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Daybreak

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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. 

“Of course.” 

“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!”

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…”

Chapter Text

It took a while for them to walk to the monastery, but not as long as Byleth had expected. As they came closer, the sun rose through the trees and she wondered if Jeralt had forgotten all about whatever job they were supposed to do that day. Apparently the Knights of Seiros took precedence.


“This will be your first time at the monastery,” Dimitri mentioned as they made their way along the forest path. “I would be happy to show you around.” 


“It really is Fodlan in a nutshell. The good and the bad,” Claude quipped with a sly smile. 


“Like it or not, we’ll be there soon enough,” Edelgard said.


Byleth looked sideways to her, but her eyes were fixed forward. She followed her gaze, and sure enough, the trees finally parted to reveal a massive structure perched among the vast rocky hillsides above. It was well-guarded by several walls and outposts, and countless turrets adorned the tops of buildings connected by endless bridges and walkways. Despite being able to see it, it was still a trek through town and uphill before they actually reached the monastery.

As they approached the main courtyard, a woman with striking green hair looked down on them, her eyes lingering on Byleth before she finally turned away. Alois continued leading them through endless halls and corridors; Byleth tried to remember her way as they went, but before long, she'd completely lost all sense of direction.


Jeralt was tense as they were left in a sort of audience chamber. Byleth stared at him until he talked; a technique that usually worked.


“It’s been years since I’ve last set eyes on this place. To be forced to see her now…” he sighed, his voice short with frustration.


“Her?” Byleth asked.


“You saw her in the courtyard earlier, didn’t you? The archbishop, Lady Rhea.”


“Lady Rhea?” she repeated, becoming even more confused. Jeralt sighed.


“As you know, the majority of folks in Fodlan are devout followers of the teachings of Seiros. The leader of that ridiculously large religious organization is the archbishop, Lady Rhea.”


Oh.
It still didn’t make that much sense to her, but she took his word for it, and a moment later, Lady Rhea herself came out to greet them along with another man with green hair. 


“Thank you for your patience, Jeralt,” the man began, his gaze sharp and evaluating. “My name is Seteth. I am an advisor to the archbishop.”


Jeralt nodded simply in greeting, but his attention was stuck on Rhea. She had a mystical look to her; her eyes were a light green and her hair matched, gently framing her delicate face. She looked upon Jeralt with a kind smile, the sort that told Byleth that she knew Jeralt well.


“It has been a long time, Jeralt,” she began, her voice soft. “I wonder… was it the will of the goddess that we have another chance meeting like this?” 


Jeralt bowed - something Byleth had never seen him do before.


“Forgive my silence all these years. Much has happened since we last spoke.”


Byleth looked sideways at him. She’d always had suspicions about him hiding things from her, but this was unexpected nonetheless. He was avoiding her gaze, and whether to be polite to Rhea or to avoid Byleth, she couldn’t be sure. Rhea’s attention now turned to Byleth, and she felt distinctly like she was under a magnifying glass. 


“So I see. The miracle of fatherhood has blessed you. That is your child, is it not?” 


“Yes…” Jeralt answered, looking sideways to Byleth now as she kept her eyes on Rhea. “Born many years after I left this place. I wish I could introduce you to her mother, but I’m afraid we lost her to illness.”


“I see. My condolences. As for you…” she looked to Byleth again, interest piqued in her expression. “I heard of your valiant efforts from Alois. What is your name?”


“My name is Byleth,” she replied, bowing briefly to Rhea. She didn’t know why - she wasn’t religious - but the woman ahead of her… something about her made it clear that it would be better to play by the rules. Especially with Seteth’s eyes stuck to her like glue.


“A fine name indeed,” Rhea said, nodding. “From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for saving those students of the Officer’s Academy. Jeralt - you already know what I wish to say, do you not?”


Jeralt let out a huff. 


“You want me to join the Knights of Seiros, don’t you? I won’t say no, but…” he was obviously hesitating. Rhea smiled despite that, shaking her head. 


“Your apprehension stings. I had expected that Alois would have already asked this of you. I must step away for now, but I expect they will desire a word with you soon. Please listen carefully to what they have to say. Until tomorrow, farewell.”


Her and Seteth both left, leaving Byleth and Jeralt alone in the quiet audience chamber. All day had felt like a dream. 


“I’m sorry I dragged you into this,” Jeralt sighed, turning to her. “Looks like I’ll be stuck here a while… and it seems your services are requested as well.”


“They need a mercenary?” Byleth asked, tilting her head. Jeralt laughed.


“Nothing like that. They want you to teach, by the sound of it. You heard those brats talking about the Officer’s Academy, right? Well, they just so happen to be short a professor, and that damned Alois went and recommended you to Lady Rhea.”


“Teach!?” she exclaimed, but before she could ask any more questions, two professors came up to greet them - one, a beautiful woman with strikingly sharp features, the other an older gentleman. The woman’s eyes immediately landed on Jeralt.


“So, you must be the new professor! My, how stern and handsome you are!” 


“Uh, no. I’m not the one you’re looking for,” he corrected her, and then looked sideways to Byleth, his voice getting quiet. “You can handle things from here. Good luck. And… watch out for Lady Rhea. I don’t know what she’s thinking, making you a professor like this. She may be up to something. Stay on your guard.”

What? He turned to leave, and Byleth stared after him, wishing he hadn’t left her like that with strange people and in a strange space, but - she looked to the two professors - they seemed nice enough.


“Oh! It’s you, then? So young... “


“Competence and age are not necessarily correlated, as you well know,” the older man quipped, earning him a sharp glare from the woman. “I am Hanneman, a Crest scholar and professor here at the Officer’s Academy. I wonder if you bear a Crest of your own… When next you have a moment to spare, I insist you pay me a visit so we can delve into the subject further.” 


Crests?
He studied her carefully through one monocle, and adjusted his grey hair to pat it down slightly. 


“I’m Manuela,” the woman introduced herself, smiling as she clasped her hands together in front of her. “I’m a professor, a physician, a songstress, and available. It’s nice to meet you.” 


“You’re a songstress?” Byleth asked, unable to hide her surprise. Though now that she thought of it, Manuela looked the part. She was gorgeous, and unlike Hanneman in his conservative professor’s clothes, she was wearing a revealing gown and cloak. She blushed, lifting a hand to her collarbone in exaggerated flattery.

“Of course! Before I came here, I belonged to a renowned opera company. Perhaps you’ve heard of me? The Mittelfrank Opera Company’s beautiful, peerless-”


“Spare our colleague the needless chatter, Manuela,” Hanneman interrupted. “Now then, it seems you’ll be taking charge of one of the academy’s three houses. I expect you haven’t yet been briefed on the nature of each yet, have you?” 


Byleth shook her head. 


“Do you really not know?” Manuela asked, frowning. “Fine, I’ll do you a favor and explain. The Officer’s Academy is comprised of three houses of students, each of which is closely affiliated with its region of origin. The Black Eagles house is for students from the Adrestian Empire. Their house leader this year is Edelgard, the Imperial princess, who is in line to be the next emperor.” 


Edelgard. Right. The young woman with the axe. Knowing she was the heir to a throne explained a lot; she seemed like she was made for it. 


“The Blue Lions House,” Hanneman interjected, “is for students from the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus. Their house leader this year is Prince Dimitri. He is to be the next King of Faerghus.”


A prince and a princess. What did that make Claude?


“Lastly, there’s the Golden Deer House, which is for students of the Leicester Alliance. Their house leader is Claude, grandson to Duke Reigan, the leader of the Alliance.” 


“To think that the next emperor, king, and sovereign duke are all here. It certainly is a promising year for the academy,” Hannemen said, lifting a hand to his chin in thought. Byleth’s mind was swimming. The three nations and their heirs. No wonder those kids had been so formal; they weren’t really kids. It was nice to know at least that the future Fodlan leaders were getting their due education.


“I’ll say,” Manuela agreed, “I just hope none of those little treasures cause any trouble.” 


Claude’s face came to mind instantly. That one, more than the others, had trouble written all over his face… and yet he was the most interesting as well. 


“In the meantime, I suggest taking a stroll around the academy to get your bearings. And when you have a moment, please stop by my laboratory.” 


“The old man has a point. Oh, and keep in mind that I’ve only notified the house leaders that you’re our new professor. It’s more fun that way,” Manuela said. A knowing smile spread across her thin lips. “I suggest you spend some time getting to know the students. Some odd ducks in the bunch, but they’re good kids. Good luck - you’ll need it.” 


With that, she was left to her own devices. She felt more out of place than ever within the halls of the monastery. Even with most of it out of bounds, Byleth found herself getting turned around more than once while trying to meet students and faculty alike. The only three she recognized for sure were Claude, Edelgard, and Dimitri. She met Edelgard first, standing in the reception hall.


“So you’ve accepted a teaching position here,” Edelgard greeted her as she approached. “Pity. I was hoping you would lend your strength to the Empire.”


“I was never really one for affiliation,” Byleth responded, and Edelgard’s eyes flashed with interest.


“I suppose not, being a mercenary. I never properly introduced myself, did I? My name is Edelgard von Hresvelg. I am the princess and heir apparent of the Adrestian Empire. I wonder if you’ll be tasked with leading the Black Eagles... Have you had a chance to meet them yet?”


“I’d like to,” Byleth replied, “but what about you?”


“Me?” Edelgard paused, looking unsure with where to start. “Well, some say I’m a bit distant. Arrogant, even... but there’s little to be done. One day, I must rise to be Adrestia’s next emperor. What else… well, it seems to me that we may have similar personalities.” 


Byleth hadn’t thought of it before, but she supposed she could see her point. She let Edelgard explain the rest of her class to her - Hubert, Ferdinand, Linhardt, Caspar, Bernadetta, Dorothea, and Petra - all nobles, save for one. They were certainly an intimidating and confident group, but nothing about them was particularly intriguing, and something about Edelgard’s presence was… unnerving. If they were similar, did that mean Byleth exuded that same sort of energy to those around her , too?


After the explanations, she found her way to Dimitri, standing in the courtyard. When she approached, he lifted a hand to his chest and bowed. She paused a little ways away. What was it with these nobles?


“Please accept my apologies for the other day. You came to our aid, yet I hadn’t even the courtesy to properly introduce myself. I am Dimitri Alexandre Blaiddyd, crown prince of the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus. Of course, at the academy, I’m simply a student. I’ve heard word that you’re to be a professor here,” he said, looking at her with hopeful, bright blue eyes. “Delightful news! I still have much to learn, but I’m confident I could benefit greatly from your guidance. In any case, welcome to the monastery.” 


“Thank you,” Byleth said, smiling weakly. He seemed… almost nervous, but was so polite and calm otherwise, it was impossible to tell. “So… can you tell me about the blue lions? About yourself?”


“Certainly,” Dimitri replied with an eager smile. “W-well, please forgive me - it’s difficult to open up on the spot, don’t you think? I’m afraid my story has not been a pleasant one. I do hope that doesn’t colour your view of me, but I understand if it can’t be helped.”


What does that mean?
Byleth tilted her head at him, and his lips dropped open for a second as if he was going to continue, but he stopped himself.


“And the others- well, there’s Dedue-” 


He went on about the rest of his class. They sounded nice, and something about Dimitri and the way he described them made them seem more… approachable. But Byleth couldn’t help but be curious about what tragic story he had hiding behind him. Even as he spoke, however, her eyes lingered in the courtyard; she could see the golden yellow of Claude’s cape in the sun nearby. He was who she was most intrigued about. When Dimitri was done his spiel about Blue Lions, she thanked him for his time, and then made a beeline for the archer.


“Well well,” Claude said once he caught sight of her, “scored a teaching gig here, did ya? Talk about a great first impression. Guess I’d better introduce myself properly. I’m Claude von Reigan, from the ruling house of the Leicester Alliance - but don’t worry too much about all that madness.” 


He waved a hand dismissively, his twinkling eyes landing on Byleth’s curious gaze.


“I’m guessing you don’t know which class you’ll be teaching yet, do you? You’d like ours. We’re not as… difficult, as the others.” 


“I want to know about you, first,” Byleth replied, folding her arms and resting her weight on one hip. Claude laughed.


“Piqued your interest, have I? As luck would have it, I’m pretty curious about you as well. But what’s life without a bit of mystery? Let’s just spend the next year or so learning about each other, little by little.” 


She blinked. As different as Dimitri and Edelgard were, Claude was on another level. He seemed the most self-aware of the three; and while he also seemed the most fun, Byleth wondered if he would be infuriating to have as a student. But he didn’t seem quite like a class clown… He told her about the rest of the Golden Deer house, and they sounded even friendlier than the others. Their backgrounds were more… normal. More akin to what Byleth was used to. The sons and daughters of merchants, the apprentices of mercenaries; a couple nobles, but nothing like the Black Eagles or Blue Lion. 


“Thank you, Claude,” Byleth said, once he finished telling her about Leonie, the last of his house. Claude clasped his hands together behind his head, watching her expectantly.


“So, did I sell you on the Golden Deer?”


“I think you already know the answer, but I’ve yet to be told whether or not I get a choice,” she replied honestly. Claude smiled.


“I guess that only makes sense. Here’s hoping, Teach.”

Chapter Text

Hanneman and Manuela let her choose which house she wanted, which she was grateful for. It was an easy enough decision - the Golden Deer. Strangely enough, both of the professors seemed slightly surprised - and relieved - at her choice. What have I signed myself up for? No, scratch that - she’d signed up for nothing. She was only here because Jeralt was here. She’d never taught in her life. And Claude, with those bright green eyes and knowing smile, must have been able to tell. Edelgard and Dimitri were blinded by her skill on the battlefield, but she was sure she would end up disappointing the royals if she went with one of them. Claude was supposedly royal, but his status, and the way he held himself, was much less intimidating or official.


Rhea and Seteth wished her luck, and she’d also gotten the opportunity to meet Seteth’s little sister, Flayn - a young woman who seemed much younger than most of the students at the academy. Most intriguing, though, was the mock battle to be held at the end of the month between the three houses. Seteth had made it clear that while it was to help judge the progress of the students, they would also be watching Byleth and her work on the field. No pressure.


When she arrived in the Golden Deer Classroom for the first time, Claude and the others were waiting for her. There was something welcoming about the room, with its high ceilings and sunlight pouring in from a window at the back. Long wooden tables with benches were lined up facing the front, and the walls were stocked with bookshelves and supplies. It was a little messy, but seemed put-together at the same time; an organized chaos. 


“Wait- what? Are you really our new homeroom professor!?” Hilda exclaimed, rosey pink eyes wide in surprise. “I was sure Claude was joking! I thought you’d be roped into joining the knights!” 


Byleth studied her. She remembered what Claude had said about Hilda - the daughter of a Duke, and lazy as they came. Hopefully in time, she’d be able to prove him wrong. 

“Don’t tell me, you chose this class just to get to know me better? I’m flattered, really,” Claude said with a grin, resting his hands on his hips. Byleth lifted her eyebrows, and he laughed. “Woops. Now that you’re our professor, I guess I should choose my words more carefully.” 


“No, I don’t really mind,” she replied, shaking her head. “Just be yourselves.”


"Oh, really? Since we’re close in age and all, I suppose formalities aren’t necessary.” 


“One must simply marvel at the exceptionality of this appointment,” Lorenz interrupted, from the back of the group. The others turned to look at him. “Becoming a teacher to students almost the same age as yourself… How unusual.” 


His deep lilac eyes, matching his hair, landed on Byleth with a look of concern. 


“I’ve heard you’re a skilled mercenary, but I cannot shake my discomfort at your position.” 


“That’s understandable,” Byleth replied. Even she was still dealing with discomfort at her new position… maybe the students could tell.


“Are you really as strong as they say?” Raphael asked. He was easily the largest of the group - in fact, one of the largest people Byleth had ever seen. He must have been a monster on the field. “Let’s see your biceps! I bet I’ve packed on more muscle than you!” 


Oh.
She knew his type from the bars, and from insecure mercenaries. But he seemed too smiley for that. Still young.


“I doubt that,” Ignatz interjected. “Apparently she was personally recommended by Alois, one of the knights.” 


Byleth took one look at Raphael’s biceps and then moved her gaze to Claude. Perhaps he saw the confusion in her eyes, because he grinned. 


“As far as skill goes,” Claude said, drawing the students attention back to himself, “I saw it with my own eyes. What’s more, Teach here is the child of the most renowned former captain of the Knights of Seiros.” 


“I heard!” Leonie piped up from behind him, her bright hazel eyes aflame. “There’s no way a child of the captain isn’t worthy.” 


“Captain?” Lysithea asked, from beside Byleth. “Who are you talking about?”


“Captain Jeralt, of course,” Leonie replied, as if it was obvious. “The most notable captain of the Knights of Seiros, and a peerless mercenary!” 


So much about his life I never knew,
Byleth thought to herself, trying not to frown too visibly. It bugged her a little that this random student knew more about her own father than she seemed to. 


“He’s not
that well-known,” Byleth said, trying to convince herself as much as Leonie.


“It doesn’t matter what you think,” she replied in a huff, catching Byleth completely off-guard. “Captain Jeralt deserves nothing but respect.” 


Lysithea said something about expecting great things, but Hilda interrupted; some chatter ensued, and Byleth found it hard to follow. She was too busy thinking about Jeralt. He didn’t seem like he
wanted to come back here, so was it really okay that he’d joined with the knights again, and that she was a professor? These kids- well, they looked around her in age, in all honesty- they would be expecting a lot from her. Life skills. Battle tactics. A role model. Her father had been all of those things for her, but she had no idea how to be all of those things for someone else


“Sorry for the bickering, Teach,” Claude said suddenly, snapping her out of her thoughts. “The Golden Deer House is a rowdy bunch. We’re not especially unified. In any case, I hope you’re as excited about the upcoming year as I am.” 


She nodded, her mind still swimming. Claude, despite everything, seemed reliable - and seemed like he knew. Knew that she wasn’t cut out for teaching. Maybe he would be a better partner than Dimitri or Edelgard, who had already had her on such a high pedestal, too high for her to ever want to disappoint them. But this one seemed more… human. Grounded. Not that she wanted to disappoint him, either, but he looked like he might have already been ready for it. 


-


The first month was a whirlwind. Each time Byleth
thought she knew her way around the monastery, she found more places to go and became even more lost. Fishing and gardening quickly became her favourite past times; that, and eating lunch with the students. They all seemed relatively endeared with her, which was a confidence boost to say the least. Even so, watching them interact and laugh and joke… was strange. Growing up with Jeralt had been all business. She’d never really had any proper friends. In a way, she was grateful to be a professor so she wasn’t obligated to any of the social niceties they were - but in another way, she was sad she’d missed out on such an upbringing. If she was teaching them how to fight, then maybe they could teach her how to be… well, human.


There were so many names that Byleth was sure she wouldn’t remember them all - Felix, Caspar, Mercedes, Dorothea, Annette, Ingrid, Shamir, Ferdinand… who else… Cyril? Dedue? Everyone - well, most everyone - was kind when she met them. A man named Jeritza who was a member of the faculty
decidedly wasn’t, though he seemed to creep everyone out. Claude had told her that she could recruit other students, and although she was too nervous to ask any of them yet, one of them had already come up and asked to join.


It was a red-haired young man named Sylvain, and Byleth recognized him immediately as the one Dimitri had referred to as a “skirt-chaser,” a phrase that the crown prince had seemingly struggled to get out.


“I’d like to be in your class, if that’s possible,” he said, flashing her a charming smile. He leaned against the wall of the dining hall, arms folded, his light hazel eyes stuck on hers. “I’ve been thinking maybe I oughta get serious about studying.” 


“You’re not?” Byleth asked, tilting her head. Sylvain looked thoughtfully upwards.


“Well,
more studious,” he corrected himself, then shooting a wink her way. She supposed this was some attempt to be charismatic, but he seemed to be trying too hard. Nonetheless, Sylvain joining the Golden Deer meant one less enemy - and one more ally - for the mock battle. Even if he seemed like he might be a handful of a student… she couldn’t help but be somewhat flattered that he wanted to join, when she was so new as a professor. 


“Okay,” she said, “you’re welcome to join us.”


“Wow, very decisive! I like it,” he replied with a grin. “I’ll be there on time, and in the front row, and everything! You’ll never have a better student!” 


Byleth thought briefly of Ignatz. Sylvain would have some competition for that title. 


-


“So, the mock battle,” Hilda said to her in the courtyard, a day before the mock battle, “you don’t mind me sitting it out, do you? As a fragile maiden, I’m useless on the front lines. I’ll just cheer everyone on from the side!”

 
“This is what Claude meant by slackers,” Byleth realised aloud, just under her breath. Hilda’s expression dropped. “Sorry Hilda, but I need to see what you’re capable of. You use an axe, right?”


“Well… yes, but only because that’s what my brother uses… it was all we had to train with when I was little.”


“And you know how to swing it around,” Byleth continued. Hilda frowned, but nodded. Something about her pink pigtails and wide bright eyes made it hard to envision her using an axe. But she’d seen stranger things in mercenaries, and surely Hilda wouldn’t even be a student here if she wasn’t capable...


“You’ll be great,” Byleth reassured her, trying to smile a little. “Just follow my lead. I won’t send you in all alone or anything.”


“That’s… not really what I’m concerned about,” Hilda replied, tilting her head. “I just don’t think I could attack any of my classmates from the other houses! Some of us are really close!” 


“Then they’ll understand,” Byleth countered. “They’ll be coming after you, too. I don’t expect either of the other two houses to hold anything back. Do you?”


Hilda opened her mouth to speak back, but stopped herself short and sighed. Claude had introduced her as lazy - had mentioned slackers - but so far, Hilda was the only one in the house that seemed to be that way. Well, aside from Raphael, who had openly admitted several times that he saw no use for studying and only wanted to improve his muscles. He was a beast in training, that much was for sure, but he’d never pass his certifications if he didn’t bother to pick up a book.


Was all this worrying what it meant to be a professor?


“Professor?” Hilda asked, still standing in front of her, and beginning to look concerned. “Are you okay?”


“Yeah, sorry,” she stammered. “I have a lot on my mind.”


“I can tell!” Hilda replied, beaming. “You know, you should talk to Claude. He knows all about this mock battle stuff. I bet he already has schemes figured out for on the battlefield.”


“Schemes?” 


“You know, like… cheating? Wait, maybe that’s not the right word…” 


Byleth lifted a hand to rub her face. If any of the leaders were going to try cheating, it’d be Claude. Hilda was right - she should talk to him.


“Thanks, Hilda. Let me know if you need anything. Don’t slack with your training.”


“Yeah… okay,” Hilda trailed off, hands clasped behind her back as Byleth took off to find their enigmatic house leader. 


