deceit behind every word, and fail to trust those whom you rely on,” Dimitri argued.
“Oh joy,” Claude said, rolling his eyes. “A royal debate between Their Highnesses. I wonder how being completely predictable affects one’s ability to wield power. Personally, as the embodiment of distrust, I’d say your little exchange smacks of naivete.”
As far as Byleth could tell, he was only partly sarcastic. No - it wasn’t sarcasm - it was the truth delivered with a smile and a wink. He wasn’t joking, despite his tone of voice. The woman seemed to tell it.
“Me!? Naive? Tell me, are you actually incapable of keeping quiet, or is your lack of self-awareness a condition of some sort?”
Byleth let out a sigh, readying herself for more bickering. There was something inherently interesting about the three of them, but they couldn’t seem to keep from each other’s throats, despite the way they fought alongside each other on the battlefield.
“Forgive our disgression. I must speak with you, if you can spare a moment,” the blond man asked. “The way you held yourself against the bandits’ leader was captivating! You never lost control of the situation. It showed me I still have much to learn.”
“Your skill is precisely why I must ask you to consider lending your hand to the empire,” the woman interjected, smiling kindly at her, but there was something hiding her true motives in her eyes. Byleth gave her a lingering look.
“I must also tell you,” she began, “I am no mere student. I am also Edelgard, the Adrestian Empire’s-”
“Halt, Edelgard,” Dimitri interrupted, “please allow me to finish my own proposition. The Holy Kingdom of Faerghus is in dire need of exceptional individuals such as yourself. Please, do consider returning to the Kingdom with me.”
“Whoa, there!” Claude laughed. “You two sure are hasty. Trying to recruit someone you just met. Tactless, really. I was personally planning to develop a deep and lasting friendship on our journey back to the monastery before begging for favors. But it seems there’s no time for niceties in this world. So, capable stranger, let’s get right to it: where does your allegiance lie?”
Byleth’s initial smile at hearing the archer speak quickly faded. No time for niceties indeed. At least he was the most self-aware of the three.
“Hmm. It seems one’s place of birth is quite significant to them. Yet they are so impressed by you that you may take your pick. Well?”
Sothis’ voice interrupted her thoughts. The three of them were still staring at her, and so she went with the only one she remembered.
“The alliance?” she said, not sounding totally confident, but saw Claude’s eyes light up.
“All right, enough small talk for now,” Alois said, interrupting them as he approached. “Time to head back to the monastery.”
“My my. They are in such a hurry. You know, each of the three is most unique…”
Byleth agreed with Sothis, despite how unnerving it was to have her voice show up in her head out of nowhere. As she followed them along the road, she thought of each in turn. They were all quite unique; Edelgard was beautiful, with striking white hair and lilac eyes, but there was a sharpness to her that felt quite… intimidating. Like she was judging her. Dimitri seemed more sincere, but there was something just behind his eyes that reminded her of Jeralt; something hidden. Claude was the same, despite his charming smile, but whatever was hidden in his gleaming green eyes wasn’t as sinister or dark… he had a cleverness about him.
“Yes, I thought the same,” Sothis agreed. “But I am so very sleepy…”