She found him in the Golden Deer classroom, studying the chalkboard. He looked over her shoulder as her shadow cast into the room, and smiled as soon as he saw her.


“Hey, Teach! I was just about to come find you so we could go over our plan for the mock battle.”


“Well, here I am,” Byleth replied simply, stopping next to him and looking up at the chalkboard. Each of the students was dictated by the first letter of their name, and a crude drawing of whatever weapon they used. Claude was no artist, but it did the trick, and Byleth’s eyes widened when she saw the other teams on there - with their weapons, as well.


“You know… where they’re going to be? What weapons they have?” 


“I know it might not seem like it, but I do my homework, Teach,” Claude replied with a grin. “But, you’re the commander. What you say goes. Just don’t screw it up and everything’ll be great!”


“...right,” Byleth said, looking at him warily. She wasn’t concerned about her commanding skills on the battlefield; she was concerned about what Hilda said regarding his schemes. As she stared at him, his green eyes twinkled. Again, she had that gut feeling that he... knew. Knew everything going on in her head.


“I’ll do whatever I can to help out, too. I mean, I’m sort of obligated to. Like leaving a little something in their food to upset their stomachs…”


“Claude.”


“Yeah yeah, wink wink, I read you. You can’t officially condone that sort of thing, right?” Claude asked, winking. Byleth frowned. “But hypothetically speaking, if students from the other houses started racing to the infirmary… as far as anyone knows, it could just be a harmless stomach bug making the rounds.”


Byleth had about a million reasons as to why that wouldn’t work, but before she could say anything, Edelgard and Dimitri arrived. 


“Well well. What a fascinating conversation you two are having. May we join?” Edelgard asked. Claude smiled politely to her while flipping the chalkboard to hide his plans; on the other side was a doodle of a proud buck sitting atop a clearly-defeated lion and eagle, with text that read
“Fear The Deer.” Byleth couldn’t hide her amusement, but Edelgard and Dimitri looked unimpressed.


“Claude, I can’t believe you would stoop to such crooked schemes to gain the advantage. Have you no honor?” Dimitri asked. Byleth looked at him in surprise.
He’s joking, right?  


“If that was really my scheme, I wouldn’t be talking about it in the open. I’m afraid you’ll have to wait ‘til our battle to see what’s really in store,” he laughed, looking to Byleth with a confident smile. Was he bluffing? Even she didn’t know what they had as a plan. 


“It doesn’t matter anyways. Whatever you have up your sleeves will not save you from a crushing defeat,” Edelgard warned. Byleth found herself somewhat taken aback by such a brutal statement, but Dimitri only let out a hearty laugh.


“She has a point. Still, I’m rather eager to see what schemes that mind of yours conjures up,” he admitted. 


“You heard ‘em, Teach. We can’t let these fine folks down,” Claude joked.


“If they insist,” Byleth resigned. Claude’s eyes lit up.


“Seriously? Well, if a crooked scheme is really what you’re after, I’ve got more than a few of those up my sleeve.” 


Before Edelgard and Dimitri could protest, Manuela and Hanneman arrived, looking wary.


“Looks like you’re becoming fast friends,” Manuela cooed, “how sweet.” 


“I’m afraid it’s time for the faculty strategy meeting,” Hanneman said to Byleth. “Come along.” 


She glanced at Claude - a silent
goodbye for now, no poisoning anyone please - and he shot her a wink as she left.

Chapter Text

It was a sunny day out in the training grounds; good conditions for a mock battle. The class seemed to be in good spirits, which Byleth was pleased about. At least they were confident. She could only have four of them out with her, and despite Hilda’s wishes to be on the sidelines, she brought her on, along with Claude, Marianne, and Leonie. As for their opponents, the Black Eagles were closest, having taken up position in the trees; Manuela, Edelgard, and Dorothea in the back, Hubert and Ferdinand in the front. For Blue Lions, Ashe was up in the front, and Dimitri, Dedue, and Mercedes were in the back near Hanneman. 


Jeralt was overseeing the mock battle. The goal was to defeat the other two houses. Simple enough.


With the sun hot on her back, Byleth took one look at the terrain in front of her, and then glanced sideways to Claude. He had his bow out, and looked ready as ever.


“The command’s all yours, Teach.” 


“Ferdinand first,” she decided. “Stay together. Marianne, you stay in the back, and out of range.” 


“Oh- okay,” she stammered back, clearly nervous. “I hope I don’t just hold all of you back-”


“Let’s go!” 


There was no time for nerves, no time for degrading statements. Even if this was just a mock battle, it was her chance to prove her capabilities to everyone - not just her students, but Jeralt, the faculty, and herself. Ferdinand was first up, and though he looked like a powerful opponent, Byleth dodged his first attack deftly and struck back with her sword. He staggered back, and before he could retaliate, Leonie was there with her spear. She was fast, and after two hits, a disappointed Ferdinand was forced to resign from battle.
One down.  


Dark magic swirled around Byleth shortly after, attacking her from all sides. She winced, looking up in surprise to see Hubert approaching, and looking smug. 


“Hilda,” Byleth said, jerking her head towards him. Despite Hilda’s initial hesitation, she ran at him anyways, striking down with her axe and hitting him clean in the shoulder. Byleth blinked - so much for a fragile maiden. Hubert grimaced, falling back. He turned on Byleth again, but before he could strike, an arrow from Claude went straight through his ankle. He fell, and Byleth shot a grateful glance back to Claude, who pointed ahead at the trees. Hidden in the foliage, Edelgard and Dorothea were waiting.


Marianne undid the damage Hubert had cast on Byleth, and then an arrow narrowly missed Leonie, who sidestepped just in time - Ashe was up ahead. 


“Dimitri is trying to draw us to them,” Claude warned. Byleth knew he was right, but going the other way meant a possible ambush from Edelgard and Dorothea, nevermind Manuela not far behind. There were more people this way, but less trees; if they played their cards right, they’d be fine.


“Forward,” she said, a decision which seemed to surprise Ashe. He fell quickly to Leonie and Hilda, and Dedue was next to face off with Byleth, swinging an axe down that barely missed her and hit the ground with a terrifying finality. Claude fired, but even with an arrow through Dedue’s shoulder, he didn’t seem ready to stop anytime soon. Byleth spun, putting all of her strength into her next attack, and caught Dedue off balance, cutting a thin slice across his chest. He staggered backwards.


“Dedue!” Dimitri called, and for a moment Byleth was worried she’d gone too far, but Dedue only shook a hand dismissively to Dimitri.


“Sorry, your highness,” he said gruffly, “I’m okay, but I’m out for now.” 


Manuela, Edelgard, and Dorothea had come through the trees from their left, and now Mercedes and Dimitri approached as well; four on four, and all of them seemed focused on the Golden Deer. Byleth cast a wary look at Claude, who - although surprised at first with the decision to move ahead into Blue Lions territory - now seemed to understand. 


Marianne was hit by a well-aimed shot from Mercedes, and so Byleth ran directly past Dimitri and Edelgard to take her out first. Claude stayed back in a small group of shrubs to fire potshots at Dimitri, who had nailed a hit onto Leonie. With Mercedes out, Byleth turned to Dimitri.


“Psst, Princeliness. You’ve got a thing for Edelgard, right? Fess up, and you’ll feel better!” Claude called from the trees. Dimitri’s mouth dropped open in shock.


“Claude, this is no time for idle banter! Your defenses are wide open.” 


“That didn’t get to him, huh?” Claude muttered, but it gave Byleth a moment to strike him down. He retaliated with a jab to her chest, but she hit back once again; his spear dropped, and he clutched at the new shallow wound on his shoulder.


“My training was… insufficient,” he sighed. “I’m so sorry. The rest is up to you.” 


It was only Hanneman left, and he’d yet to move from a strategic high-ground position near the back of the battlefield. Edelgard came running at Byleth from in the trees in a move that surprised her; she fell back, having been hit in the back with an axe. Blood seeped through her cloak, but she pulled herself back to her feet, grimacing. She’d had worse. 


“Wow, a real-life princess!” Claude exclaimed, coming out from the trees with his bow at the ready. “I’ll have to be careful not to scar that little face of yours.”


“Careful, Claude,” she warned him, “I’ll win no matter what, but you’re only making things harder for yourself.” 


“Losing hasn’t even crossed your mind, has it? This’ll be a bit of a shock, then.” 


“To shock was your intention to begin with, wasn’t it?” she asked, frowning. He responded by putting an arrow through her shoulder; her eyes widened in shock as she looked back at him. Byleth went back with an attack of her own after getting another dose of healing from Marianne. She hit at Edelgard’s right arm, knocking the axe out of her hand and sending her falling backwards.


“Forced to retreat,” she sighed. “Well, things will only get tougher from here on out.” 


Despite such a cryptic statement, Leonie took care of Dorothea without much trouble at all. Manuela was tougher - and more intimidating, at least for the students - but a well-aimed shot from Claude took her, and thus the Black Eagles, completely out of the fight.


“Just Hanneman,” Byleth said, looking upon her students, who were beginning to become exhausted. “Let’s finish this.” 


Hilda led them, as the one who hadn’t taken any hits yet, but Hanneman rectified that with powerful wind magic. She got a good hit on him anyways using her crest, and Claude let loose an arrow so powerful it knocked Hanneman completely off of his feet and backwards. Byleth had been ready to go and finish it, but it looked like it wasn’t even needed; she looked sideways at Claude in shock, and saw him looking equally as surprised. When he looked back at her, however, he smiled.


“Looks like that training is paying off, eh Teach?” 


“That’s that!” Jeralt called, his voice echoing across the field. “The winner of this mock battle is The Golden Deer!” 


Byleth let herself relax, the tip of her sword hitting the grass as she turned to look at her classmates. They were tired, but also looked somewhat exhilarated; it didn’t appear that any of them, aside from maybe Claude, expected to win. 


After a trip to the infirmary, where Manuela handed out a number of bandages and healing spells, Byleth met Claude back in the Golden Deer classroom.


“Great work, Teach! That was a brilliant win.” 


“Everyone did well,” Byleth said, and she meant it. Claude nodded in agreement.


“I’ve been anticipating that magic moment when your tactics and my schemes entwined, and you did not disappoint,” he said with a grin. “That composed expression you always sport like a permanent mask is a perfect complement to my ruthless schemes! That’s a joke, ‘course. Mostly.” 


Byleth blinked. Was she really that deadpan?


“To be honest, I had a bunch of other schemes in back-up, just in case things didn’t work out. But I didn’t have to resort to any of them. I suppose our opponents lucked out.” 


She couldn’t tell if he was serious or not. His eyes, full of mischief as they were, also kept a lot hidden away. She wondered if he’d ever open up to her. Perhaps it would just take a while, and maybe she’d have to be a little more open herself.


The rest of the class filtered in then, all looking proud, albeit a bit tired.


“Well met, Professor!” Lorenz said first. She knew he’d wanted to be on the battlefield, but- “The breadth of your skill was on full display. I must admit your tactics were masterful. I shudder to think what may have transpired had it been Claude leading us into battle.” 


“I never doubted that our Professor would be amazing! It was way too obvious. Don’t you agree, Marianne?” Hilda said, beaming. Marianne, next to her, dropped her gaze to the floor. 


“Huh? Oh, um, yes. Well done, Professor,” she said, voice quiet. 


“Thank you for keeping us alive, Marianne. Your healing magic saw us through.” 


“Oh, um- I don’t think-” 


“Captain Jeralt taught his child well,” Leonie interrupted, though it was possible she just hadn’t even heard Marianne speaking at all, since the girl was so quiet. “It would have been
more of a surprise had our professor proved lacking!” 


“Don’t you think it’s a bit harsh to give Jeralt all the credit, Leonie?” Ignatz protested. “We only won because of our new mentor’s guidance.” 


“A mercenary’s wisdom and techniques are formed in battle,” Claude said, “those are the sorts of things you can only learn through experience. Right, Teach?”


Byleth tilted her head to the side.
Mostly.  


“But more importantly, it’s time to celebrate our victory! Teach here has yet to try my well-renowned home cooking,” he added. As the students slowly filtered out of the house classroom, Claude took gentle hold of Byleth’s arm, holding her back as she went to her desk to clean up. She looked sideways to him in surprise.

“I really do hope you’ll join us,” he said. “After all, I swiped some finely aged cheese from the dining hall just for the occasion.” 


“Claude,” Byleth said simply, though she couldn’t will herself to frown; instead, the smallest smile was pulling on her lips, and judging by the way his expression lit up, it hadn’t gone unnoticed by him. She had a feeling not much would. It was strange, feeling vulnerable to someone like this - feeling like you could be read just as easily as you read everyone else. But there was also something relieving about it. She was human after all. People like Claude… people like her, just happened to be outliers.


“Come on. The class would love it if you were there.” 


“What class wants to celebrate with their professor?” she asked, pulling from his hand to begin tidying up her desk and stacking a few books. “I might be new to this, but I’m not completely naive to the world.” 


“Well,
I want you there, can that be enough?” 


She dropped one heavy textbook on top of another, and hit away at the dust that had settled on top of it. She lifted her gaze to Claude, wary of the ways his eyes glinted in the firelight of the classroom and how he waited for the only answer that would satisfy him.

“Fine,” she said resignedly, looking back down at the books and continuing to brush away more dust. “But if anyone wonders why I’m there, it’s on you.”


“Deal,” Claude replied. “What is it that you drink anyways, Teach? Manuela’s cabinet is always full.”


She slowly looked back at him with a stern look. He grinned sheepishly and lifted his hands in a show of surrender.


“Just joking! I think I’d actually be expelled if I tried that stunt again. Come on, let’s get out of here.”


Wait - again?!

Chapter Text

The next month, their mission was to take care of some bandits in Zanado, the Red Canyon. Sothis - who apparently was just the voice in Byleth’s head that she had to get used to - said it sounded familiar, and Byleth had to agree. Surely it was just a location that Jeralt had mentioned before, especially if bandits were there. The students seemed nervous about dealing with their first real battle, but it would be a good learning experience for them, as gruesome as it seemed. 


“So, we actually have to… kill them?” Ignatz asked in class one day, worry painted on his face as he looked up from his usual seat at the front of the room. 


“Yes,” Byleth replied leaning both hands on her desk and looking at the class expectantly. Concerned mutters spread through the room like a ripple.


“There’s no choice, if the bandits are threatening innocents. I expect you’ve killed many people already, being a mercenary,” Claude said. His cheek was leaned up against one hand, but his expression was unreadable as his gaze flicked up to Byleth. Her shoulders dropped.


“Yes,” she answered again. “I don’t want to scare you, but they’re going to be trying to kill you. You have to stop them before they get that chance.”


Most of them, she wasn’t worried about. Even Ignatz, sweet as he was, might find it easier using a bow from a distance than Hilda would slicing someone in half with her axe. Killing wasn’t a pretty sight. It was messy. It was sad, and sometimes depressing. But Byleth knew - even after only little more than a month with these students - that she wouldn’t hesitate to cut down anyone who threatened to hurt them.

After the last day of class before the battle, Byleth left to the greenhouse to garden, and found herself deep in thought. 


“Hey, Professor! What are you doing daydreaming in a place like this? It’s lucky - as spacey as you are, you’re reliable in a pinch.”


It was Hilda. Her question was innocent enough, but Byleth frowned a little anyways.
Spacey?  


“You were daydreaming too,” she countered, remembering that she’d seen Hilda admiring some of the flowers earlier. The girl laughed.


“Not as much as you! It’s hard to tell what’s going on in that skull of yours,” she added. “Your expression is always blank. Come on, smile!” 


Byleth’s frown deepened, despite her best efforts.


“I was just playing around,” Hilda said quickly, letting out a weak laugh. “Anyways… in the next battle, may I focus on logistical support? ...Off the battlefield? There’s no use having a weakling like me out there. And it would bring down my morale if I were killed.” 


“You’re not a weakling,” Byleth protested, ignoring her comment about being killed. “You’re one of the strongest in the class. You know that, don’t you?”


“What?” Hilda replied, looking completely in disbelief. “Look at these noodly little arms! I should be cheering everyone on from the sidelines. It’ll certainly improve the boys’ morale, don’t you think?”


Well, maybe Sylvain...


“Hilda,” Byleth said, rubbing her temple, “why is it that you don’t want to fight, really?”


“Because even if I do, I won’t be of any help,” she complained. “My big brother is the type of person who’s supposed to be on the battlefield. Not me. Everyone’s cut out for something different, right?”


Byleth sighed. There was something depressing about her lack of confidence. She didn’t seem like the type to simply be scared; she genuinely thought she wasn’t good enough. Like Marianne. The two of them were so different, and yet…


“Please, Professor? Keep me off the battlefield and maybe I won’t tell everyone you were daydreaming,” she added with a laugh. It was an obvious attempt to lighten the conversation, but Byleth wasn’t having it; she left Hilda in the greenhouse and went to her dorm for an early night in. Tomorrow would be a long day.



Zanado was barren. The landscape was a stark contrast to the sunny green field they had held their mock battle in, and the enemies here weren’t going to be holding anything back. Their blades would be sharpened with a purpose.


“So, we are taking children into battle, are we?
” Sothis’ voice came through clear as day as Byleth and the class arrived into the canyon. “I am not certain I will be able to sleep soundly after beholding something like that. I shall allow you to turn back the hands of time, but know this power is not infinite!”  


Byleth nodded to herself. A contingency plan. Though it wasn’t like she was going to be that risky with her students lives, anyways.


“I hear there’s a back road to the west,” Claude said as they approached the first bridge. “But we have to get across the bridge first.” 


Byleth looked to the end of the bridge. Three bandits held the way; two with axes, one with a bow. It was time to get to work. She sent Lorenz and Claude out first, with the rest of them filtering in behind. They’d force their way through the first three. Lorenz had little problem looking after the first bandit, despite taking a hit; Claude dispatched the archer in the back; and before the last swordsman could attack him, Byleth ran forward to take him out, dodging his counterattack, and finishing it with a slice to the neck. Their corpses hit the ground, and the Golden Deer House proceeded through the growing pools of blood.


“Keep your eyes on the objective,” Byleth called, looking back at them. Some weren’t as fazed by the whole killing thing than others, but she was relieved at least that she knew she could trust them to do it if the situation arose. This, she figured, would be the first of many battles. They had to be on the same page. 


The bridge opened up to a larger plateau where more bandits awaited them, looking angrier now that they’d seen their comrades fallen.


“Stand strong,” Byleth said, standing in front of her class as the other bandits began running at them. “I take the first hits.” 


“Teach-”


“Ready!” she interrupted Claude, and she heard the unmistakable sound of drawstrings being pulled back by him, Leonie, and Ignatz as the bandits got closer. The first arrived, and even as a sword pierced her shoulder, she struck her own through his chest.


“Fire!” 


The arrows loosed, and each of the bandits took a hit on their way in. Leonie’s aim had been true, striking one in the heart and ending him then and there. As Byleth pulled the sword out of her shoulder, the wound healed almost instantly thanks to Marianne’s magic, and then Hilda, Raphael, and Lorenz ran forward to finish off the remaining bandits. 


It was suddenly very quiet. A wind pushed through the valley, sending Byleth’s hair whipping to the side. She looked back at her class, assessing their expressions and any damage taken, but most were unhurt. Hilda had been hit, but it was nothing a vulnerary wouldn’t fix. She turned her attention across the massive crevices. A few bandits were left. They saw her looking, and readied their weapons. The furthest away was the biggest one - the same man that had nearly killed her back when she’d tried to save Edelgard. And Claude was right, there was a bridge to the west, as well as the one in front of them. A two-pronged attack would work, even if it meant splitting up. Otherwise they would all be filtering down the same bridge, which could lead to an ambush. But how to split them up?


“Claude, Lysithea, Raphael, and Lorenz, go to the west,” she instructed. “Marianne, Hilda, Leonie, and Ignatz, come with me.”


She tried to keep the teams even; Claude was the most skilled aside from herself. Better to have him looking after the others. The class did as she instructed, and they split their separate ways, Byleth and her squad going over the first bridge and Claude and the others going over theirs, immediately being intercepted by bandits. She tried not to be too distracted in keeping an eye on the others, but found it difficult when she saw Claude standing in the front.


I know you’re a natural leader, but you can’t be up there with just a bow,
she thought, watching in frustration as bandits began to run at him and the others.  A moment later, an arrow flew past, grazing her cheek and slicing a clean cut that began to drip with blood. She wheeled to face the bandits that were accosting them. No time for distractions - Claude would have to handle things on his own.


Lorenz ran in front of her to attack the archer, which she found strangely brave and gentlemanly of him, and Ignatz finished it.
No hesitation, Byleth thought to herself - I’ll mention it later.  


The plan worked perfectly. By the time they were done with their side and heading to meet the bandit leader, Claude and his team was on their way, though he looked a little worse for wear having taken the front lines.


“Claude- Marianne, help him, please. Lysithea, with me,” Byleth said, clutching her sword tight as she left up the hill to meet the axe-wielding man. 


“Sending these brats instead of the knights means they’ve underestimated me!” he declared, lifting his weapon. Sweat dripped from his brow and the axe itself would have shone in the sunlight, if it weren’t for it being stained with blood. Byleth let Lysithea get the first attack in; her magic was incredibly strong, and the man was already severely weakened when Byleth went running up the steps, jumping through the miasma to hopefully finish the job. Her sword pierced him, but the man was bigger than she remembered; it wasn’t enough to take him down. He countered with a swing of his axe. It landed squarely in her side, and she grimaced, faltering slightly but not moving from her spot even as he glared at her and pushed it further into her skin. 


It only lasted a second; the moment Byleth was about to hit back, an arrow went clean through his eye, and he fell backwards, taking his axe with him. Byleth staggered backwards, sheathing her sword and then clutching at her side.
Ouch.  


“Let’s let the knights finish up from here,” Claude called, resting his bow on his back while he came to give her a hand. “Your leadership was incredible, Teach.” 


“Thanks,” she said, grimacing as she turned to smile at him. He winced when he looked at her wound.


“Yeesh, ouch. Why’d you throw yourself at him like that?”


“You’re one to talk,” Byleth replied, eyeing the cut in his sleeve and the blood that had begun staining his shirt. Claude let out a laugh.


“I knew I’d be fine.”


“So did I.” 


“Come on,” he said, shaking his head but smiling nonetheless. “Let’s get back to the monastery.” 


She followed him, but even as she did so, looked over her shoulder at the ruins of the canyon as they went.
Since when has this been called the Red Canyon?  


“Hmm. I wonder why it is that you recall this place,”
Sothis pondered. Byleth tensed. “You must be weak of heart. Every time I speak, it scares you so." 


I’m not scared.


“Do you think you can lie to me? It saddens me to know you wish to hide such things. Well, anyhow… I am quite fascinated by this place. As far as I can tell, this is your first time here.”


Have you been here before, Sothis?


“Here? I daresay it would be impossible to have forgotten such a place as this. I must admit I am unsure. Beyond the name and this strange feeling of familiarity, I can’t seem to remember anything about this place. And yet, a great depth of emotion is tied to that sense of familiarity. Like joy and sorrow. Pain and love. And all things in between. If I was somehow here before… I wonder what took place.” 


“Teach?” Claude asked, and Byleth only just realised that his arm was linked under hers, helping her stay on her feet as they found their way across the second bridge. “You there?” 


Time to depart. You have my gratitude, it seems, for taking care of those thieves. But you must become accustomed to my voice! It just won’t do if you fall over with shock every time.” 


Right. Just get used to the voice in her head.
Got it. 



Claude stopped her in the entrance hall when she was leaving the infirmary, properly patched up and feeling more… together. She wondered if he’d been waiting there for her.


“Hey, teach. On the way back, you seemed transfixed by the canyon,” he began, looking a mixture of curious and concerned. “Did something happen there?” 


“It…” she trailed off, studying Claude’s expression, but as usual, he was unreadable as ever. “It seemed familiar, somehow.”


“Familiar? Huh. Can’t say the same,” he admitted. “Maybe it’s a memory from when you were a child. Or a past life. Although I will admit, there is something about that canyon that has captivated me as well. Like, how did Zanado come to be called The Red Canyon? Nothing there was actually red.”


“It might not be literal,” Byleth offered, unsure where that thought had even come from. Claude’s eyebrows lifted as he considered what she’d said, and then he shrugged.


“Who knows. I’m glad you look like you’re doing better, though.”


“Thanks, Claude,” she replied, mustering a small smile his way despite her tiredness. “You too. No more front lines, okay? At least I have a sword.”


“Yeah yeah,” he replied, avoiding her eyes now as he turned and left down the hall. “Night, Teach.” 

Chapter Text

As the next moon rolled around, the Golden Deer house was given a non-violent mission. They were to assist the Knights of Seiros in the aftermath of a rebellion. A minor lord named Lord Lonato had apparently attempted an uprising. Byleth recognized the name, but she wasn’t sure from where. A brave knight named Catherine was to be joining them, which she appreciated. It would give the students another good role model, even if they weren’t to be fighting. After last week, she was happy to give them a break. They’d worked hard.


With Sylvain in the Golden Deer House, they held a small get-together for his birthday, seeing as he wasn’t going to be happy with just flowers and a card. It hadn’t been too wild of a night until the Blue Lions crashed it, led by Ashe and a reluctant-looking Felix. But Byleth had seen the bottle hidden under Claude’s cape, had seen his eyes on her all night, and excused herself as it got later and later. She didn’t want to keep them from having a good time, and she hoped that she could trust
her house at least to not get too rowdy. 


Of course, by the next morning when Byleth had her free day to explore the monastery, the mood of the students had soured. She was suddenly reminded, by nothing more than a sad look sent her way rom Ashe, that Lord Lonato was his adoptive father. And why was a minor lord showing hostility to the church in the first place? Why was Rhea so eager to cut them down? She had urged Byleth once to devote more time into learning the teachings of Seiros, but wasn’t there something unethical about pushing this sort of thing on people? Of course, an actual rebellion wouldn’t do, but was it really for religious reasons?


Byleth had never given these things much thought ahead of coming to the monastery, but it was clearly something the students were distinctly aware about - all the time. Life, here, was political. 


“Professor! You came here to pray, too?” Marianne asked her one day, when she caught Byleth at the far end of the chapel. 


“Something like that,” Byleth replied, not wanting to give her a yes or no answer. The girl sighed. “What were you praying for?”


“Oh- um, nothing specific,” she replied, looking somewhat flustered. “I only call upon the goddess to give thanks, or perhaps to ask for protection.”


Marianne paused. Byleth nodded. Then silence. She realised that the two of them had never really had a one-on-one discussion before, and Marianne, as quiet and shy as she seemed to be, was probably in need of it.


“Do you have some time to chat?” Byleth asked, trying to smile a little bit to ease Marianne’s worries. She met Byleth’s eyes for one surprised moment, and then her gaze hit the floor again.


“Oh, um… yes.” 


Silence again.


“Sorry, I - I don’t really know what to say,” Marianne admitted, fidgeting her hands in front of her. “I’m not very good at interacting with people. I never did much of it before I came here.” 


“Why’s that?” Byleth asked, tilting her head. Marianne looked away. She didn’t seem comfortable with eye contact.


“No particular reason,” she said, but it had to have been a lie.


“It’s okay,” Byleth assured her. “Really. It’ll get easier. Don’t worry too much.” 


“Oh, thank you,” Marianne said, but then her expression only became more troubled. “But you really shouldn’t waste your time worrying about me. I mean - just ignore me. I have to be going now. Goodbye, professor.” 


She left, and Byleth was left in silence in the chapel, her mind blank. Marianne was a skilled healer, a fantastic asset to the team, and usually quite sweet in the things she
did say; but clearly there was something wrong, something troubling her. It would take time and patience to bring that out. Hopefully. 



Before the end of the month was on them, her whole class had passed their first certification exams, and it had improved their morale - and skill - immensely. Instructing them felt sort of like herding cats, since each of them had a different goal and those goals changed so often. But generally speaking, most were skilled in one or two areas, and she kept their focus on what she knew they could do reliably. By the time their mission was upon them, Byleth was more confident than ever in their capabilities, though she still hoped they wouldn’t have to put it to the test. They’d done a lot of practice battles that month under the assumption they wouldn’t be fighting today, but she’d made sure they were aware that it was always a possibility.


The day they went out to Magdred Way was cloudy and rainy. Spirits might have been low, but with Catherine among them, everyone was too excited to let the weather get them down. She was charmingly cool, even Byleth had to admit; with blonde hair messily tied back into a ponytail, gleaming blue eyes, and beautiful features, she didn’t look like a knight might expect. It was certainly keeping Sylvain in tow. 

“It really is an honor to accompany Catherine, the wielder of Thunderbrand,” Claude said excitedly. “I hear you’re intimidating enough to silence the howling winds!” 

“Thunderbrand?” Byleth asked, prompting Catherine to unsheath her sword ever so slightly.


“You don’t know? My weapon is called Thunderbrand. It’s one of the Heroes’ Relics,” she said, but when she looked at Byleth, she must have seen the confusion in her eyes, so she continued: “a long time ago, the goddess bestowed divine weapons upon 10 heroes, which were passed down to their descendants. It’s an honor to wield, but I’m afraid there won’t be any chance for that today. Our mission is to help clean up the aftermath, not fight.” 


Byleth hoped she was right.


“Why would Lord Lonato incite such a reckless rebellion? He had to have known he had no chance of winning,” Claude pondered aloud. 


“It all goes back to the tragedy of Duscur,” Catherine said. Byleth looked at Claude in confusion, and his eyes widened in surprise when he realised she didn’t know what Catherine was talking about.


“You must be joking. Where have you been traveling that news of it didn’t reach you? It was about four years ago - the King of the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus was murdered by the people of Duscur. That about covers it, right?” 


“Yes, to put it simply,” Catherine said with a frown. “They had accomplices within the Kingdom as well. Lord Lonato’s son, Christophe, was one of them. He was handed over to the church… for execution.” 


So the church executed criminals. Ashe certainly had good reason for worrying.


“Why was the King targeted?” she asked. 


“King Lambert was attempting a major political reform. Needless to say, he had many enemies. Whatever the truth behind that incident may be, Lord Lonato has harbored resentment toward the church ever since. Well - to be more specific, it’s not only against the church, but…” she frowned, her voice quieting, “the one who turned Christophe over to them.”


Byleth tilted her head, looking expectantly to Catherine for an answer, but then one of the Knights they were traveling with arrived suddenly from the trees. 


“Report! The enemy is approaching - they can’t be avoided! They used the fog to slip past the perimeter. Their numbers are far greater than expected!” 


“Looks like our mission has changed, Professor,” Catherine said. “Everyone, ready for battle!” 

The fog had indeed gotten worse. Byleth could barely look into the trees now, and the class - who she was afraid might begin to get nervous - steeled themselves and readied for the fight to come. It was impossible to tell where the enemy might be, or how many of them there were, so they’d have to take it slow. 


Militia were hiding in the trees, and one of them ran at Catherine immediately.


“You expect us to do nothing while you try to kill our lord?” he yelled, but before he could even get a hit on her, her glowing sword sliced through his body with crackling electricity. It was over. The entire Golden Deer house was silent. Byleth exchanged a look with Claude, but he only grinned, like he knew exactly what she was capable of all along - and then an arrow flew into his back. He winced, pulling out and wheeling around to fire off an arrow in retaliation.


“Shit,” Byleth breathed. “Hilda, Leonie, Raphael, Lorenz - take the perimeter. Marianne, Lysithea, Claude, Ignatz, stay behind me. Sylvain, take up the rear,” she called. Sylvain seemed visibly upset to not be able to fight by Catherine, but fell to the back nonetheless, and then slowly but surely they began to push through. When tasked with protecting her house, Hilda was a formidable fighter; despite all of her claims about being lazy and ‘fragile,’ she was anything but, and was beginning to rival Raphael in terms of sheer damage. 


Leonie was fast and clever - Byleth could tell she’d been an apprentice of Jeralt’s. Lorenz was more graceful with his lance, and also dabbled in magic, but Lysithea was the real mage of the group. Her damage output was insane, but she was also
tiny, so she had to be well-protected. Ignatz was a good shot, even if he couldn’t put out too much damage - Sylvain was intensely reliable - and Raphael, swinging away with his gauntlets, just seemed like he was having a grand old time.


Even as they pushed through, dark magic kept whistling out of the trees and into the center of their group. Marianne was struggling to keep up with her healing, and the vulneraries could only do so much good, so Byleth brought Hilda and Claude with her and they ventured into the darkness to find the offending mage. Sure enough, a dark mage was there, standing in thick fog and clothed entirely in black.


“I won’t let you kill Lord Lonato!” he declared, firing a ball of black magic over the three of them and hitting Lysithea squarely. She staggered back into Raphael, who caught her and then looked back up at Byleth. Even through the fog, she could see the panic in his eyes. They had to end this.


She ran at the mage, sword ready; he readied to attack, but an arrow from Claude caught him off balance. Byleth hit once, then rolled out of the way, and Hilda came in for the finishing blow. Blood pooled out into the grass, and the fog immediately lifted. 


“It was caused by magic!” Claude said. They turned to see Catherine pushing her way through the trees until she could see the commander - Lord Lonato himself. It had to be. Two guards were cut down by Thunderbrand almost immediately, red magic crackling like static in the air as she turned her gaze onto the Lord and his group.

“It’s you,” he said simply, his gravelly voice echoing through the silent forest. “Thunderstrike Cassandra! It was your wretched zealotry that killed my son!”

“The only name I answer to is Catherine,” she replied calmly, tightening the grip on her sword. “Now you face a Knight of Seiros.”

“The fog has cleared!” Lonato declared, “There’s nothing left to hide you or the filthy Central Church from the judgment of the goddess!” 

Weren’t we the ones passing judgment?  

Byleth frowned. Something was obviously wrong here, but they had to keep moving. Marianne and Sylvain stayed back to help Lysithea recover, and the rest pushed forward, led by Catherine and her glowing sword. The militia they were killing on their way through the  forest… none of them were particularly skilled. Byleth could see the pained looks on the faces of her students as they cut them down. They weren't left with any choice.


“It’s the nobles that start the war, but the commoners that spill their blood first,” Claude muttered under his breath, loosing an arrow anyways to strike down an archer that had fired on him. It wasn’t long before Lord Lonato was the only one left - atop his horse on the high ground, looking down on all of them in a frenzy.


“You have all been deceived by that
witch !” he spat, as Byleth approached carefully alongside Catherine. “I will show you the truth!” 


Claude started things off, along with Ignatz; two arrows that pierced through gaps in Lonato’s armor.  Marianne winced, and Byleth looked back at her in surprise - what was she so worried about? 


“Please - his horse,” she said quietly. “We don’t need to hurt it.” 


Catherine was already on her way up. She struck at Lonato, knocking him down off of his horse, which immediately galloped away into the trees. Byleth stood atop the lord with her sword at the ready at his neck, waiting, wanting anything but to have to kill this man - but she needed a reason.

“Christophe... forgive me,” was all he muttered. His hand reached into his armor for another weapon, and so Byleth ended it then and there, shutting her eyes. 


I’m sorry, Ashe.
 



She found herself waiting in the midst of the trees as the knights finished getting organized again, and Claude came to wait with her, looking thoughtful.


“Nice work, Teach. I have to say... that fight left a foul taste in my mouth," he said, frowning. A moment later though, his eyes lit up. "That aside, did you see how Catherine fought?”


“She’s incredible,” Byleth admitted, raising her eyebrows. She agreed with him, what with the battle leaving a foul taste, but it was easier not to think about it just yet.


“Those Heroes’ Relics… they’re on another level,” Claude continued. “Makes you wonder about that legend.”


“What legend?” 


“Oh- nothing. Just the usual nonsense. An ancient Relic that once cut a mountain in half with a single swing,” he said, as if it was no big deal. “That’s what they say, anyways. But as amazing as Thunderbrand is, I don’t think it fits the description. Apparently Relics can harness tremendous power for those with a compatible Crest. Though you can technically use one so long as you have any Crest at all. I dunno; long story short, I’d like to try cutting a mountain in half someday.” 


“Ooh!” Hilda exclaimed, skipping up to meet them. “Are you talking about relics? You’ll be able to use one soon Claude, I just know it! After all, you’ve already been selected as the next head of House Reigan.” 


“Easy there Hilda,” Claude said, frowning. “I don’t know how apt “soon” is. My grandfather is still unbearably healthy.”


Byleth looked at Claude in surprise. He grinned.


“News to you, Teach? Yours truly has recently been recognized as a legitimate child of House Reigan. They possess one of the Heroes’ Relics too, though I’ve yet to see it.”


“Oh,” Byleth replied in surprise. “You haven’t seen it?” 


“I was raised by my father. House Reigan is on my mother’s side of the family,” Claude explained. “When I learned that my mother was the daughter of an Alliance noble, I was so surprised I thought the whole world was pulling a fast one on me for a week.” 


“So your mother is Duke Reigan’s daughter, right? Where is she now?” Hilda asked.


“I can’t say." He shrugged. "She’s currently living in a different world than the one she grew up in, and has no desire to return home.” 


“Um-” Hilda paused. “Okay. You sure have a lot of secrets, don’t you?”


My thoughts exactly,
Byleth silently agreed, watching Claude with interest. He noticed the look on her face, and smiled.


“I’m just keeping a promise to my parents. Make of it what you will. In exchange for my so-called secrecy, I’m free to do whatever I please, which is why I decided to see what the other side of my family was like. That’s how I found out about this strange Crest I bear.” 


“Professor - the knights are almost done, so we should start getting ready to go back,” Leonie suddenly said, arriving alongside Ignatz. 


“We won… we should be celebrating, but I can’t bring myself to feel good about any of this,” Ignatz sighed. So the students could tell something was off, too. Nevermind that some of them probably knew that Lonato had been Ashe’s adoptive father. 


“The rebels would have followed the road all the way to the monastery if we hadn’t done what we did,” Claude argued, “taking out every small village as they went. You should be proud.” 


Byleth looked at him curiously; wasn’t he the one a moment ago just saying the battle had left a foul taste in his mouth? Then again, Ignatz and Leonie did look somewhat reassured by his statements. Maybe he was just putting up a front for their sake, to make them feel better. At the same time, he did have a point. All of it tasted quite bittersweet - Byleth was grateful at least that it hadn’t been the Blue Lions responsibility to clean up this mess. Ashe would have been a wreck.


“We need to get back to Rhea as soon as possible,” Catherine said suddenly as she approached with the other knights. “We found this on Lord Lonato’s body… it’s a note with details concerning an assassination plan… for Lady Rhea.” 


Byleth’s eyes widened. She looked at Claude, but he didn’t seem as surprised as she was expecting him to.


“I hope it’s nothing,” Catherine continued, “but the contents of this letter are too disturbing to ignore. We need to get back to Rhea as soon as possible.” 


With that agreed, the students and the knights set off together, back down the road to Garreg Mach.

Chapter Text

Rhea was waiting for them when they got to the audience chamber, with Seteth, as usual, by her side.


“I am glad to see that you have returned safely. The goddess is gracious with her divine protection,” Rhea greeted her with a warm smile. “But it was not only her divine protection that shielded you, was it? You are just as skilled as I had hoped.” 


“My students deserve the praise,” Byleth replied, and she meant it.


“I am not so sure,” Rhea replied, with a knowing look in her eyes. “I heard some students were… hesitant… about fighting militia. However, we must punish any sinner who may inflict harm upon believers, even if those sinners are civilians.” 


Wow.
Byleth tried to hide her surprise at hearing such brutal words coming from such a kind voice.


“I pray the students learned a valuable lesson about the fate that awaits all who are foolish enough to point their blades towards the heavens.”


“Our real concern,” Seteth interjected, “is the letter Catherine reported. It contained a deplorable plot to target the archbishop on the day of the Goddess’ Rite of Rebirth. It seems unrealistic at best… but a threat is a threat. We must maintain constant vigilance. To that end, I would like you and your students to to help with security on the day of the ritual.” 


“You can count on us,” Byleth assured Seteth, her gaze flicking sideways to Rhea as well. How would it feel to have your name on a hitlist? But at the same time, if the plan was unrealistic - and on Lonato’s body - was this just some sort of ploy? Everything, from the battle to now, felt wrong. But there was nothing to do but go along with whatever Rhea wished.


“This is most reassuring,” Rhea replied with a smile. “You have my gratitude.” 


“The Rite of Rebirth is of paramount importance,” Seteth said. “It is when the Church of Seiros and its believers unite to pray for the return of the Goddess. The archbishop and I will be confined to the Goddess Tower once the ritual begins. Of course, the knights will be on high alert as well, but there aren’t enough of them to keep watch on every corner of the monastery. It is far from ideal to mobilize students, but the gravity of this situation requires that we all bend to avoid breaking.” 


That’s one way of putting it.
 



In the usual Friday morning meeting, with sun filtering in through the windows behind her, Byleth explained their task to the class. 


“Okay… so our task this moon is to patrol and guard the monastery in support of the knights, who are busy trying to stop an assassination plot,” Claude recapped. “Here’s the thing. I don’t think the bad guys are really trying to assassinate the archbishop.”


“It’s a distraction,” Byleth said. Claude grinned at her. 


“Precisely. That ‘secret’ note with the assassination plot on it? There’s no way that was real. People don’t just carry around secret notes - someone
wanted us to find it.”


It was scary, really, how well Claude knew all of this stuff - but Byleth understood, even just as a mercenary. All of this definitely went deeper than whatever they were finding on the surface. But if whoever it was wanted Garreg Mach to think there was an assassination planned for Rhea, what else did they have planned? Was Lonato’s death planned as well? Had it been necessary?


“You really think it’s just a distraction?” Ignatz wondered, lifting a hand to his chin in thought. 


“Oh yeah,” Hilda replied, sounding confident. “It makes complete sense. But then… what are they really after?”


“If I knew that, I wouldn’t be so worried…” Claude said. “Let’s see. It probably involves somewhere that will be empty during the Rite of Rebirth, yeah?”


“Since the ceremony is at the Goddess Tower, it follows that everywhere else at the academy will be severely understaffed,” Lysithea said.


Leonie thought that they were after the donation money, while Raphael thought the dining hall. Both seemed unlikely, or too obvious. If bandits in the area needed money, there were easier places to get it from than a monastery housing the knights of Seiros. Byleth didn’t even know the monastery nearly well enough to be able to guess what the offenders were after.


“Let’s split up and look around! I’ll keep an eye on the reception hall,” Hilda suggested. Claude looked sideways at her with a frown.


“You should get some training in instead. I have a feeling we’re in for a fight.”


“Well I’m not the
only one that needs to train,” Hilda countered, and she was right. “It’s not fair to single me out like that!” 


Footsteps coming into the classroom distracted everyone, and Byleth turned to see two familiar faces arriving - though she’d yet to really meet either of them.


“A secret meeting, professor?” the woman asked. “Oh, we haven’t been introduced. I am Shamir.” 


She had sharp features and was clearly older than the students, but Byleth didn’t recognize her as one of the faculty. Violet hair fell to one side of her face, framing evaluating lilac eyes not unlike Edelgard’s; but giving much less away.


“Shamir is one of the Knights of Seiros,” Claude said, nodding in greeting to her before his gaze moved to the younger boy to her side. “And that little go-getter there is-” 


“I work for Lady Rhea!” the boy interrupted him, face full of determination. “And I’m Shamir’s apprentice! She’s teaching me about the bow and the sword and all kinds of stuff. Oh - the name’s Cyril.” 


“Lady Rhea?” Byleth asked. He certainly didn’t look like the sort of people that worked for her, but the monastery was full of surprises.


“Yep. I’ve got to learn all I can from Shamir so I can protect her.” 


“Cyril adores Rhea,” Shamir admitted, looking at him with a warm smile before turning her unblinking attention back onto Byleth. “That aside, if you need anything, ask.” 


“Appreciated,” Byleth replied with a weak smile. By the sound of it, they could use all the help they could get. 

 

Fighting tournaments started that month, and it was both a welcome distraction from the Rite of Rebirth and a perfect way to get in some extra training in preparation. It was beginning to be clear to Byleth that some of her students were more talented than others, despite her relatively-consistent instruction; Ignatz, Claude, and Leonie could all fire a bow, but Claude was the obvious pick for a tournament. At the same time, Leonie was so far better with a lance than Sylvain, even if he wouldn’t ever admit it. Raphael used the axe as well as Hilda, but she was much better than him wielding it, whereas he was more suited to the gauntlets. Slowly but surely, they were all falling into a role. 


The first tournament was with the sword, and both despite
and thanks to Hilda’s constant whining about not wanting to do a tournament, Byleth enrolled her.


“I don’t even
use the sword!” she complained, thumbing the wooden practice blade boredly in her hands as they sat in the shade and readied themselves for training. “What if I’m against him ?” 


Byleth followed her gaze to the far end of the training grounds, where Felix had just sliced a dummy clean in half - with a wooden sword. He saw them watching, straightened himself, and stared back as if to say
‘what are you looking at?’  


“It’s all in good fun,” Byleth replied, pulling her eyes back to Hilda, and trying to look confident. “Felix is a pro already anyways. He probably won’t be qualified for the Beginner tournament.” 


“Can’t you just wait until there’s at least an axe fight? Or could I just cheer Sylvain on from the sidelines?” 


“I need you to get it through your head that you’re
actually good, ” Byleth said with a frown. Hilda’s expression remained set. “Please. Give it a shot. You might be surprised.” 


Hilda pouted, but once she realised Byleth wasn’t going to budge, she let out a long sigh.


“Fiiiine... Who am I training with, anyways?”


“Claude.”


“Claude!? But he’s good with a sword!” 


“He’s alright, but he can’t take as many hits as you can. You’re well-matched for training. I promise, he’ll be putting his time in when the bow tournaments come around.”


As if on cue, Claude arrived to the training grounds, deftly dodging a mock-swipe from Dimitri’s spear as he entered.


“Watch it, your Princeliness,” he said with a grin, pulling out his sword. “In fact, everyone should keep their distance. Teach here is giving
Hilda a sword.” 


“Okay, well. I’m off.” Byleth stood with a sigh, shooting a grateful smile at Claude as she did so. She looked back at Hilda before she left.


“Let’s have lunch later, okay? My treat.” 


“You think you can buy me with food?! I’m not Raphael,” Hilda complained with a huff. But a moment later, her shoulders dropped. “...yeah, okay.” 

 

After some gardening, Byleth had a meeting with Lorenz to attend to. He’d been bothering the girls in class as of late, and supposedly, until she arrived as professor, none of them were content to talk to Claude about it. Something about wanting something done, but not wanting Lorenz to be poisoned… which she’d yet to understand.


“Professor!” Lorenz greeted her in the library, where they’d planned on meeting. He adjusted the flower on his chest as he approached her. “I understand you were looking to speak with me. Perhaps you would like some insight on how to write your next lecture?”


She stared at him, but his expression remained the same. He was serious.


“While I do have a great many ideas,” he continued, “it would be inappropriate for-”


“It’s about the female students,” Byleth interrupted, already knowing that this wasn’t going to end well.


“The ladies- have complained?” he asked, eyes widening in surprise. “About me? To you? Preposterous.” 


“They have. It’s all of the unwanted advances.”


“Outrageous!” he complained, looking offended. “Absurd! Would dare to allege such slander?”


“A number of them,” Byleth admitted,  “some not even from our house.”


“Of all the- well, I suppose I have offered several of them the
honor of dining with me. It is impossible to tell if even the most well-bred young lady is a suitable companion for me, merely by the sight of her.” 


Byleth stared at him in disbelief. Did he seriously just say “well-bred?”


“Thus far, they have all declined. They seem to be exercising some sort of restraint when talking to me. But I suppose, I have, after a day’s pause, issued repeat invitations - in the style and fashion of a gentleman, of course.”


“That’s the problem, Lorenz,” Byleth replied, rubbing her temple. How could he be this unaware?


“Ridiculous,” he complained. “Dinner invitations from me, a problem? I am a perfect gentleman! The son of a noble line! Wit like a rapier! And it takes but a glance to see that I’m gorgeous!”


Byleth peeked at him from behind her fingers. No. He had to be joking.


“This must be a result of some scheme,” Lorenz continued. Was he talking about Claude? “Someone who is envious of my position-”
No - Claude was above him in ranking - Ignatz? Raphael? Neither of them were the scheming types. “-who wishes to sour my good nature! Professor, you must take greater care in not falling for these sorts of ploys. Now, I have a great deal of work to do. Please excuse me.”


He left, passing by Byleth and leaving before she had time to even process his words. No. No. He couldn’t have been that stupid, that full of himself. She sunk into one of the chairs, holding her head in her hands. What would she tell the girls? That she tried, but he didn’t believe her? He basically admitted to asking them for dinner dates over and over! 


She groaned. Claude came into the library then, brushing past Lorenz as he rushed out of the library.


“...Hey, Teach,” he greeted her, leaning against the table. “You’re looking stoney-faced as usual. What happened there?”


She shook her head. She didn’t want to get into it. Now she understood why Claude might have wanted to poison him.


“Done training already?”


“Yeah. Honestly, I think Hilda is going to blow the competition out of the water. But actually, there’s something I’d like to talk to you about,” Claude continued, pulling out a chair across from her. “Can you spare some time?”


“Of course,” Byleth said, trying to shake Lorenz’s idiocy from her mind. She looked to Claude expectantly as he sat down, resting his chin in his hands and smiling at her.


“Before you came here, you were a mercenary, right? Always getting your hands dirty on the battlefield and whatnot? It’s a bit unusual that you suddenly decided to become a teacher one day. But, anyways - I’ve been meaning to ask - did your father teach you how to fight?”


It is unusual,
she admitted to herself. But his question was pointed. There was no reason to lie. Is this all he wanted to talk to her about? Just… personal questions?


“Yes,” she answered. “Why?” 


“I figured,” Claude replied, leaning back in his chair. “I hear he was a legendary mercenary, and he used to lead the knights as well. It must have been hard on your mother when you followed in your father’s footsteps to become a mercenary, too.” 


...
my mother? He was watching her, waiting. Was this just part of him - as he put it - doing his homework? Or was he genuinely interested in her? She searched his eyes, but they were gleaming in the same usual fashion that gave nothing away.


“I never knew her,” she finally said. Claude’s expression fell.


“I see,” he said, clearly disappointed. “You know… for someone right around the same age as me, you certainly have an unusual amount of composure.”


“So do you,” Byleth admitted. A faint grin spread across his lips. 


“I guess it’s only natural you’d be different from young nobles who grew up in the lap of luxury.”


“You say that as if you aren’t one,” Byleth observed, looking at him curiously. “So what about you?”


“Well-spotted,” he laughed. “Even so, I am heir to House Reigan, the leading family of the Alliance. But I didn’t exactly grow up in luxury like most people of noble blood. Maybe that’s why you and I get along so well.” 


His green eyes were twinkling. There was something about the way he looked at her that made her want to believe him, even if he pulled the same act on everyone else. But she could see the truth in what he said. He didn’t seem like the other nobles. He was distinctly different from Dimitri and Edelgard, nevermind the Lorenz and Ferdinand types. The reminder that they were basically the same age was interesting too - she did feel different from the other students, but Claude always seemed like he understood.


“Folks like us should stick together,” he continued with a wink, clasping his hands together behind his head. “As house leader, I’ll do all I can to help you out. We could start by making more time for little chats like this?”


“I’d like that,” Byleth admitted. “Thank you, Claude.” 


She fell asleep that night thinking of what he’d said. There was something heartwarming about it; a sensation that was depressingly new for her. Out of all the interactions she’d had at the monastery so far, out of everyone, he was the closest thing she had to a real friend. Gratefulness swept over her. For the first time since arriving at Garreg Mach - for the first time in a
long time - she was beginning to feel like she belonged.

Chapter Text

With the Rite of Rebirth fast approaching at the end of the month, Byleth took it upon herself to talk to as many students, faculty, and citizens as possible in order to gather information. It was becoming clearer to her that as benevolent as Rhea seemed to be, the church was quite cutthroat in response to any perceived rebellion or blasphemy. Texts that weren’t approved were removed from the library; information on relics, Crests, families, you name it. 


Suspicions were high. Despite Seteth’s best efforts, word spread quickly throughout the monastery that there was an apparent assassination plot against Rhea. Not everyone picked up on the fact that it might have been a distraction, even though the Golden Deer were searching everywhere throughout the monastery aside from the Goddess Tower. 


Even with the tension, Byleth was still finding ways to enjoy her time at the monastery, and nothing seemed to fully dampen the spirits of all the students. They had an unwavering confidence that, no matter what happened, everything would be okay. Byleth was skeptical at best, but their optimism was catching. She wanted to believe them. She believed in them, at least. 


Ferdinand introduced her to the concept of inviting students for tea, which seemed to be a common tradition throughout the monastery as a way to build rapport between professors and students. It was a good excuse to eat a lot of pastries and tiny sandwiches, nevermind all of the different teas. Byleth had gotten into the hobby of growing her own tea leaves, and figuring out who liked what was a good way of spending her free time on Sundays. 


Claude was the first one she invited - with the disclaimer that it was her first time hosting anyone for tea, and that she wanted some pointers.


“Everyone likes talking about different things,” he said to her, sipping slowly at a cup of chamomile. It was apparently one of his favourites, so she’d gone out of her way to acquire some for the occasion. “You wouldn’t talk to me about dessert or romantic nights out, for example.”


“I wouldn’t?” Byleth replied, with a hint of sarcasm that Claude barely caught. For just a second he looked surprised, but then relaxed, lowering his cup of tea to the table.


“You know Teach, you’re almost as unreadable as I am.” 


“I’ll take that as a compliment,” Byleth decided with a small smile, taking a sip from her own cup. “What is it about tea that everyone here loves so much, anyways?”


“Well, for the nobles it might as well be a rite of passage to do tea,” Claude said thoughtfully. “And for the commoners, it’s a treat they don’t usually have.” 


“I guess that makes sense,” Byleth said. “You know, I didn’t really trust you as far as I could throw you, when we first met.” 


“No?” Claude asked, but his smile told her that he’d already known. “Yet you joined the Golden Deer house anyways. Is that thanks to my irresistible charm?” 


“Who says I chose my house?” Byleth bluffed, sure that Claude could see right through her anyways. He finished the tea in his cup and then laughed, his emerald eyes landing on her with the same twinkling look as always.


“I’m glad you’re with us, Teach.”


“Me too.” 


The cheer couldn’t last for long. The end of the month came quickly, and on the day of the Rite of Rebirth, Byleth met the students in the Golden Deer classroom to go over their plan. 


“The Rite of Rebirth is finally upon us,” Claude said. “Time to see if our hunch was right.” 


“Oh, I hope not,” Hilda whined. “Then we wouldn’t have to fight anyone.” 


“I think we’ve come to the right conclusion, unfortunately,” Byleth said with a frown. 


“Right or wrong, the clock is ticking,” Claude warned. “All we can do for now is stick to the plan.”


“You seem a mite too relaxed for my liking,” Seteth suddenly interrupted, arriving alongside Flayn. “The Goddess’ Rite of Rebirth is about to begin. While we are in the Goddess’ Tower, we’re relying on you to keep a close eye on locations that are lacking in defense.”


“May I let you in on something, professor?” Flayn asked quietly, smiling meekly from behind Seteth. “My brother can be a bit… callous.”


Seteth looked sharply sideways at his sister, and Claude let out a quiet snort from beside Byleth. 


“He told me that he was concerned about you, and hinted that perhaps you would be better off patrolling a coffin!” 


“That was said in jest , Flayn,” Seteth sighed, “and in confidence. Please just remain by my side and do not cause any trouble.”


His dark green eyes landed on Byleth again, glaring as ever.


“As a professor, you would do well to remember that it is your duty to guide your students down the path of righteousness.”


Is that a warning?


Seteth and Flayn left for the Goddess Tower then, leaving Byleth wondering why it was that both of them had to be up there as well. Was it simply because he was an advisor to the archbishop?


“Seteth is way too overprotective,” Hilda said, as soon as they were out of earshot. “He reminds me of my brother.” 


“Come on, Teach,” Claude said. “I know a spot where we can scope out the stairs leading to the Holy Mausoleum. If there’s anyone down there, they’ll be trapped like the rats they are. We’ll just have to take them down without being bitten. But back to the subject at hand - what I found last night was a sealed coffin in the underground Holy Mausoleum. I did some research, and the only time you can easily get in and out is during the Rite of Rebirth. And because of the alleged assassination plot, it has even thinner defenses than usual. It’s all too clear.” 


When they got into the Mausoleum to begin scoping it out, their hunch was proved correct. It was crawling with all manner of mages and western church soldiers - one mage in particular was at the end, next to what Byleth assumed was the sealed coffin Claude had mentioned.

“Those Central Church dastards have spotted us,” the mage called to his companions. “Buy me some time while I break the seal on the casket!


“Let’s defeat them before they can finish the job,” Claude said, looking sideways at Byleth as he pulled his bow out. She nodded in agreement, unsheathing her sword and looking once more upon her class as they readied themselves. They’d had no preparation for this, and yet, they had no choice - a battle was upon them. A quick look at the room told her it would be best to split into three groups - it was just a matter of making sure each group had enough back-up. As her gaze was sweeping over the room, she noticed a man in the middle on horseback - how did he get a horse down here? - with a horrifying black helmet on his face and red, shining eyes from within. A scythe was strapped to his back, and inescapable dread sunk into the pit of Byleth’s stomach when she set eyes on him. 


“Sylvain, Leonie, take the right; Raphael, Lorenz, take the left. The rest of you stay with me and be ready to help them out!” 


It was simple enough, but these enemies were no small fry. They hit harder. They were smarter. They were organized; not just bandits in the trees. Byleth took the lead, making sure Claude was close behind her. Lysithea and Ignatz helped to finish off enemies from afar while the others began taking them down on the sidelines, but they were having a slightly tougher time thanks to the sheer number of enemies. When Sylvain was hit several times by a group of enemies ganging up on him, Byleth sent Marianne over to the right side for some emergency heals.


They took it slow, but Byleth kept a sharp eye on the mage at the end anyways - they didn’t have much time to spare before he would succeed in breaking the seal. The knight in the center, terrifying as he seemed, was also not interested in attacking; she and her students were all able to pass by without him saying a word. Was he just an apparition?

By the time she got to the mage, he was so focused he barely fought back. Claude hit at him first, then Ignatz, then Byleth, swinging her sword down and sending him falling away from the seal.


“It’s no use!” he cried, pushing the top of the coffin off anyways. “I’ve broken the seal! Wait- a sword?” 


The mage pulled it out of the coffin even as Byleth ran with her sword at the ready. He held it in front of her - a bizarre looking weapon - but she hit it out of his hands and it went soaring into the air as he staggered backwards. As it fell, she reached out and caught it with her free hand. The mage readied a fire attack and sent it soaring at Byleth, and before she could think of what to do, she hit at it with the new sword. It immediately glowed a searing hot red, flaming with power. She looked at it only for a moment, studying its strange shape and glowing light, and then promptly dropped her steel sword to the floor. This will do.


“Impossible,” the mage breathed, backing up and finding himself trapped by the wall behind him. He readied some sort of magical barrier in front of him, but Byleth was done playing around; she ran at the barrier and struggled through it with the new sword, putting all of her power into it as she burst through the shield, down, and then up in a flash, destroying the mage in one hit. 

 

“The sword…” 


A deep, ominous voice gave her pause. Her and the students turned to see that the terrifying looking knight was watching them from the center of the room.


“I see. What a pleasant surprise,” he drawled, and then vanished in a flash of violet light.


“The jerk got away,” Claude sighed. “Was that magic? We can’t even chase him.” 


He turned, looking at Byleth, and then his eyes widened. She wasn’t sure she’d ever seen him look surprised. His attention was on the sword. 


“Teach - the way that sword is shining… do you think it could be-” 


“Hey!” 


A yell interrupted him. Byleth turned to see Catherine and a couple knights arriving at the bottom of the stairs, ready for action - but all was taken care of.


“Looks like you had this handled,” she said, even as her companions scoured the room for any stragglers. “Come on. Let’s get you all back upstairs.”


In the audience chamber, Rhea, Seteth, and Shamir were waiting; and the stragglers that had been brought up from the Western Church were also in attendance.


“Inciting a Kingdom noble to rebel. Assassination attempt on the archbishop. Trespassing into the Holy Mausoleum. There’s no point going on, followers of the Western Church.” Shamir said, arms folded across her chest.


“What? We have nothing to do with the Western Church!” one of the priests argued.


“Please spare us your second-rate theater,” Seteth spat, shaking his head. “You have already been identified.”


“Dishonoring a holy ceremony is worthy of death for a member of the church,” Rhea said. “If you have any grace remaining, you will offer your life willingly as atonement for this crime.” 


“No,” the priest exclaimed, completely in disbelief, “this isn’t what we were told would happen! We’ve been deceived!” 


“May your souls find peace as they return to the goddess,” Rhea said, bowing her head towards them.


“No- wait, please!” another protested, “the goddess would never forgive you for our execution!” 


They were escorted from the audience chamber; Rhea had clearly heard enough. Byleth watched them go, tears of betrayal glimmering in their eyes. Something wasn’t right. But she had no way of knowing whether she was just… wrong, or not. She looked at Claude, but he was even more unreadable. Perhaps there really was nothing more to be said. She walked back with him in silence to the classroom. They had to debrief with the class.



“So that’s that,” Claude said, as they greeted the students. “It was all a plan by the Western Church. Too bad that masked guy got away... vanished without a trace.” 


“But why would the Western Church attack Lady Rhea?” Hilda asked, sounding unconvinced.


“Why? Take your pick of reasons,” Claude said with a laugh. “Relations with the Western Church haven’t exactly been friendly.”


“The ‘western’ church?” Byleth asked, still not sure what the distinction was between them.


“Oh, I guess you wouldn’t know,” Claude realised, turning to her. “The church is split up into branches across Fodlan. The Central Church is located right here at Garreg Mach. Then there’s the Western Church, far west from Castle Gaspard, where Lonato had his little rebellion, in the fortress city of Arianrhod. It’s the strongest fortress in the Kingdom. On the other side of it is the Western Church headquarters.”

“Not too smart to bicker with people who worship the same goddess as you,” Hilda sighed.


“Their archbishop must be pretty ambitious. He probably wants to split off entirely,” Claude replied. “...in which case, he’d need to weaken the central church first. Killing Rhea is one way to do that. To the shock of no one, I heard the knights are being sent to subdue the Western Church’s leader. We’ll probably get a chance to assist.”


“So…” Raphael said, his voice quieter than usual, “those guys they caught... all got the axe. That’s brutal.”


“Lady Rhea can be rather intimidating at times,” Lysithea admitted, dipping her head. “In fact… she can be downright terrifying.” 


Byleth frowned; it was saddening to see that even the students had their doubts about the archbishop.


“...Professor,” Marianne interjected, “those who cannot be saved must be delivered to the goddess for judgment. Is that not so?” 


The other students were silent, probably in shock. Byleth wasn’t expecting such a moral dilemma to be presented to her so casually, and she also wasn’t sure what her stance on it was anyways - maybe if that was how things were usually done, but surely it wasn’t a bad thing to question the procedures? And who decided they couldn’t be saved, anyways?


It was too much to think about. Too existential. Her mind was already racing by the time Seteth came to steal her away, back to Rhea in the audience chamber. They told her all about the sword - the Sword of the Creator - about how somehow, she’d awoken it, and Rhea was entrusting it to her. To her. A stranger. Seteth was shocked and angered, and Byleth couldn’t blame him. Even she wasn’t sure why Rhea had so much unwavering faith in her, but after the events that night, she was grateful at least to be on her good side. The sword itself was familiar, though she didn’t know quite why. 


When she went to bed that night, sleep was slow to come, and it was a restless night.

Chapter Text

Rhea and Seteth explained the next mission to Byleth on the first of the moon. It was to retrieve a relic from one of the Gautier sons; one who was disowned and crestless, but wielding a Heroes’ Relic all the same. It sounded like another sad story, seeing as she was pretty sure that must have been a brother of Sylvain’s, but she was beginning to feel numb from all of the church work. Stuck.


When she left the audience chamber, Claude was waiting for her. She wondered how often he stuck around, and whether he’d been doing any eavesdropping along the way.


“Hey, Teach. Never would have thought you were a descendant of the King of Liberaton,” he said, smiling. Byleth frowned.
Am I? “Remember that story I told you? About a relic that could cut mountains in half? Well that relic… was the Sword of the Creator,” he admitted, eyes bright with excitement. “The very same used by Nemesis, the King of Liberation. So-”


“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Byleth interrupted him, becoming strangely impatient at his assumption of her bloodline. 


“Don’t play coy, Teach. If you can use the sword, that
must mean you come from the same bloodline.”


“Okay, maybe,” Byleth replied in frustration, “but I don’t really understand it.”


“Fine, keep your secrets. But just so you know, ‘I don’t understand’ isn’t gonna cut it here at the monastery.”


Byleth’s lips dropped open. She wanted to say something else, but found herself speechless. Why was he being so rude? 


“Anyways, Professor Hanneman wanted to see you,” Claude digressed. “He probably wants to examine your Crest with those crazy instruments of his. Actually- sounds interesting. Maybe I’ll tag along.”


There it was again - that look in his eyes. It was a look of hunger, of thirst, of
wanting for information and knowing exactly how to get it. For the first time, it sparked something different than amusement in her; it hurt.


“I’m not just a puzzlebox for you to play with,” she said quietly. Surprise splashed across his face, but only for a moment - new footsteps interrupted them. A woman with a high brunette ponytail and wearing alliance colours approached Claude.


“If it isn’t my little Claude!” she greeted him, arriving in a far too jubilant manner considering the conversation. “What has you so worked up?”


Ah,
Byleth thought, seeing the knowing look in Judith’s eyes; someone who knows Claude.  


“Judith!?” Claude exclaimed, “what are you doing here?” 


“That’s Lady Judith to you, boy,” she corrected him. “I told you, until you’re in charge, I expect you to address me with all due respect. Anyway, I’m here to retrieve you. Duke Riegan’s condition has taken a turn for the worse.”


“Are you saying the old man’s on his death bed?” 


“No, it’s not that bad,” Judith answered, shaking her head. “But in the state he’s in, he won’t be able to participate in the next roundtable conference. He wants you to go in his stead. I’m just the messenger.” 


“Thanks for that,” Claude sighed. He turned his attention back to Byleth. “Oh, Teach, this is Judith. Also known as the Hero of House Daphnel.”


Byleth turned to her and nodded in greeting. Judith’s eyes lit in amusement. 


“So you’re little Claude’s teacher, huh? How much trouble has he been giving you?” 


“Plenty,” Byleth replied, shooting him a sharp sideways look.
The answer would have been different before you decided to be an ass! 


“If her nickname didn’t give it away,” Claude continued, scratching the back of his neck as he tried to change the subject, “Judith- ah, Lady Judith here, is the leader of the famous House Daphnel of the Leicester Alliance. She used to be a big deal at the roundtable meetings, but it seems of late she’s been reduced to a mere-” 


“You had better shut that mouth before I put my boot in it, you tactless nuisance!” Judith interrupted. Byleth smiled. There was something refreshing about seeing him being put in his place. Judith looked sideways at her. “Sorry, professor. I have to borrow the boy for a bit.” 


“I suppose we’ll have to finish our chat later,” Claude said, looking at Teach in mock sympathy. She returned it in kind. “Sorry, Teach. I’ll be back in time for our next mission.” 


And he was right. There was only one week without Claude being there - and by the time he was back, Byleth… missed him.


“This wasn’t the first time I’ve taken part in a roundtable conference, but it was still exhausting,” he sighed, running a hand through his hair as she greeted him in the second floor dormitory hall, after his return. “There’s not enough cooperation in that group, especially from Lorenz’s father. But at least my grandfather was surprisingly alert. Judging by that, I’d say he’s got at least… five more years in him.” 

She nodded, and waited. Claude looked at her in concern in the silence, and then understanding flashed in his eyes.


“Right. I guess I messed up when I was talking about you being Nemesis’ descendant, huh. It’s just - I don’t understand what the alternative could be. It’s weird, right?”


“It is,” Byleth said, choosing her words carefully, “but I don’t know any better than you, Claude. I didn’t even know my mother. I still barely know Jeralt. I know it might seem like it, but I’m not keeping secrets. I just… don’t know.”


His shoulders dropped slightly.


“Well, if you’re up for it, we can find out together.” 


It was a genuine offer for help. Byleth nodded in agreement before heading off down the hall to continue her rounds of the monastery. All of these students whose destinies were decided for them based on their circumstances of birth - when, where, by whom - and here she was. With nothing. Well, nothing but a super cool, glowing sword. She smiled to herself. That had to count for something.



Later that month, she found Jeralt one day by the chapel, standing by a couple graves sitting atop a grassy balcony. 


“Oh. Hey. I was thinking, we should visit your mother,” he said. “She’s resting beneath this humble grave.”


“Here?” Byleth replied in shock, looking to the gravestone next to Jeralt. 


“Hm? Oh - of course you would ask that,” he said, shaking his head. “I wouldn’t know where to begin. Suppose I haven’t talked much about her.”


He let out a sigh as a breeze lifted from the valley, pushing warmly past them as a cloud passed in front of the sun. There was a sad look in his eyes, and it was hard to watch, so Byleth looked out at the rolling hills and outstretched valleys instead as he spoke.


“She was gentle, and smart. So smart. A wonderful cook. Always kind to everyone. And she loved flowers.”


He fell quiet for a moment, and so Byleth looked back to him in time to see him smiling softly down at the gravestone. 


“Anytime I brought her an unusual flower, her face would light up. I can’t tell you how many times she made me happy just by smiling. And she smiled the most…” he paused and turned to Byleth, “when she was pregnant with you. She died right after you were born. She wasn’t able to spend much time with you, but… she loved you with all her heart. Never forget it.” 


Byleth stared back at him, speechless.
Now- now he decided to tell her all this. Why had he never bothered to say anything in the past? Why had it always been such a mystery, where she came from? Why was it still?


“This ring is the only keepsake I have left of her,” Jeralt said, thumbing a beautiful silver ring between his fingers. “In time, it will be yours. One day, I hope you’ll give this ring to someone you love as well as I love her.”


Love. Present-tense. Byleth’s heart ached for him, for the first time. 

 


She went to the training grounds to clear her mind, but to her chagrin, found Leonie there already training. At least it looked like she’d been there a while; hopefully she was just finishing up. Byleth tried to sneak past, sword in hand.


“Oh, professor! Are you here to train to? I was just about to finish up, but if you want to join in, I can stick around awhile longer.”


“I might be here for a bit,” Byleth said, shaking her head. 


“It’s fine,” Leonie assured her, “just do your thing!” 


Fine.


Byleth went into her longest routine; the most grueling she had in her repertoire for training, and one that Jeralt had personally taught her. It would clear her mind, and though she hoped it would get Leonie off of her back as well, the girl… stayed. By the time they were finished, Byleth was tired, but Leonie looked completely exhausted.


“Whew - that- was great. I guess I outlasted you… huh?”


“It’s not a competition,” Byleth sighed, sheathing her sword. 


“Speak for yourself!” Leonie snapped back, prompting Byleth to pause and look at her in surprise. “I’m always looking to improve! By the way - are you really Captain Jeralt’s kid?”


What is she on about?


“As far as I’m told,” Byleth replied, biting back the bitter sarcasm that threatened to rise up from the tip of her tongue.


“That’s a pretty detached tone to take about your own family. You must look up to him, at least?”


“I respect him, of course,” Byleth replied, feeling strangely defensive.


“Hmm…” Leonie hummed. “It doesn’t sound like you really appreciate him. You didn’t even know until you came here that he used to lead the Knights of Seiros, did you? If it weren’t for him, you wouldn’t be half the person you are now. You haven’t even thought about how lucky you are!” 

Byleth - at first feeling a festering rage building in her chest - suddenly calmed at her last words. So it wasn’t criticism. It was jealousy. 


“This really bothers me!” Leonie continued, becoming increasingly upset. “I don’t care if you’re my teacher and I’m your student. I’m going to outshine you. I know you were some famous mercenary before you came here, but let me tell you something -  I’m going to become better than you ever were!” 

She turned on her heel and left. At least she was motivated. Byleth turned to put the training dummy away, and saw a surprised looking Dimitri and Felix standing nearby - they’d clearly eavesdropped.


“I know what it’s like, Professor,” Dimitri whispered urgently as she passed. He tried to gesture stealthily to Felix next to him, but it didn’t go unnoticed. As Byleth passed, Felix’s hand shot out, grabbing her arm.


“You’re going to kill that Gautier brother, aren’t you?”


His voice was quiet. Byleth looked at him in surprise.


“How do you know about that?”


“Sylvain and I have history,” he said cryptically.


“Like, romantic?”


“What? No,” he said, shaking his head. “Just… keep an eye on him or he’ll do something stupid. It’s in his blood.” 


“I will,” Byleth assured him. He let go, and she nodded once to Dimitri in greeting before finally leaving. It made sense that some of the students in the other houses would have known each other from before enrolling at the school.
I guess that only makes things even more complicated. 

Chapter Text

“Teach… this is the tower, isn’t it?”


Byleth and the students were looking up at a foreboding ruin. It was more of a fortress than a tower, really, and it loomed above them amidst rumbling thunder and sporadic rain that had plagued them the entire trip from Garreg Mach. 


“It’s a remnant of ancient wars,” Claude explained, as Byleth studied the spiraling turrets of the structure. “Those thieves certainly found themselves a great place to nest. I hear their leader, Miklan, is a powerful noble. It makes sense that he would already know about this place.” 


“Several hundred years ago, this was an important stronghold for diffusing invasions from the north. Back then, this tower was built for both surveillance and defense. It will be difficult to seize it,” Gilbert said suddenly, a stoic knight that had been selected to assist them on their mission.


“Gilbert, isn’t it?” Claude asked, moving his attention to him. “You hail from the Kingdom, right? No wonder you’re so knowledgeable. While we’re chatting so amicably, mind if I ask you some questions?” 


You’re not as subtle as you think you are, Claude,
Byleth thought, shooting him a warning look. But Gilbert was too polite.


“I don’t mind,” Gilbert answered. “If I can answer them, I will.” 


“Have you ever seen the Lance of Ruin?” Claude asked. Straight to the point.


“I have,” Gilbert answered warily. “A long time ago. It was an impressive, if not eerily ominous, sight to behold. According to Margrave Gautier, Miklan has used the lance to turn the tables on his pursuers.”


“Is that right? Then those without a Crest can use it as well… as far as I knew, that was impossible. And then we have Teach, who can use the Sword of the Creator, crest or no crest… maybe you’re just that special,” Claude said, looking sideways at her. “Or maybe you
are keeping secrets from us. Either way, I expect big things from you in this battle.” 


Your jealousy would be flattering if it wasn’t so annoying,
Byleth thought. But she was, admittedly, excited to see what the sword was capable of. 


“I’m relying on you too, Claude,” she countered. He grinned.


“Are you now? Then you wouldn’t mind handing the sword over for a bit? But I guess it would just be a heavy blade in my hands. There’s no justice in this world, Teach.” 


“Yeah yeah,” Byleth said with a weak laugh. “Come on. Let’s get this over with.” 


The climb up the tower stairs was arduous, but at least it wasn’t stocked with any thieves or enemies - everyone was at the top. When they arrived, there was still a ways to climb, but the halls were wider and there was room to fight. Even if it was just bandits, their foes lately had been getting stronger and stronger, and Miklan - Sylvain’s brother - was sure to be a challenging battle. Especially if he was wielding a Heroes’ Relic. So far, the only ones Byleth had seen… had been on their side.


“Don’t hold back for my sake,” Sylvain said, as they got closer. He was looking slightly more serious than usual. “He needs to pay for what he’s done.” 


The battles went as well as Byleth hoped. Claude had graduated recently to a proper Archer, along with Ignatz. Marianne was a budding priest, and Lysithea a scary monk. Raphael had become a brigand, Hilda a Wyvern Rider, and Leonie and Sylvain were both paladins. Lorenz was a soldier, but he was dabbling in magic as well. Each of them were really coming into their own, slowly but surely. 

As they approached Miklan, Sylvain took the lead, even though Byleth wished he wouldn’t. She was hoping that his emotions wouldn’t get in the way of him performing.


“I’m here for the lance, Miklan,” Sylvain announced. “Hand it over. I don’t want to humiliate you… but I will.” 


“Hmph!” Miklan scoffed. He was a monster of a man, not even close to as handsome as his brother. Besides the red hair, nothing else was even remotely similar. “Hurry up and die already! If it wasn’t for you - if it hadn’t been for you -”


“Shut up!” Sylvain interrupted with a yell. “I’m tired of hearing that! You’ve always blamed me for something that wasn’t my fault!” 


He ran at him to attack with his lance, and landed a brutal hit on Miklan, but the man countered, spearing Sylvain in the stomach and throwing him to the side. He staggered backwards, and Byleth followed up with an attack with her new sword, having saved it until this battle to use. All she saw were Miklan’s hazel eyes widening in shock as she brought it down. Arrows from Claude and Ignatz followed shortly after, knocking him back - Hilda came around the back atop her Wyvern and finished the job with her axe. As the lightning flashed above, Miklan fell to his knees.


“Not bad for your kind,” he coughed. “A bunch of spoiled rotten kids.” 


Byleth gripped her sword, waiting. There was nothing now but the sound of the endless rain outside. Miklan grimaced, and at first Byleth thought it was due to his injuries, but then she noticed that his lance was glowing. Something came out of the stone at the end of it, some sort of bloodied looking magic, creeping along the length of the lance and climbing up his arm.

“What the hell!?” he exclaimed, falling sideways as it began to engulf his entire body. Byleth put a hand out, gesturing for the students to back up. Something was wrong. Even the thieves behind Miklan were watching in horror as he let out a terrified scream, swallowed by the out-of-control magic. One stayed, staring in frozen shock at the quickly-forming beast in front of them. Claws and talons replaced hands; armored scales covered the man’s body and burst upwards in spikes. Every part of him was gone, replaced by unrecognizable monster, with a reptilian-like face and a roaring jaw full of teeth. 


It reached forward and picked up the thief that had fallen behind. Byleth couldn’t see it, but could hear the crunching finality of his bones breaking. The beast tossed the body aside, and then turned its attention onto the group. Her students hadn’t screamed, which was impressive, at least - but this - whatever
this was - was far more than she ever wanted to ask of them. They could be in trouble.


“Miklan,” Sylvain breathed in the following silence, clutching his stomach from the earlier attack. “Is that you?” 


“That form- oh my. Is this your first time fighting such a thing?” 


No shit. 


Sothis explained to her, in not so many words, the details and complications of fighting a monster. But there was barely any time to listen to what she had to say. It was readying to attack. They had to move. With the battalions at their disposal, Byleth suggested they attempt several gambits to distract the beast while others attacked from the side. It had size, but they could use it to their advantage and try and stay out of its sight lines whenever possible. 


“So the Heroes’ Relics are hiding a terrible power within,” Claude said. Byleth frowned, glancing warily down to her sword. Would Rhea have entrusted it to her, knowing that?


Sylvain’s battalion went first, and it seemed to stun the beast, which wheeled around to face him with a deafening roar. Byleth, Hilda, and Claude hit from the other side, while Leonie and Raphael went in front of Sylvain to back him up. Lorenz and Lysithea hit with magic - but just when it seemed that the beast was defeated, his second wind hit. Byleth’s mind was racing, trying to remember everything Sothis had told her. It was too much. 


The beast attacked. Despite there being no sign of Miklan within it, it was clearly angered at Sylvain, and hurled boulders towards him. Sylvain, already inured, was knocked clean off his feet. 


“Professor!” 


Byleth turned to see Marianne rushing to Sylvain’s aid, even as the beast hurled more rocks - thankfully, Raphael intercepted, turning his back in front of Marianne and letting the boulders crush into his body. Byleth looked to Claude in determination.


“We need to finish this,
now. ” 


He nodded back, readying his bow. Hilda went in for another attack, and received a swipe to her and her wyvern, sending her falling back to the stone floor of the tower. Byleth slashed at the beast with her new sword, which was glowing with magical energy but also seemed to begin to be lacking in durability. Each of them had gotten a hit in, and each of them had gotten hit. Byleth was ready to throw herself at the beast in complete desperation when a sudden rogue arrow pierced the creature’s eye - and everything stopped. The beast fell, and the black magic disappeared along with it, leaving nothing but Miklan and the lance laying on the floor in front of them. He was dead.


Byleth looked to Claude expectantly, but he shook his head and jerked a thumb towards Ignatz. He was standing in the back, looking completely shocked with himself, holding his bow with slightly trembling hands.


“Ignatz!?” came Hilda’s surprised voice, “that was your arrow?” 


“Well done,” Byleth said, smiling gratefully at him. He adjusted his glasses, smiling sheepishly in return. 


“Goddess,” Gilbert breathed, just now approaching after looking after the thieves that had followed them up the tower. “The beast is defeated, but Miklan and the lance remain.”


“Let’s get the lance, and get out of here,” Claude decided. Byleth watched as Sylvain limped towards his dead brother, and picked the lance up from Miklan’s limp grip. He came to Byleth to hand it to her, but she shook her head.


“I already have one of these to deal with. That one is yours. Just promise not to ever turn into… whatever that was.” 


“I think I can handle it,” Sylvain replied quietly.



It was a quiet slog back to the monastery. Claude wasn’t keeping as close an eye on her as he had been recently; he seemed more lost in thought now than anything. If he liked puzzles, all of the weird circumstances over the last couple months was probably a treat for him to try and work out. At least it kept him occupied. Sylvain was quite badly injured, and would need to be seeing Manuela, but considering everything, Byleth was grateful just to have him alive. 


She went straight to Rhea when she got back, but Gilbert had beaten her there, having rode on ahead with the other knights.


“I heard Gilbert’s report about what happened,” Rhea said. “See to it that you keep what transpired at the tower to yourself.” 


Byleth almost laughed, despite everything. She loved her class, but secrets didn’t live long as such at Garreg Mach. In time, the whole academy - the whole town - would know. And now that she thought of it, wasn’t that their
right to know that such monsters were threatening those that held relics?


“People would lose faith in the nobles should rumors spread of one using a Relic and transforming into a monster,” Rhea continued, as if she could see the doubt in Byleth’s eyes. “All regions of Fodlan would fall into chaos. We must avoid that at all costs. Please ensure the students who were accompanying you know that as well. Have I made myself clear?” 


“Yes,” Byleth replied. All she could do was
ask the students to not say anything - whether they actually did or not, well…


“His transformation into a black beast was nothing short of divine punishment,” Rhea sighed. “Punishment for someone arrogant and foolish enough to use a Heroes’ Relic, even though they were unworthy.”


“So… you knew?” 


“Yes. That is why we rushed to recover it. It is unfortunate that we did not arrive in time.” 


Why didn’t you fucking warn us?


“The church will formally return the lance to House Gautier,” Rhea said. “Or have you already?” 


“Sylvain has it,” Byleth said cautiously. “Is that okay?” 


“Yes. I was right to trust you with this. Please report back soon - I will have your mission for the coming moon.”



On her way back to the dormitory, Byleth stopped at the library first, hoping to find some answers on the black beasts and relics. Instead, she found Claude, sitting alone in the dark and flipping through a book. He looked lost in thought - he must have had the same idea she had. She pulled up a chair beside him. 


“Claude,” she said as she sat down, “thank you for today.”


“Oh, hey, Teach,” he said, looking sideways at her. “I should be thanking you. You’re the reason we’re all still here.” 


“Give yourself more credit,” Byleth replied. “I wouldn’t have been able to handle him alone.” 


“I wonder if he really believed he could wield a Relic,” Claude wondered, closing his book and resting his chin in his hands. The whole ordeal was obviously troubling him. Byleth’s eyes dropped to the table.


“I bet he just wanted to get his hands on it, even though he knew he couldn’t use it. Though I’m sure he wasn’t counting on turning into a monster like that…”


“Thinking twice about stealing my sword in the middle of the night and trying to cut a mountain in half, are you?” Byleth asked. Claude let out a laugh. 


“Stories of misfortune have followed the Heroes’ Relics since ancient times,” came a new voice suddenly. Both Byleth and Claude turned in surprise to see Tomas, the librarian, looming behind them.


“Tomas!” Claude exclaimed. “You caught me by surprise, and that’s not hard to do. Though I guess it isn’t a stretch to see a librarian in his... library.”


“I’m sorry to intrude,” the old man said, smiling. “I simply heard you speaking of the Heroes’ Relics. I can tell you more about them, if you’d like.”


Byleth and Claude exchanged glances, and then looked back to him expectantly.


“The story goes that Nemesis was corrupted by evil because of the Sword of the Creator,” Tomas continued. “Other heroes also lost themselves by continuing to use the relics… transforming into black beasts with twisted souls. There used to be a great many records regarding the dark history of the Relics.”


“...Used to be?” Claude asked.


“They’ve been destroyed, across all Fodlan. Stripped from the shelves… including those that resided in this very library.” 


“You make it sound like the church is covering up the truth…” Claude said. Byleth frowned.
It is. “Tomas, why are you telling us all this?”


“What is a librarian if not a guide in the search for knowledge?” he asked. “And not only have you been searching, but you have been doing so throughout the night. I suggest you stop before the knights notice. That’s enough meddling for me today - please excuse me.” 


He left, leaving the library. Claude smiled at Byleth.


“I guess I’ve been found out. I can’t stop, though. I can’t afford to.”


“Claude,” Byleth began warily, “what are you after?”


“Teach…” he sighed, shaking his head, “you don’t really expect me to tell you something so personal just like that, do you? Though, I wouldn’t mind sharing if you were to tell me some of your secrets in exchange.”


He was telling the truth. He still thought she was hiding things from him.
I wish it was that simple, she thought to herself, looking over his shoulder now as Edelgard arrived from behind a nearby bookshelf. 


“I can’t let this exchange pass without comment,” Edelgard said, admitting to her eavesdropping. “If you’re sharing secrets, perhaps I can share as well.” 


“You sure you can survive that?” Claude asked, looking amused. “I’d say you’re the least likely to share secrets out of anyone here.”


“I’ll take that as a compliment, coming from you,” Edelgard chuckled. “You’re easily the student with the most secrets.”


“You overestimate me. My secrets don’t amount to much. But back to Teach-”


“Don’t change the subject, Claude,” Edelgard interrupted, cornering him. “We’re talking about secrets - yours. Who is your father? Why did you appear so suddenly, as if from nowhere? Duke Riegan’s eldest son died in an accident. Having tragically lost other family members as well, he was left without an heir. The Alliance would have undoubtedly been shaken if House Riegan lost its position of leadership. But then you showed up.”


“I’m curious, too,” Byleth said, looking at Claude expectantly. He frowned.


“Oh boy, I’m trapped, huh? I have no choice but to surrender under your intimidating gazes. My dream is selfless. But I need power to make it a reality. When I learned about the power in my Crest, I knew I had a chance. So I’m chasing that dream; to the bitter end, if need be. I came to the monastery because I thought I could find someone useful; someone to help me on my path. So what do you think? Promise to help me achieve my dream no matter what, and I’ll tell you anything.”


So that was it. It seemed like the truth - vague, maybe, and purposefully so, but still. Edelgard folded her arms.


“I have my own dream to tend to. Pray that yours does not interfere.”


“What about you, Teach?” Claude asked, looking to her expectantly. Byleth blinked.


“If it’s noble in nature,” Byleth responded. She did want to be there for him, and she wanted to assume the best of him. Claude’s eyes lit up.


“I see. Now isn’t the time to discuss this, really… you are still my Teach, after all,” he said with a wink.


Still?
 

Chapter Text

When Byleth went to hear of her mission for the coming moon, it was revealed that Flayn had gone missing. Seteth was a wreck. There was something relieving about seeing him be so human, but heartbreaking too. There had been rumors spreading throughout town about some sort of ‘Death Knight’, stealing young women away, never to be found again; but according to perimeter reports, there had been no sight of Flayn leaving the monastery. Still, Flayn’s disappearance had caused a sort of panic throughout the monastery and the town. Her mission, as a result, was to search the monastery to try and find her. 


She’d never been that motivated to help Seteth before. But he was so composed usually that seeing him so obviously distraught was difficult. And Flayn, in truth, she didn’t know that well; but she was a sweet young girl. They had to try.


“Flayn is missing!?” Hilda exclaimed, when Byleth met the students in the Golden Deer classroom to give them the news. “Seteth must be worried sick… if I were to go missing, I can’t imagine what that would do to my brother.” 


“It’s best to start by gathering information,” Claude suggested. “Hopefully someone has seen her.” 


He was right. The class split up, but Leonie stayed behind, looking concerned.


“You know professor… I heard Tomas was going around asking about Flayn. I suppose he could just be worried like the rest of us, but it wasn’t just her. He was asking about you and Captain Jeralt, too.”


“Weird,” Byleth said. “I’ll check up on him. Thanks, Leonie.”


Everyone at the monastery had a different idea as to what could have happened. The general consensus seemed to be that, since the monastery was so massive and full of secret passageways and hidden secrets, there was a good chance she was still somewhere close. Lorenz made a good point in suggesting that if she was taken hostage, the kidnapper would have given a list of demands by now. But there was no reason for her to run away - so what was the motive for someone to steal her away?


Felix caught her arm - as he usually did - at the dining hall. He pulled her close to the bulletin board. 


“I can’t say anything for sure,” he said quietly, “but I do have my suspicions about Jeritza. There’s something about how he’s handling his blade lately. It’s more…  impulsive than usual.” 


He turned his head, showing Byleth a clean cut on his jaw, though it seemed mostly healed by now. That was definitely too high of an aim for training... so Jeritza was another suspect. But her list was only going to grow.


Raphael, in line for the buffet as usual, went so far as to suggest that Alois would be worth looking into, as he was always getting into trouble for talking to Flayn so often. Linhardt suggested Hanneman, due to his interest in Crests and Flayn apparently possessing a rare one. Ingrid said Gilbert. Ashe told her the same thing happened a year before. Dorothea asked her if she’d seen Manuela, since the professor was apparently seen running off somewhere. Even Shamir was under scrutiny. And one of the students claimed to have seen the Death Knight himself, clad entirely in jet-black armor and holding a massive scythe. She thought about the strange figure they’d seen in the Mausoleum - the one who hadn’t bothered to attack, and had vanished into thin air. She wondered what would have happened if she’d tried going after him. Could she have stopped all this?


Byleth spent all day running around and talking to people, and by the time the sun was setting, she was starving. There was no use going to bed on an empty stomach; so Byleth finally stopped to get herself some dinner, and on the way in, saw Sylvain outside, touching his cheek gingerly. It looked red.

“Are you okay?”


“Ingrid slapped me,” he complained. 


“You probably deserved it.”


“All I did was suggest that Flayn might have eloped,” he protested. Byleth shut her eyes, rubbing her temple. When she looked back at Sylvain, he looked just as confused as before.

"Sylvain."

"What?"

"Want to join me for dinner?"


“Oh- sure, professor! What’s on the menu?”


He brightened up immediately as they went in. He wasn’t her first choice of dinner-date, but it was better to have him in high spirits, and she’d yet to really get to know him. Nevermind that after a day of depressing and fruitless searching, she could use a cheer-up. Sylvain was usually good for that, at least. 

“No luck with the ladies lately, huh?” she asked him, taking a sip of her mead. 


“They only see me for my crest,” he complained, through a mouthful of food. “There’s no use in me getting attached.”


“You should probably try giving them more credit,” Byleth replied, frowning. He rolled his eyes.


“You don’t get it, prof. I’m just their ticket to noble-land. I figure I may as well have my fun and get out while I can.”


“Is your crest all you see in yourself, too?”


“What’s that supposed to mean?”


“I mean- nevermind,” Byleth sighed, shaking her head and pushing her plate away half-finished. It was too hard to explain. “Just try not to break too many hearts.”


“No promises,” he said with a wink. 



She ran into Hilda on the way back to her dormitory, and for perhaps the first time, the girl looked lost in thought. 


“There’s a lot of hardworking people at this academy, huh?” she asked, as Byleth took a seat on the stairs next to her. “Even Claude. He acts so carefree, but secretly, he’s very serious. Everyone focuses on training without needing to be told. Maybe they think they have to protect their friends, even if it means risking their own necks.” 


“You don’t?” 


“Of course I’d
try to protect them,” she protested, “but… I don’t understand why someone would want to risk their life for someone else. When you die, it’s over. Isn’t it a waste to spend all of your time working and being responsible?”


“No,” Byleth replied simply. “I have responsibilities to other people. I have people to protect.” 


“I just want to keep being me,” Hilda protested. “I don’t care what people think. So next battle, I can cheer from the sidelines!” 


She smiled, but Byleth wasn’t sure if she was entirely joking or not. She let out a sigh. No matter what Hilda said, she was going to keep putting her on the front lines - it was where she was best suited, despite her complaints. 


“Goodnight, Hilda.”


“I’ll take you out to dinner in the city with me as thanks!” she called after her, but Byleth only lifted a hand in farewell as she went to her room and shut the door behind her. It was quiet. She hadn’t been sleeping well lately, and tonight, she was sure, would be no different.



The moon that followed moved by slowly. Byleth continued her investigative work, and by the end of the moon - with Flayn’s disappearance seeming more and more grim - she finally had a lead. Manuela had been seen, possibly with Jeritza’s mask. Neither of them had been seen in weeks. She decided to finally check Jeritza’s room, but she brought back-up, not particularly wanting to go alone. It wasn’t that she was scared, but something about that man was… off. 


When she got there, alongside Claude, Hilda, and Ignatz, what she found in Jeritza’s room was a shock.


Manuela was on the floor, unconscious.


“It looks like she was attacked by someone,” Claude said. 


“She’s pointing at something!” Hilda observed. Sure enough, one of her hands was sticking out and her index finger was outstretched, pointing to the wall. Behind the bookshelf was a hole in the wall, with stairs leading down into a dark abyss. 


“What is the meaning of this?” Hanneman intruded, but his jaw dropped a second later when he saw Manuela on the floor. “What happened here!? We must take her to the infirmary at once!”


“Right. Hold down the fort for me, Teach. I’ll be back,” Claude said. He helped Hanneman take Manuela out, and Byleth watched him go with a frown. She wanted him to stay with her.


“This must be related to Flayn’s disappearance!” Hilda decided, and Byleth had to agree. “What if she’s down there?”


“It’s scary, but… okay,” Ignatz conceded. Byleth was already heading downstairs, and the two of them followed behind. It was dank and dark, but at the bottom, she could see firelight flickering. Hilda let out a scream as soon as they were down the stairs.


“A person!” 


As her eyes adjusted, Byleth could make out Flayn’s green hair, and another redheaded girl next to her. Both of them were knocked out. 


“S-someone is coming,” Ignatz stammered. “The scythe- could it be?”

Sure enough, Byleth looked sideways to see who could only be the Death Knight approaching them. He didn’t look ready for a fight, so she stood her ground, resting a hand on the hilt of her sword even as Hilda and Ignatz took a step back.


“That sword…” the knight drawled, red eyes glowing from within his helm. “One of us will die. One of us will live. I will enjoy this dance of damnation!”


He left, leaving amidst hoards of enemies filling the massive underground chamber. Byleth went to follow, but realised it was futile - until her class arrived as back-up. Claude, of course, was missing still. She looked back at her class, scanning over their faces. The expressions were a mixture of fear and casual wariness, but all of them looked back at her with a look of determination. They would follow her. They would fight. Gratefulness swept over her, but she knew it would be tough going, especially with Claude missing. 


And it was. It was easily the toughest battle they’d had so far, nevermind the beast Miklan had turned into at the tower last moon. They were all exhausted by the time they reached the Death Knight’s room, and inside, he was waiting for them - surrounded by even more mages.


“Now, you will die together! How joyous,” he said, in the same usual deep voice, as Byleth ran at him, sword at the ready. He countered with a hit of his scythe, sending her wheeling backwards -
shit, shit, shit - he was so strong. Lysithea let loose a horrifyingly powerful display of magic in return. 


“Kill them,” the knight commanded. Another enemy knight appeared there, and Byleth was just about ready to send Sylvain at them, but then they spoke-


“Halt. You’re having a bit too much fun.” 


The voice was masked under a strange mask. Now that Byleth looked upon them, everything about them was strange; great red feathers erupted from their shoulders. 


“You’re getting in the way of my game,” the death knight complained. Byleth gripped her sword. Waited.


“You’ll have more opportunities to play soon,” the stranger assured him. “Your work here is done.” 


“Understood... I will go,” the Death Knight finally conceded, and before Byleth could try to land another hit on him, he vanished in the same strange magic. She turned her attention to the newcomer.


“We will cross paths again. I am the Flame Emperor… it is I who will reforge the world.”


That’s pretty thematic.


They disappeared, leaving Byleth and her class standing in shocked silence. 


“Flame Emperor, eh? Seems like they were quite afraid of us,” Lorenz scoffed. Byleth exchanged unsure glances with Hilda - that didn’t seem quite right. It seemed like they were playing into some sort of… how did the Death Knight put it? A game. They all agreed to get out of the chamber as fast as possible, and carried Flayn and the other girl up with them. 


“They’re both alive,” Marianne confirmed, once they got back to Jeritza’s room. 


“You found Flayn!?”


Claude burst into the room, looking surprised but relieved. Byleth looked to him with an exhausted smile as the other students carefully carried the other girls to the infirmary. 


“Seeing you smile sure makes me feel better,” Claude said, once the other students were out of earshot. “You look happy for a change.”


“Do I not smile that often?”


“A lot less than you think. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you look as happy as you are right now,” he said, tilting his head as he studied her face. She let her shoulders relax.


“I was scared,” she admitted. It was an adrenaline rush. Manuela and Flayn were alive, and the Death Knight and Flame Emperor hadn’t murdered her class. She had a lot to be happy for. 


She met Seteth in his office later, where he expressed his gratitude about five times over. He had certainly changed his tune towards her. 


“I am indebted to you,” he said, smiling. Byleth shook her head.


“I couldn’t have done it without my class.” 


“Be that as it may. I am… overjoyed,” he admitted. 


“Seteth… can I ask, why was Flayn taken to begin with?” Byleth asked, trying not to sound too nosy.


“Her kidnapper… was the masked knight who vanished during the Rite of Rebirth. The Death Knight. Considering the circumstances, I’m assuming it was Jeritza all along. I believe… the enemy was after Flayn’s blood. The blood that flows through her veins is special. It is rare… and dangerous. If enemies who know the secrets of Flayn’s blood have appeared, our only option is to leave the monastery, and go into hiding.” 


“Brother, wait!” 


Flayn arrived into the office, and both Byleth and Seteth looked at her in shock.


“What are you doing here? You should be resting!” 


“I do not like the path of your thoughts,” she protested. “I do not wish to live in some lonely, remote location. Not ever again. Even if we ran away, there is no guarantee that they would not find us. Is it not better to stay here, surrounded by capable knights and professors?”

Her bright green eyes moved to Byleth gratefully. 

“What if I were to join the professor’s class?”


Seteth looked wordlessly to Byleth, and she nodded, clasping her hands in front of her.


“I can keep her safe, Seteth,” she assured him. He looked troubled at first, but it was becoming more and more clear that they were running out of options.


“Professor, I have closely scrutinized every thing about you, and I must admit… you are indeed a trusted ally. Can I entrust you with Flayn’s safety?”


“Yes, absolutely,” she said, smiling softly to Flayn. It would be nice having another face in the Golden Deer. Not to mention that Flayn seemed sweet, and having her close
did put Byleth’s worries at ease as well.


“What of the other girl?


Sothis’ voice was a rude awakening. Byleth had forgotten all about the other student.


“She wore a uniform of the academy, but who is she?”

Chapter Text

The redheaded girl they had rescued, Byleth later found out, was Monica - a student of the Black Eagles - from a year ago. She was the girl that had been kidnapped just prior to graduation, but they assumed she had simply run away. She re-joined that class, while Flayn officially became a student of the Golden Deer. With the battle of the Eagle and Lion quickly approaching at the end of the new moon, and with Flayn and Monica recovered, morale around the monastery had improved immensely.


Even so, Jeralt was in poor spirits. Rhea had been keeping him busy investigating strange incidents, and stranger people.


“If anything happens to me,” Jeralt said one day at his quarters, “Search this room. Every shelf. I’m going to leave something for you.” 


“Don’t say things like that,” she protested. Jeralt only smiled.


“There’s nothing to worry about,” he said, but she knew it was a lie. Why bother saying anything? “I’m just… being cautious.”



There was definitely trouble afoot. Byleth knew it, but preparing her students for the upcoming battle of the Eagle and Lion was proving too good a distraction to let it worry her. In the classroom, Claude and Hilda briefed her on the nature of the battle of the eagle and lion. It was to be similar to the mock battle held at the beginning of the semester, but on a larger scale, and with higher stakes. Gronder Field was far from Garreg Mach, and Claude, of course, was excited to put his strategy to the test. Better yet, Manuela and Hanneman weren’t going to be present. Byleth complained at first that it didn’t seem fair, but they assured her her students would provide an ample challenge, so she agreed to participate in the end.


The month was busy. Too busy for Byleth to bother thinking about everything that had happened. There were certifications to be passed, training to be done, teatimes and dinners and gardening and fishing tournaments - the list went on. But there was still strategy to think about, and so Byleth, in her search for Claude one day, ended up outside of his room.


Usually he was easy to find. Well, more accurately, usually he found
her. But on this particular Sunday near the end of the month, he was nowhere. She waited a few minutes before finally knocking on the door - there was some sort of crashing sound from inside, so she tested the handle. Unlocked. She pushed it open slowly.


Claude was hunched over his desk, mixing something together. He looked over his shoulder at her, and then smiled. 


“Hey Teach. I’ll have this cleared up in a second.”


“What are you doing?”


“I came across this fascinating book about poisons, so I decided I wanted to try mixing one myself. There we go- look at that!” 


He turned and stood, lifting a small vial up so it was eye-level with her. 


“A colourless, odorless poison. Say, care to test it out for me?”


She focused on him behind the vial, and he winked. 


“Sure, Claude,” she replied sarcastically.


“I was just kidding! Anyone who drinks this will have, in two days time, uh - let’s call it stomach trouble,” he chuckled, pocketing the poison. “The delay is so it can be used even if you don’t have access to the target when you need the poison to take effect. ...Naturally, I have no immediate plans for this stuff. Just felt like broadening my horizons.”


Byleth smiled at him in amusement, folding her arms. 


“Naturally. But really, Claude, why?” 


“It’s… kind of a hobby of mine to have lots of options,” he admitted. “I grew up in an environment where that was necessary. Like I said, no lap of luxury for me.” 


Her smile faded.


“Ever since I was a child, I’ve been seen as… different,” Claude continued, sighing and taking a seat back down at his desk. “An outsider. I’ve been resented and hated. There’ve even been attempts on my life. I don’t think I earned such a treatment, but that’s just how it goes for people… like me.” 

Byleth’s arms fell. He was staring at the wall atop his bed. Countless battle plans were nailed into the wood.


“I don’t think of you as an outsider,” she finally said, after a moment to process what he’d said. He leaned an arm on the back of his chair and looked back at her. 


“Thanks, Teach. My parents always told me I’d never grow strong if I couldn’t learn to fight my own battles... so I did. And I grew up to be as independent and self-reliant as they wanted me to be. ...Lucky me, right?”


He was smiling, but it wasn’t honest. Byleth sat down on the edge of his bed, resting her chin in her hands. 


“You’ve been through a lot, haven’t you?”


His eyes widened for just a second, but then his face lightened and he looked at her with that same carefree smile he always did.


“I guess you would know what I’m talking about. What it’s like growing up an outsider. The moment I first laid eyes on you, I knew. People don’t care much for folks like us. You’d do well to watch your back.”


“That’s why I’ve got you, isn’t it?” Byleth replied, tilting her head and smiling. 


“If I’ve got you,” he countered.


“You do,” she answered honestly, and for just a moment, savored seeing the surprise flash through his eyes. If no one else would be there for them, at least they had each other. But Byleth had a feeling, and she hoped Claude did as well, that the Golden Deer would always be there for each other, through thick and thin. The upcoming battle would be a good test of their teamwork. 


“Shouldn’t you get some sleep ahead of the battle, Teach? I’ve still got some strategies to work through.”


Byleth let out a yawn. He was right. She could have fallen asleep then and there. She stood and stretched, resting a hand on Claude’s shoulder and giving it a squeeze as she passed.


“Make sure you get your sleep, too, or those schemes won’t be worth anything in the morning.” 

“Yeah, yeah.”



Something about the cool morning air the next day, the fog covering the ground and the periwinkle blue sky that slowly brightened as they made their way to Gronder Field, had Byleth strangely relaxed ahead of the battle. By the time the students and faculty arrived, the sun was up, sending its light flowing over the rolling hills surrounding the battlefield.


“Not a bad place to wage war, is it?” Claude asked, resting his hands on his hips as they surveyed the area. 


“War?” Byleth asked. “How so?”


“Plenty of places to hide. Our pick of paths to advance through. Perfect,” he replied, smiling. “I had my eye on that low hill over there; it’s an ideal spot to lure enemies to, then surround them with fire.” 


“That sounds risky,” Byleth said with a frown. Claude laughed.


“I know, I know. We want all students to actually return to the monastery. With you in command Teach, we can’t lose.” 


“Claude, Professor!” Hilda greeted them, as the rest of the class arrived. “What are you two talking about?”


“It’s Claude, so he’s probably foisting more ill-advised schemes on our professor,” Lorenz said with a disapproving sigh.


“Oh yeah, Lorenz. You know me better than I know myself,” Claude joked back. 


“Win or lose, it’s an honor to participate in the battle of the Eagle and Lion!” Ignatz exclaimed, looking more excited than usual for a fight. 


“We need to win so we can show Captain Jeralt what we’re made of," Leonie said excitedly.


“Looks like it’s time to get ready,” Claude said, glancing up at a hill overlooking the field. Rhea, Seteth, and some of the knights were there, raising their flags one by one as time counted down to the battle.


“Everyone ready?” Byleth asked, and the class nodded in unison. Claude walked forward through their ranks, stopping just ahead of the class with his bow resting on his shoulder. Everything was suddenly very quiet. The other houses were readying themselves, and suddenly, horns sounded from the hilltop and a final flag was raised. Time to go. Claude waited, for just a moment, and then sent his arm forward - there were no words needed. They began their advance.


The first obstacle was a hill ahead of them, where Bernadetta of the Black Eagles stood atop with her bow at the ready. If they could take her out, they could defend the hill as well as advance at their own pace onto both of the other houses. Byleth took the lead, sending Sylvain, Lysithea, and Raphael to the west to cross a different bridge and distract the lions as much as possible as they made their move.


Bernadetta landed the first hit on Leonie as they advanced; she had an impressive range. But Byleth got to her shortly after, having ran straight up the stairs, and the girl was woefully underprepared for a sword fight. It only took one hit to knock her out of the match. Meanwhile, Claude and Ignatz fended off a couple fliers that Edelgard sent at them from the east with ease. Ashe struck an arrow to Sylvain, but he arrived on horseback a moment later and won that side of the map for them. 


“Remember Teach, it’s not just about being the last ones standing,” Claude warned, meeting her on top of the hill. “It’s about who defeats the most enemies from both houses. We have to stop them before they can fight each other.” 


“That’s asking a lot,” she said, frowning as she watched Dedue begin luring the Black Eagles down from their hill. Judging by their positioning, it would be better to take Dimitri out of the occasion first, to avoid being sandwiched between the two. She looked back at where Lysithea, Sylvain, and Raphael were, and sent Marianne and Hilda to assist.

“I’m trusting you to get Dimitri out,” she said to Hilda. “The rest of us will meet you when you’re done and we’ll go after Edelgard together.” 

“Got it,” Hilda agreed, taking off on her wyvern to join the others. Byleth looked to Claude. Time to join the fray. She recognized many of the students ahead of them - Dedue, Hubert, Ingrid, Felix - all formidable opponents. If they could let them get a couple hits on them and then finish the job, the credit would go to the Golden Deer for their defeat. It was all about timing.

They waited, patiently, near the hill - Byleth had her hand raised as they waited, and then, as soon as Felix noticed them and began to approach, she gave the signal.

“Let’s go!” 

Ignatz fired on Ingrid from afar, knocking her clean off her pegasus. Hubert met Lorenz in battle, and though he did knock Lorenz out, Claude finished him off with an arrow to the thigh. Byleth’s sword met Felix’s as they clashed, but he was already bleeding from another attack.

“Don’t count me out just yet,” he warned as they struggled against each other. She pulled away, and though a hit from him went straight to her shoulder, she knocked him with the hilt of her sword and sent him staggering back and down. He cursed. 

“Nice try,” Byleth said, somewhat exhilarated. Dedue arrived to take his place, holding his axe over his shoulder. The man was a tank. Leonie, nonetheless, rode straight for him. She landed a brutal hit on him, but it still wasn’t enough to finish the job - he hit back with his axe, but her horse managed to jump out of the way.

“Well done,” Byleth called, but before she could go to finish the job with Dedue, someone hit him so hard in the back that he toppled completely forwards. As he fell, Petra stood behind him, her sword gleaming in the sun as she looked upon their class. She was fast, and went for Leonie first; but before she could get there, Sylvain rode in front, intercepting with his spear and knocking her back.

“Dimitri is out!” Hilda announced as they arrived, smiling. That meant the Blue Lions were out of the match. Only the eagles left. Ignatz looked a little worse for wear, but Marianne was helping him - there was nothing to do but go forward.

Leonie took out Petra while the rest of them advanced. Edelgard was atop another hill, with Linhardt behind her for support. As they approached, knights of the black eagles attacked them, and it was brutal to push through. Sylvain was knocked out of the battle by a well-placed hit from Caspar. Claude fired at Linhardt as they approached, taking down Edelgard’s support. Hilda flew at Edelgard, and axe clashed with axe; both took a brutal hit from the other, but Byleth ran to take her place, wheeling her sword towards Edelgard’s legs and knocking her clean off her feet. Ignatz fired at Caspar, but was too slow - the brigand took him out as well, but Raphael paid him back in kind with a series of punches until it was over.

Byleth was almost in disbelief when the horns sounded. Everyone looked up to where Seteth stood atop the hill, holding his hand up in signal.

“The winners are the Golden Deer! ” 

Claude looked sideways to Byleth with an exhausted grin. Dimitri and Edelgard both arrived shortly after, looking tired and disappointed, but still smiling nonetheless.

“Well done, Claude,” Edelgard said breathlessly. “I see your schemes are not to be underestimated.”

“I wholeheartedly agree,” Dimitri added. 

“It is the utmost honor to receive praise from your-” Claude cut himself short, breaking into laughter. “No, no. I can’t even say that with a straight face. I’m just lucky I had Teach on my side. Honestly, you two made me work for it. What do you think, Teach? How did they fare?”

“Dimitri, your house was incredible. Ingrid was great. I might just have to recruit her,” she joked.

“After seeing how you performed today, I’d be surprised if she didn’t want to join you already,” he said with a sigh, but smiled. “I must say, I would hate to know a future when I’m forced to cross swords with you.”

“Well, I’d say it’s time for some post-battle reconciliation," Claude interjected. "I have but one request - when we get back to Garreg Mach, let’s have a grand feast to break down the walls of our respective houses.”

Edelgard and Dimitri agreed, and all of the students and faculty met together that night in the dining hall for a massive dinner. The class had never been in such a good mood, and Byleth tried to give herself in to the sensation - for once, it wasn’t as hard as usual. She was happy. Genuinely. 

She went to the classroom shortly after to gather the rest of her books for the night, and was surprised to see that the students were there as well.

“I can’t believe our house leader ate so much he passed out,” Hilda said with a laugh. “I guess he should sleep it off? But great work today, professor!”

“As long as we have you and Claude, the Golden Deer house is unstoppable,” Ignatz added, beaming. 

“I’m sure we did not require Claude for our victory,” Lorenz interjected, “but it certainly wouldn’t have been possible if not for our professor.”


“You all worked hard, too,” Byleth pointed out.

“You really showed them though, Teach,” Claude interrupted, arriving suddenly into the classroom. “I would really hate to be on your bad side. Your tactics were ingenious, and you mastered the Sword of the Creator. You really are incredible. Even if you can be a bit absent-minded at times.” 

His eyes were twinkling. Maybe he was right.

The class filtered out for the night - after such a long day and so much food, sleep would come easy. As they left, Claude stayed behind, and Byleth waited to listen to what he had to say. 

“All joking aside,” he said once the class was out of earshot, “I’m having trouble sizing you up. The honest truth is that I’d hate to have you as an enemy. If possible, I’d like for you to fight by my side. Of course, if I could wield the Sword of the Creator, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation…”

She picked up her books and began leaving the room. 

“I bet if I could use it, you’d trust me to, right?” he asked, but she didn’t bother looking back at him as she started to leave.

“Teach?”

“Claude, not all of us are content to just be players on your chessboard,” Byleth said with a frown as he followed her out of the classroom. “I do trust you. But I’m not just a feather in your cap.”

“I- sorry,” he said quickly. “I didn’t want you to think of it that way.”

“I know you didn’t,” Byleth replied as they walked through the courtyard towards the dormitories. “It just comes across like that. Plus, none of us want to see you transform into some scary monster.”

“Right,” he said, his voice quiet. Byleth looked sideways at him under the moonlight as they reached the first level dorms, and they stopped outside of her doors.

“I know cutting a mountain in half is a childhood dream of yours. Can’t you use an arrow instead?”

He laughed. Weak as it was, at least it was something.

“I’ll be sure to work on that, Teach. G'night.”

Chapter Text

The next month, their mission was to investigate Remire Village, where citizens had begun attacking each other in bizarre and uncharacteristic fits of rage. Byleth knew the village well; her and Jeralt had been before, numerous times. They owed that village a debt. It was also where, just six months ago, she’d met Claude and the others for the first time… it would be strange to go back. 

But the reports were worrying. Manuela studied a few of the villagers, and her conclusion was that the behavior had to have been caused by magic - incredibly dark magic. Which meant, of course, that some one, not some thing , was at fault. After all the preparations were met, Byleth and the Golden Deer House would go at the end of the month to see what was wrong for themselves. 

In the meantime, however, Sothis seemed troubled.

“Zanado!” she suddenly shouted, causing Byleth to jolt awake one sunday morning. 

The red canyon?

“That’s it! It was not long ago we were there… and still I managed to forget. That place brought back some fragments of my memory. I feel like I must return.”

We’re… going back?

“Yes! No time like the present!”

Byleth could still remember clearly the strange nostalgic feeling that had plagued both her and Sothis when they were there not long ago, so she agreed to take a day trip out there. Some time alone didn’t sound like a bad idea anyways. 

They spent some time exploring, but as they went deeper and deeper, it all went wrong.

A scream erupted from the valley, echoing between the walls. Byleth wheeled around to see three demonic wolves had arrived - and what followed shortly after was her class. Behind them, more beasts. What is going on?

Claude and the others were across the first bridge, and now two of the wolves sat between them. They’d have to fight their way to each other. 

He lifted his hand in a mock salute, and Byleth responded in kind. She was grateful he had followed her, even if he was a nosy bastard. And the rest of the class as well… this would be a difficult battle, but at least they’d probably come out alive. She just had to make it to them first.

A third wolf was coming up from deeper in the valley, so Byleth made a break for it towards the bridge, even as it pursued her. Pulling out the sword of the creator, she sent it whipping at the first wolf in front, hoping to maybe push it off the bridge - but it held fast. Claude, Hilda, and Ignatz attacked from the other side, drawing its attention to them. It let out a ferocious roar as it countered with raring teeth, but Sylvain, coming in on horseback, speared its chest and sent it flying over the edge of the bridge.

“Claude!” Byleth called as she crossed the bridge, now with two wolves behind her, “why did you follow me!?”

“I can’t stand not knowing what’s going on,” he admitted, “and it looks like I was right to bring the class, too.” 

She couldn’t fault him that. He fired an arrow a second later; it flew past her cheek and she turned in surprise to see the two other wolves running at them from the other side of the bridge.

“What are you doing out here in the first place? What’s with these strays?”

“I wish I could tell you,” she said, realising suddenly that despite her insistence at not keeping secrets, she’d never told him about Sothis. She’d never told anyone about Sothis, and it was probably for the best for her students not to know that she had a weird voice/person/entity in her head. Claude let out a tsk and gestured for the rest of the class to come and help. The first wolf that made it across the bridge hit them all with a roar that shook them to their cores. 

Ignatz fired again, as did Leonie, and Raphael ran headfirst at the first wolf, punching away until it fell. The second wolf arrived shortly after, and Hilda and Sylvain went for it; even with both of them, it wasn’t enough to take it down, but a series of magical attacks followed from Lorenz and Lysithea that finally felled the beast.

“We’re not done yet,” Claude said, gesturing to the demonic birds and one more massive wolf that now blocked the exit of the valley. 

“On me,” Byleth said, determined as she walked through the class and then broke into a run towards the last monsters. Arrows took down the birds quick enough, especially thanks to Claude and Ignatz. The last beast was much more akin to how Miklan had looked; the entire class surrounded him and readied for a fight. 

“You don’t think… it was human once?” Claude asked, even as he readied his bow. “No, it’s not possible,” he added, but he didn’t sound convinced as he let loose a volley of arrows onto the beast, which recoiled and then doubled back in anger. After a few combined attacks which kept the beast too stunned to retaliate, it was over, and Byleth was relieved to see no human remained on the ground when the beast fell. 

Shocked silence from the class was all that followed, until Claude approached Byleth as he rested his bow on his back.

“Listen Teach, no one likes senseless wandering more than yours truly, but it’s not worth dying over.”

He was smiling, but there was something in his eyes that looked distinctly upset, and Hilda seemed to notice.

“We’re all okay, so let’s just focus on the positive,” she said with a smile. “Maybe we can tell folks back at the monastery that we were here for battle training!” 

“No one has a knack for getting out of trouble quite like you do,” Claude admitted, looking sideways at her.

“And no one can get into trouble quite like you, so it works out!” 

It was decided, then, to return to the monastery as fast as possible to avoid suspicion. Sothis seemed content, despite the beasts, that her memories were stirring once more. She seemed to think Byleth was growing stronger, but only time would tell if that were true.

 

The rest of the month passed quickly. Before long, it was time to go to Remire Village. Jeralt had run to bring her out of her room - villagers were killing each other, buildings were on fire - and there was no time to waste. When she got there, with the Golden Deer class behind her as usual, what Jeralt said ended up being exactly right. Some of the villagers had completely lost it. Not all of them. But the ones who had, their eyes wide with rage and madness, were on a killing spree. 

“This is unbelievable,” Claude breathed. “It’s hard to tell who’s lost their mind, from who’s mad with fear.” 

“This is horrifying!” Hilda exclaimed. “I don’t want to get involved, but we can’t leave these people on their own… we need to act fast!”

Byleth’s brow furrowed. She was right. What was happening in front of them was an unspeakable waste.

“...Claude,” Lysithea suddenly said, “there are some strange looking people here.”

“So you noticed too,” he replied. “There’s a suspicious group hiding amongst the villagers. Look.”

Byleth followed his gaze. Sure enough, some strange mages in robes and wearing masks were standing amidst the chaos, doing little more than surveying. So they were the culprits. She knew what they had to do. 

Jeralt joined them, which she was thankful for; she knew she didn’t have to keep as close of an eye on him. They worked their way through the village systematically, avoiding fire where they could and ridding of the villagers that had gone mad. No one wanted to kill them, but it was the only way to save the other villagers. As they got further in, Byleth could make out someone familiar, and Claude had noticed at the same time. Surrounded by the mysterious soldiers and mages was their librarian.

“Tomas! What in the world are you doing here?” Claude yelled. A sickly smile spread on Tomas’ thin lips.

“I’m not Tomas,” he replied. “My name is Solon, the savior of all!”

In a flash of dark magic, he transformed. A horrifying looking old mage stood in his place, one eye completely black save for a gleaming white iris. 

“What’s the matter? So shocked you can’t even speak? You were so easily fooled by my disguise. I was hiding away in Garreg Mach to get the blood of that little girl named Flayn. With her blood… we’ll be one step closer to realising our goal.”

“I’ll have a bit of fun here, too…” came a deep drawling voice, one that sent shivers down Byleth’s spine. The Death Knight had arrived from the other side of the village, his jet black scythe shining in the firelight. 

Fuck. 

There was nothing to do but advance - there were still villagers at the other side of the village in need of help. Byleth stayed central while Leonie, Sylvain, Hilda, and Raphael went to try to help the villagers. Leonie was attacked by one of the mages as they came out of the trees, and suddenly, a devastating attack hit her with shocking power that knocked her off of her horse and onto the ground. Unmoving. All Byleth could see was Sylvain’s hazel eyes wide in shock, looking up at her from behind burning buildings.

“P-Professor-”

Byleth shut her eyes. Everything stopped. They had to play this more carefully. She wasn’t about to let any of her classmates die. Everything went back to how it had been a moment ago, and Byleth sent Hilda into the trees first to get rid of the mages before the others advanced. That was better, certainly, but still she was shaken up. She couldn’t get the sight of it out of her head. They had to end this quickly.

Lysithea, Ignatz, and Claude meanwhile moved towards the Death Knight, but he seemed more perturbed by their approach than anything else.

“You are not the one I crave,” he complained, as Lysithea readied to hit him. Her dark spikes magic was a horrifying display of power, and one hit seemed to be more than the Death Knight had even bargained for.

“It is no matter,” he said through his helm. “The weak will always die.” 

And he disappeared, in the same way he always did. Now all that was left was Solon and his posse. Jeralt cut through one of them with ease, and Leonie and Hilda followed eagerly, having rescued the villager from before. Byleth engaged with Solon with her sword, but after she hit him, he sent back dark magic that sent her staggering back. He was powerful. Jeralt came in after, finishing him with a spear to the back, and sending him to his knees.

“Why have you gone after this village?” he demanded. “What are you planning?”

“I could have conducted this experiment on any test subjects,” Solon replied with a weak laugh. “Now that I have what I came for, I must bid you farewell.”

“Wait! Damn it,” Jeralt cursed, as Solon disappeared using the same magic the Death Knight was so fond of. Jeralt turned as Byleth approached, sheathing her sword.

“They said they weren’t picky about ‘test subjects,’” he pondered. “What does that mean? Because of them, the people of this village…”

Byleth dipped her head. Footsteps approached suddenly, but it wasn’t anyone from her class, and she readied her sword once more as the Flame Emperor walked out from the fire engulfing a house nearby.

“There you are,” they said in greeting. 

“So you’re the Flame Emperor,” Jeralt said through gritted teeth.

“Yes. I believe you have met my subordinate, the Death Knight.”

“We’ve met all right,” Jeralt said with a frown. “Back to you. You’re the one responsible for the destruction of this village.”

“Do not get the wrong idea,” the emperor replied quickly. “It is true that I am working with Solon. But that does not mean our objectives are the same. Had I known they planned to do… this… I would have stopped it. You have my word.”

“Your words are meaningless! Now, I’ll have to insist that you accompany us back to the monastery.”

Byleth studied the Flame Emperor. Why would they be trying to redeem themselves, after admitting to working alongside Solon and the Death Knight? What hope for understanding could there possibly be?

“I cannot abide that,” the emperor replied, shaking their head. “However, if you wish to join forces, I will hear your plea.”

“What?” Byleth blurted out.

“If left to their own devices, they will commit countless more violent acts like this one. Do you not wish to prevent that?” the emperor said, turning to Byleth now. “With the Sword of the Creator on our side, Solon would not be a threat.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t be working with him,” Byleth replied, fury burning in her heart. “Flayn’s kidnapping, the battle in the Mausoleum… Everywhere the Death Knight has been - is just as much your fault.”

“Hmph,” the emperor scoffed. “So be it. Pray that you do not live to regret your choice.”

“Professor, Jeralt - have you seen Claude?” Hilda asked suddenly, prompting them to turn. As soon as they did, the emperor disappeared. Byleth was growing more and more uneasy at their ability to teleport wherever and whenever they wanted. Byleth went to follow Hilda in her search for Claude, but Jeralt stopped her, holding her shoulder.

“Wait. I’ve been meaning to talk to you. Since we arrived at the monastery, you’ve… changed.”

“...changed?” she asked. 

“You were angry when we arrived here today. And you look so happy when you’re instructing those brats. Before the monastery, I’d never seen you bear your emotions like that. Not once.”

Her eyes widened. She’d felt it, too, but was surprised that Jeralt had noticed it. 

“It’s… thanks to the students,” she admitted, smiling somewhat. “I feel real, when I’m with them.”

“Then perhaps it’s a good thing we came to the monastery, if only to see your face light up like that,” Jeralt said, smiling in turn. “Or… maybe there was never any reason for us to leave in the first place.”

“Wasn’t I born after you left?”

“Ah-” Jeralt cut himself off. “I suppose it’s nearly time to tell you. Come to my office when you next have a moment to spare, okay?”

 

The trip back was depressing. It always seemed to be, any time they left. Byleth couldn’t stop thinking about what Jeralt had said to her. So she’d been at the monastery before, perhaps when she was an infant. Why had he left? Why was her mother’s grave there?

Claude met her in the reception hall, looking thoughtful as ever.

“Hey Teach. I’ve got to admit, that... wasn’t really my favourite assignment.”

He was smiling, but by now, Byleth could see through it. She frowned, folding her arms as she looked at him skeptically. His expression dropped.

“I know, Claude.”

“I suppose pretending to be unaffected doesn’t do anyone any good,” he sighed. “That was terrible.”

“It was,” Byleth agreed. She had been so distracted from what Jeralt had said that she hadn’t had time to think about all of those villagers. Family attacking family, friends attacking friends, siblings, lovers - and those that were still alive had but a skeleton of their hometown left standing.

“All you can do is keep smiling, right?” he asked, trying his best to put on an optimistic face. “That’s part of a leader’s job. You can’t give in to despair…. For all of the Golden Deer House. As long as we don’t show that we’re disheartened, they’ll know they can make it too. ...Sorry for getting ahead of myself, Teach.”

“No,” Byleth protested, “you’re right. Thanks, Claude.”

“Oh yeah, Hilda mentioned that the Flame Emperor showed up. What are they after?”

“They asked for us to join forces,” Byleth replied, folding her arms. “World domination?”

“Hah,” Claude laughed, but sighed a moment later. “Who knows. They said that it was an experiment, and they got what they wanted - so are they just going to attempt something bigger somewhere else?”

“I hope not,” Byleth shuddered. There was no telling, not yet. 

 

She met with Rhea to go over what had happened before turning in for the night, and the archbishop said something about needing to “reflect on their blindness.” Between her, Seteth, and then Sothis mouthing off in her head, Byleth barely had time to process any of what transpired between them. She was tired. After murdering innocent civilians earlier in the day, she really didn’t want to accept a bunch of praise about how powerful she was - but as she went to leave, Rhea said something that sent her crashing back to reality.

“May the Goddess Sothis protect you.”

Byleth stopped, and slowly turned back to look at Rhea, speechless.

“...is something the matter?” Rhea asked, looking concerned. 

“I… had never heard the name of the goddess,” Byleth replied, choosing her words carefully. Rhea frowned.

“I see. Sothis is the goddess’ true name. Please do not use it carelessly.”

“Do not say something that we may regret!” Sothis urged, stopping Byleth even as she went to speak. “She - I - what am I? For now, let’s leave this place… please. Go.”

Happily, Byleth thought, and she walked back to her dormitory more confused than ever. Sleep. Sleep was what she needed.

Chapter Text

Their mission that month was to investigate an abandoned chapel, which was being visited by intruders. It didn’t seem all that big of a deal to Byleth, but the church - Rhea and Seteth, that was - were understandably paranoid considering recent events. Jeralt had been assigned to help, which Byleth was grateful for. After Remire Village, she was more than happy to have her father by her side. But the students, as hardworking as they were, were only excited for the ball at the end of the month. It was something they had been waiting for all year. Even still, there were still exams to write and certifications to pass. 

Knowing there would be a party at the end of the month, Byleth kept them working hard until the very end. On the night before the ball, everyone gathered in the Golden Deer classroom.

“The time has come for the annual ball, but before that, an eve of merriment,” Claude said, smiling at the students as Byleth rested her hands on her hips, watching in amusement. “Okay - I’ll admit. The Officers’ Academy isn’t as uptight as I thought.”

“Oooh, I’m so excited!” Hilda exclaimed. “Dancing is the only thing I’m really good at, anyway!”

“There’s a feast, isn’t there?” Raphael asked.

“Dancing, singing? I’m not good with either of those,” Leonie scoffed.

“So what? It’s going to be fun!” 

“I’ll, um, watch from a distance,” Marianne said quietly. 

“You can’t just watch,” Hilda complained. “If a boy asks you to dance, you must accept! It’s only polite!”

“You can ask- anyone?” Ignatz stammered, looking increasingly nervous. 

“Lucky you, Ignatz,” Lorenz said with a smirk. “Tomorrow night, you can live out your wildest dreams of an exalted existence. As for myself, I will surely be overwhelmed with the propositions of many ladies…”

“Listen up,” Claude interrupted them, his eyes twinkling. “To no one’s surprise, I have a brilliant idea. Teach, you’ll want in on this too.”

“I’m listening,” Byleth replied with a smile.

“This may sound impetuous. Maybe impossible. But in exactly five years time, let’s promise to meet again, right here at the monastery.”

“A reunion?” Raphael asked.

“Five years from now… will be the monastery’s millenium festival,” Marianne realised. 

“Oh, I get it - we can use the millenium celebration as an excuse to come back,” Hilda said with a smile.

“So, Teach?” Claude asked, looking at her with the same expectant look as ever. “I’m sure no matter where you end up, you’ll come running at the chance to see your adorable Golden Deer again, right?”

Byleth smiled, but his words reminded her that their time here… was fleeting. She wouldn’t have this class forever. Would she even be a professor still, in five years time? She’d miss them too much. It made his proposition all the more appealing. 

“I’ll be here, Claude.”

“Then the promise is sealed,” Claude decided. “Five years from today, all of us will meet again at the monastery. Don’t forget it, Teach. You and I will meet here again.”

She hoped he was right. Beyond everything.



The ball was held in the grand hall the next night. It was more beautiful and more regal than Byleth could have ever imagined. The students were all dressed in uniform, and every one of them looked their absolute best. The strings of the band echoed beautifully through the arched ceilings, and a few students kicked off the dance - Flayn being one of them, who Byleth had put forward as Golden Deer’s dancing competitor. Seteth looked as if he was about to cry as he watched. Edelgard and Dimitri moved out next, capes flowing as they moved gently throughout the room. They made it look terribly easy.

Byleth was content to watch. Everyone looked so happy. This place… this sort of thing… was not anywhere near where she imagined herself being, just months ago.

Seeing Dimitri and Edelgard out dancing reminded her - where’s Claude? She scanned the room, and as she looked sideways through the crowds of students, saw him making her way to her. He said nothing, but reached for her hand, giving her a reassuring wink even as she looked at him in surprise and tried, in vain, to pull away. Her mind was a blur. He was already bringing her out into the center of the room. No, no, no - why was it that this was scarier than any battle she’d had to fight!?

“I know you only get one dance with each person,” he said, pausing as they reached the middle of the room and a new song began. “I hope it’s okay that I steal the first for myself.” 

“Claude,” Byleth said in a hushed whisper, “I’ve never danced before!”

“Seriously?” he replied, looking surprised as he took her waist and held her hand a little tighter. “Good thing I don’t mind you stepping on my feet. Put your left hand on my shoulder.”

The song picked up, and they began moving. Byleth tried to do as he said, and to his credit, it was easier than she thought it would be. He seemed like a pro at this. She had rhythm at the very least, and did try and do her best to not step on his feet. It got easier the longer they went, but being this close to Claude was… well, it made her blush, as hard as she tried to suppress it.

“Is that red on your cheeks, Teach?” he asked suddenly, prompting Byleth to look up at him. His face was inches away, and surprise was evident in his emerald eyes. 

“It’s the champagne,” she lied, promptly looking away again. “You said you didn’t grow up like most nobles, but you’re good at this.”

She was trying to change the subject. Whether or not he noticed, it didn’t matter. He smiled, dipping her in his arms as the song came to its finale.

“I never took dance lessons growing up, if that’s what you mean. I just wanted to be able to dance with you tonight, at least.”

She looked up at him in surprise, strands of blue hair falling back past her cheeks as he smiled down at her. For just a second - for just a second, everything had stopped. But then he lifted her back up, and let go of her hand, giving her a short, grateful bow.

“Looks like my time’s up. Thanks for the dance, Teach.” 

He disappeared into the crowd again before she could say anything - and then Sylvain was in front of her. And then Dimitri. And Ignatz. Raphael. Hanneman. Felix. Even Seteth wanted a dance with her. All of them were far better than she was, but at least she did her best, and apologized profusely to anyone who’s toes she did step on - but none of them seemed to mind. 

Finally, she excused herself before Lorenz could steal her away next - and disappeared into the courtyard. The cool, fresh air was exactly what she needed. 

 

“Running away?” Sothis asked, disapproval evident in her voice. “I guess you hardly had time to breathe in there… it must be hard being the favourite professor at the ball.”

“I’m not everyone’s favourite,” she muttered, ignoring Sothis’ sarcasm.

“Is that a joke? I find it hard to tell with you. All of the students were begging you to dance. But where is there to run?”

Byleth lifted a hand to her chin as she thought about it. Where was there to run? She’d heard some rumors going around about the Goddess Tower - it seemed more of an urban legend than anything, but seeing as it was mostly abandoned and a hefty climb to the top, perhaps it would be an empty place to go and sit.

“Ah… the Goddess Tower waits for you.”

 

When she got to the top, she was almost disappointed to see that someone else was there - but it quickly faded. It was Claude.

“What brings you to the Goddess Tower?” he asked, looking curious as he saw her reach the top of the stairs. But then he shook his head. “Actually, nevermind. It’s clear as day: you couldn’t bear the ball anymore, and simply had to escape.”

“I needed a break,” she admitted.

“Nothing wrong with admitting you’re not comfortable in a noisy crowd. I get it. I’m the same way.”

“Really?” Byleth asked in slight disbelief, folding her arms. 

“See right through me, do you?” he laughed. “But really, parties aren’t for me. Music and fun are all well and good, but those dances the nobles do… are something else. I was never taught to do that sort of thing.”

“I thought you were pretty good,” she admitted. A smile tugged at the corner of Claude’s lips.

“I guess the pointers I got from Hilda paid off.”

Realisation took hold of her heart. He learned how to dance… just for her?

“Say, Teach. Have you heard of the legends about this tower?” he asked suddenly, turning away and looking out at the stars. “They say if a man and woman pray for the same thing here, on this night, the goddess will grant their wish without fail. It might just be a myth the students like to tell, but I suppose it would be a waste to pass up a chance of our wish being granted. What do you say?”

He rested his hands on his hips and looked back at her, starlight glimmering in his eyes. Our wish. What was it, exactly?

“What do we wish for?” she asked, tilting her head at him with a smile. 

“How about we pray for our ambitions to come true?” he suggested. “You must have an ambition or two.”

“...More of a hope,” she replied thoughtfully.

“Right. Everyone has something they long for. Otherwise… what’s the point of it all?” he sighed. “Same goes for me. Without even realising it, I found myself holding tight to some pretty big ambitions. If you would… I would love for you to share them with me.”

He was watching her again, with those usual gleaming eyes. She hated how eager she was to agree to anything he put forward. She couldn’t help it.

“I told you I would, if it’s noble in nature,” she replied, recalling their conversation in the library. He smiled. Whatever his ambitions were, he was keeping them under wraps, but it was hard to imagine him having anything other than a noble dream. 

“Let’s get started, then, before the goddess tuckers out for the evening. Here goes-” he cleared his throat- “oh divine goddess, we beseech you and your radiance! Please, hear our prayers and grant us that which we seek!” 

His voice was overly dramatic, and Byleth had to stifle a laugh as he paused, as if to listen for an answer.

“Huh. No reply, but I guess that should do it,” he said, grinning at her and obviously aware of how silly he’d sounded. “I’m guessing we should head back. Everyone’s probably wondering where you are.”

Sleep came easy that night, after so much dancing and probably too much alcohol. It was nice to see all of her students having such a good time. It was nice to see everyone having such a good time, all things considered. 



The next day, before Byleth could even reach the classroom, Alois and Jeralt intercepted her. There had been reports of demonic beasts at the chapel - they had to go immediately. No time to get over the hangover. 

“It’s odd,” Alois said, his voice thick with concern. “Someone said they saw students going to the monastery, but they weren’t in their right minds. Shortly after, demonic beasts began appearing, one after another.”

“Damn it,” Jeralt cursed, looking at Byleth in frustration. “I wanted to talk to you, but there’s never any time. Just summon your students. This is more important for now.”

When they arrived, the reports proved to be true. They were different beasts than Byleth had seen so far, with bright red glowing shards on top of their heads. Three students were cornered, and ahead lay the abandoned chapel. There was no time to waste. 

Byleth proposed splitting up into three groups to start taking down the beasts; Claude finished the first one with help from Hilda and Leonie, and in its place, when it was defeated, lay a student. Dying.

“What!?” Claude exclaimed, taking a shocked step backwards.

“Keep it together,” Byleth called, even though her voice was breaking. “We have to protect the rest of them.” 

Their priorities decided, the students did as she asked. Byleth spotted Monica - she was stuck in the back near the chapel, though none of the beasts seemed to be going after her. When they had finally rid of all of them, her class looked exhausted, nevermind horrified that beasts had become of innocent students - who they had then inadvertently killed. Why did they always have to run into such horrible things?

Byleth followed Jeralt to the chapel to check it for evidence, or any more students, but there was nothing there. Monica skipped over, looking more chipper than usual, but Byleth didn’t think anything of it. She hadn’t seen much of her, now that she thought of it; ever since re-joining the Black Eagles house, she’d been stuck to Edelgard like a fly to honey.

“Thanks for all your help, sir,” she said, hands behind her back as she smiled up at him.

“Heh. Run along now,” Jeralt replied, and as Byleth looked on, saw her skip behind him - and - what? All she saw was Jeralt falling to his knees, and a dagger in Monica’s hand, covered in his blood. Without a second thought, Byleth turned back time; and the second go around, as Monica skipped around Jeralt, Byleth pulled out the sword of the creator and sent it flying towards her. 

But the sword was stopped. It crashed into a magical barrier and came whipping back to her in one piece. A dark mage stood between them, a grin on his pale face as Monica stabbed Jeralt, again, and he fell to his knees again, and Byleth felt her heart shatter. No-

“What are you doing here?” Monica asked, looking up at the mage in surprise.

“I need you alive… merely because there is still a role for you to fulfill,” the mage said cryptically, taking her hand and disappearing a moment later. That same black magic. 

The Sword of the Creator clattered to the ground as Byleth dropped it and broke into a run. She skidded to a stop in the grass and turned Jeralt over gingerly to face her, his body heavy and weak, his breathing shallow.

He’d been hurt before. She’d carried him home before. He’d done the same to her. They’d had their fair share of wounds, burns, punctures, splinters - but this - she could see the look on his face, the blood seeping out into the grass - was this it? It couldn’t be, not after everything they’d been through. It was too soon.

“Sorry,” Jeralt coughed. “It looks like… I’m going to have to leave you now.”

His hazel eyes opened for only a second to see her before closing again, tight. Byleth could feel that ugly feeling building in her chest and in her throat. Her hands were shaking as she clutched to his shoulders. He couldn’t go now. Not from something like this. Tears she couldn’t hold back dropped from her eyes, landing on his cheek. His eyes peeked open, looking up at her in surprise.

“To think that the first time… I saw you cry - your tears would be for me. It’s sad, and yet- I’m happy for it. Thank you, kid.”

He let out a breath. A long one. His body, which had been tense and trembling, fell suddenly limp. His head fell back. More tears fought past her eyelashes - and then the rain came. She let him down onto the grass and bent over him, holding onto fistfuls of his clothes and crying until her eyes ran dry. Concerned yells from her students came from nearby, but she couldn’t bear to look at them, not like this. Not when she’d been unable to protect her own dad. The footsteps stopped as they approached.

“Teach-”

Claude’s breath was short. He pulled her away from Jeralt, helping her get back to her feet. She was too weak to protest. And she knew there was no use sitting in the rain, sobbing endlessly over his dead body. He was gone.

 She let the class lead her back to the monastery, and Claude and Hilda walked her all the way to her room. They all paused once they reached the door.

“Are you… going to be okay?”

“I will be,” Byleth replied, her voice weak. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry,” Hilda protested, clasping one of Byleth’s hands in hers. Claude did the same on the other side.

“We just want you to know that we’re here. We’ll do whatever we can.”

“Thank you,” Byleth said, giving each of their hands a grateful squeeze. She wasn’t sure what she’d done to deserve such good students - no, such good friends - but she had to, as Claude had once said, put up a strong front for them. At the moment however, if they said any more kind words, she was sure to simply break down again. All she wanted was to crawl under the covers and pretend she didn’t exist. Pretend nothing existed.

“I need to clean myself up. You two should go dry off, too,” she said, pulling away from their hands and unlocking her door. She paused once she opened it, looking back over her shoulder at them with as much confidence as she could possibly muster. “I’m okay. I promise.”

Chapter Text

She didn’t sleep that night at all, and before the sun even rose the next day, the first place she went - the only place she could think of going, was straight to Jeralt’s quarters. Some sad, weak part of her had hoped that once she pushed open the door, he’d be there, and all of last night would be revealed to have just been a nightmare. But the room was silent. 

“So this is where he lived,” Sothis pondered. “Hm? Are you still crying?” 

She didn’t sound as accusatory as usual. Her voice was soft, and something about the sympathy made it feel worse. Byleth wiped a few errant tears away from under her eyes.

“If turning back the hands of time was not enough to save his life, you must accept that what came to pass was fate.”

She knew. She knew she was right, even if the idea of fate, now, was laughable. 

“The ones who did this-” she said quietly, clenching her hands to fists.

“We cannot let the wicked ones run free,” Sothis agreed. Perhaps a drive for revenge would be what would keep her going. “Didn’t your father say to look for something he left you here?”

“... right,” Byleth muttered to herself. She remembered now. The day he had told her to search this room if anything happened to him. Had he known then, what would come to pass? Why would he say that otherwise? Or was he feeling the same as her - that this place wasn’t as safe as it was made out to be, and that there was too much lurking in the shadows… and that the church had many enemies. Regardless, she began searching through his things, and behind one of the bookcases, found a journal.

“His diary?” Sothis exclaimed, as Byleth sat in Jeralt’s chair and began to flip through the pages. “His writing is prettier than his face would suggest. There’s entries here from before you were born! Look there - Horsebow Moon, Year 1159....”

Day 20 of the Horsebow Moon. All is cloudy. I can’t believe she’s dead. Lady Rhea said she died during childbirth. But is that the truth? And still, the child she traded her life for doesn’t make a sound. Didn’t even cry at birth. 

Day 25. It’s raining. The baby doesn’t laugh or cry. Not ever. Lady Rhea says not to worry, but a baby that doesn’t cry… isn’t natural. I had a doctor examine the child in secret. He said the pulse is normal, but there’s no heartbeat. No heartbeat! 

Day 2 of the Wyvern Moon. Sunny. I feel that I must take the child and leave. But the church is always watching us… I don’t know what Lady Rhea has planned. I used to think the world of her. Now I’m terrified of her.

Day 8 of the Wyvern Moon. I used the fire that broke out last night to fake the child’s death. Lady Rhea is in a state over the news. But I can’t change what I’ve done. I’ve got to take the child and leave. 

“Well now,” Sothis interrupted Byleth’s thoughts, even as she poured over the pages. “ That baby must be you! Wait - someone is approaching us.”

Sure enough, Byleth turned to the door and saw Alois enter the room. Sorrow was stricken in his usually-bright blue eyes. They hadn’t talked much, but the way Alois spoke, he and Jeralt must have been close. 

“To think that Captain- that Jeralt- would meet his end in such a way,” he sighed, looking only briefly at Byleth before turning his gaze to the window, where morning light was just now beginning to shine through the stained glass. “I hope you know that you were the most important thing in the world to him. He wasn’t the most emotional guy. I’m sure expressing his affection wouldn’t have come naturally to him. After what’s happened, it’s up to me. So I, Alois, swear to protect you in the captain’s stead.”

Byleth almost laughed. She thought he was about to say he’d be her new dad. He was goofy enough that it wouldn’t have been all that surprising.

“Ah- sorry for my blathering. Lady Rhea is looking for you. That’s why I’m here,”  he said, frowning. Byleth shook her head, looking at him gratefully.

“No, Alois. Thank you.”



She left the book on Jeralt’s desk, closed the door behind her, and went to meet with Rhea. 

“Professor,” she greeted Byleth, “I have been waiting for you. I am filled with grief at the loss of Jeralt. He was a celebrated knight… and a dear friend.”

“When did you meet?” Byleth asked, making a mental note of Jeralt’s diary entries. 

“Many years back. He was a knight of the Kingdom. I saved him as he was about to perish. That was our first meeting. Then, he became one of the knights of Seiros.”

This - this woman that saved his life - was the same he later said he was terrified of. Byleth felt wary now even in her presence.

“Why did he leave?”

“He… fell in love with one of the nuns here,” Rhea said, slowly. “Their love produced a child, whom she died giving birth to. It was her decision. She implored me to save the child. Your father never truly accepted that decision. He took the child - you - and disappeared without warning.”

It does match with what he wrote, Byleth thought to herself. Most mothers, when presented with the choice, would of course save the child ahead of themselves. But Jeralt… he must have been heartbroken. And what of her having no heartbeat?

“Who was my mother?” Byleth asked, and Rhea looked immediately stricken with grief.

“Your mother… she was my-”

Footsteps interrupted them. It was Alois and some of the knights.

“Sorry to interrupt! A report from knights patrolling the area -”

“Professor, you are dismissed,” Rhea said. “Please rest, and focus on mending your heart.”

 

She hesitated. What was Rhea about to say? But there was nothing to do about it, so she turned to leave. On her way back to the dormitory, she expected to run into Claude, but it was Leonie who was waiting by her dorm instead. Guilt struck at her heart as her bright hazel eyes lifted to meet Byleth’s gaze. 

“Hey. Can we talk?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m sorry about that day I snapped at you,” Leonie began, as Byleth took a seat on the stone steps next to her. “I let my temper get the better of me.”

“It’s okay,” Byleth replied, and she meant it. Leonie let out a sigh of relief.

“In that way, I guess you’re just like Captain Jeralt. You accept other people. You don’t let petty details get under your skin.”

“How did you know him?”

“When I was a kid, I kind of latched onto him,” she admitted. “I’ve been calling myself his apprentice ever since. He spent some time in the village I grew up in. You… were never there back then. Why not?”

Byleth looked sideways at Leonie, and shrugged. 

“I don’t know. There’s a lot about my childhood I’m just learning now.”

“Huh. Well… we had these poachers. They were bandits, but we called them poachers. It was Jeralt’s job to deal with them. He took them on like it was nothing, and I was so impressed! All I could think was how amazing mercenaries were. I’d lived my entire life in that tiny village, so he was nothing short of a legend. So I went right up to him, and I told him I was going to be his apprentice,” Leonie said, her eyes shining as she recalled the story. Byleth let out a bit of a laugh.

“What did he do?”

“He didn’t stick around long,” Leonie admitted, “but he did teach me a lot while he was with us. All of it was so new and exciting. So I kept training after he left.”

“I’m glad you got to see him again,” Byleth said. Leonie let out a long sigh.

“Me too. To thank him properly. There were so many times I wanted to ask his advice, but I couldn’t… I had to make do. That’s how I made it this far. Hard work, all on my own. But then you came along… and it was like you didn’t appreciate him, or realise how lucky you were to have him your whole life - actually, it still bothers me, but-”

“Leonie,” Byleth interrupted her, “it probably bothers you because you’re right. I didn’t know who he was. I knew that I- that I loved him,” she continued, struggling to get the words out, “but he never told me anything. I think he wanted to, when we came back here, but… there was no time.”

Leonie’s eyes dropped to the ground.

“You… really didn’t know?”

“He was all I knew. I could tell he was a great fighter. He taught me everything,” she recalled, lifting her eyes to the sky. “But I didn’t know he was renowned, or had helped so many people, or anything like that.”

“I can’t believe it,” Leonie sighed. “I’m sure he had a good reason.”

“Me too,” Byleth agreed, remembering his diary entries about Rhea. “Me too.”



Day 5 of the Garland Moon, Year 1157. Clear skies. I picked some flowers for her and returned home. The look of joy on her face at the sight of these flowers will be even more beautiful than the flowers themselves.

“Yeesh,” Sothis exclaimed. “His entries from before your birth are all romantic blatherings. Oh - someone is here. Pull yourself together.”

She was crying again, leaned over the diary at Jeralt’s desk.

“I thought I might find you here, Teach,” came Claude’s voice suddenly, as he entered the captain’s quarters. Byleth rubbed her eyes quickly before looking up at him. He caught sight of her and frowned, but thankfully, didn’t say anything. His eyes landed then on the diary.

“Is that Jeralt’s-”

“Diary,” Byleth answered for him. Her voice was more hoarse than she’d expected.

“Maybe there’s entries from when he left the monastery,” Claude suggested gently. “He was the captain of the knights, but something made him leave the monastery in a hurry. If it has something to do with your birth… knowing might get us closer to finding out what secrets the church is hiding.”

She stared down at the pages. Maybe. He was probably right, if Byleth was being honest. But it wasn’t on her mind right now. She’d rather have heard it from Jeralt himself. He wanted her to know, she know he did, but why did it take so long to get the truth out of him? Why did they have to run out of time?

“Teach- would… you mind letting me read the diary?”

Byleth looked up at him, too surprised to say anything back. He was looking at her honestly. 

“I know it’s important to you. I’m not asking lightly, I just want to help figure this all out.”

Part of her wanted to say no. She still had more to read. But it was useless coming in here day after day, crying her eyes out reading her father’s old entries. She hadn’t been able to bring herself to read the more recent ones yet. Claude would do a better job of it. And he… 

“I can trust you, right, Claude?” she asked, watching his eyes carefully.

“You have my word,” he replied, without skipping a beat. 

“Alright,” she agreed, pushing up from the desk and standing up. She closed the diary and handed it to him, but as he took hold of it, she held tight. “Just promise me you’ll look after it. It’s all- it’s all I have.”

“I promise,” he agreed, and so she took her hands off of the book. He tucked it under one arm before continuing; “Oh, right - Rhea dispatched the knights in some frantic search for the enemy. There’s a rumor she’s already secured some information. Something big will happen soon. That… has me wondering. If you find out where the enemy is, what will you do about it?”

Byleth frowned. Probably nothing smart.

“If you ask, I- no, all of us - will gladly lend a hand,” he assured her, looking at her intently. “Even if it means going against Rhea’s wishes.”

His last words were a strange, yet relieving addition. Byleth met his gaze and saw that he meant it. Slowly but surely, she was beginning to understand him with every passing day. 

“Anyways. Everyone’s worried about you. Go show everyone that you’re… doing okay.”

So even he knew it was bullshit. She cast him a last grateful look before leaving the room.



On her free day, the spirits of everyone were down. It was difficult to try to be better and also heal at the same time. Whenever she was alone, she found it tough to hold back the tears; so she tried to talk to as many people as possible instead, and keep herself busy. Food from the dining hall helped. She hadn’t realised how little she’d been eating since his death. Her appetite had suffered.

In Jeralt’s room that day, she found a ring - the same ring he’d shown her not long ago. Her mother’s ring. She held tight to it, and decided to keep it safe. 

Faculty and students alike offered their condolences to her. Offered their help. Whether it be to take down whoever had done it, to talk, or to simply share a stiff drink, Byleth was grateful. In fact, she was so overwhelmed with appreciation for the students and friends she’d made around the monastery, that it helped to warm her heart, if only a little. Her heart that didn’t beat. 

Chapter Text

She saw Claude one evening on the bridge to the monastery after a particularly tough day of training, looking out at the setting sun. He had a bottle of something in hand. Byleth stopped and looked at him in disapproval, but he held it out to her instead and gestured for her to sit on the wall with him. She paused. It was too tempting to pass up.

“No one can know,” she warned, sitting down and swinging her legs around as she took the bottle from him and had a sip. It was a sweet drink; she looked at the label. Adrestian mead. Yum.

“Do you believe in gods?” Claude asked, looking thoughtfully at the monastery. Byleth nearly choked.

“Don’t tell me your plan for tonight was just to get existential drunk all on your own,” she said, passing the bottle back to him.

He laughed, leaning back on the wall.

“Not quite. But really... and I don’t mean the Seiros religion, just… gods in general. Beings that control the fates of all.”

“Maybe,” Byleth said. In truth, she wasn’t sure. “You?”

“I never used to,” Claude began. “I hated the idea of praying to a god. You can only really rely on yourself. Honestly, I still believe that. You can’t win a war by leaving fate in the hands of some unknown entity. Of course… miracles can happen. Things that occur completely out of your control. Things that only seem to add up if you believe in the concept of fate. Things like… meeting you.”

“Meeting me?”

“You just seem sort of… impossible,” he replied, looking sideways at her curiously. “You can wield the Sword of the Creator, you’re a tactical genius, and you have this strange ability to earn the trust of anyone you cross paths with. Before I met you, I had no idea someone like you could even exist. And yet, now that I know you… your presence in my life has quickly become invaluable.”

She looked back at him in surprise. He seemed like he meant it, but no one had ever said anything like that to her. She was surprised how much it meant to hear something like that; how much it cheered her up.

“I’m flattered,” she finally responded with a small smile, looking out at the view. Claude let out a laugh again, but she hadn’t been kidding. She really was flattered.

“I’m just not happy thinking it was just a coincidence, meeting you,” he continued. Byleth glanced back at him and saw him staring up at the first few stars shining through the fading light of dusk, a faraway look in his eyes. “So then it had to be fate. Maybe some god empathized with me and my dreams.” 

“Some god?”

“Again, I don’t mean the goddess of Fodlan,” he replied, looking back at her briefly. “There are people all over the world with different gods and beliefs, over the mountains, across the oceans. They have gods who see the world as a whole. Who don’t care about Fodlan’s borders. Who don’t meddle in our affairs, who don’t grant life or take it away. And maybe, sometimes, they’ll make a miracle happen. A god like that… that’s the sort of god I could believe in.”

“I… agree,” Byleth replied, impressed with this new side of Claude she was seeing.

“Careful, or we’ll anger the followers of Seiros talking like this,” he joked, though he looked grateful that she understood. “I just think people should believe in whatever gods they want. If a person believes in a god, and that god becomes a support system for them, that’s a good thing. That’s what a god should be. Anyway - maybe I’ve overstepped a bit.”

He offered her the bottle once more, but she shook her head, so he finished off the last of it. Byleth looked thoughtfully up at the stars as the evening light faded away. 

“No, you haven’t. At least not for me.”

“I’m glad you understand, Teach.”



The rest of that month went by slowly. Horribly slow. Every day, Byleth waited to hear information from Rhea or the knights, that they had found something. The longer it went on, the more her hopes dwindled. Until, finally, they had a destination:The Sealed Forest.

“Rhea has called the knights for back-up, but she hasn’t asked for our help,” Claude said to her one day in the reception hall, his voice quiet.

“Why would she keep it a secret?” Byleth asked, already frustrated.

“My guess is to keep you running headfirst toward revenge?” Claude suggested, frowning. “It’s only natural. Anyone would leap at that chance.”

“No. I will not allow it.”

Rhea. Byleth and Claude both turned in surprise to see her approach, alongside a knight and Seteth.

“It is all too likely that our foes revealed themselves to lure you out there,” Seteth said sternly. “They are the ones who took Jeralt from you. I know how you must despise them, but I must ask that you rein in your personal feelings for now.”

“You can’t stop me,” Byleth replied slowly. She didn’t want to rebel. But she couldn’t help it. 

“Please, Professor,” Rhea pleaded, though she looked upset. “Do not act so carelessly. Losing you so soon after losing Jeralt would be unbearable.”

“Listen, Rhea- um- Lady Rhea,” Claude interrupted. “This move would be the most strategic. Think about it - most of the knights are still far away, and we can’t afford to have Seteth and friends abandon the monastery. The only person who can take action now also happens to be our best commander - Teach. Wherever she leads, we’ll follow. The class is already prepared for battle. We can buy the knights more time, not for revenge, but for a defensive attack.”

“Professor…” Rhea said, having listened intently to Claude, “do you agree?”

“Yes,” she replied immediately. But it wasn’t for all the strategy and tactics Claude had just bullshitted his way through. She wanted her revenge.

“Fine. I will give you the order. Whatever happens, you shall overcome,” Rhea said, resigning herself to Claude’s plan.



The Golden Deer, led by Byleth, reached the forest fast. It wasn’t far away. Morning fog sat heavy in the trees, though Byleth was certain that the sun would burn it off before long.

“It’s just up ahead,” Claude called as they approached. “Visibility is poor, so be cautious.”

“It… is just a forest, right?” Hilda asked warily.

“Have you been there too?” Claude asked in surprise. “Oh- nevermind. Listen, this is not a war of vengeance. It’s a riddle, so-to-speak. Those guys are undoubtedly planning something terrible. We just need a clue as to what. The attack on the mausoleum - Flayn’s capture - Remire Village - the demonic beasts… It can’t go on. We need to know their objective, and to stop them from achieving it.”

Byleth nodded. The class agreed. They were ready to fight. She met Leonie’s eyes, and saw the same fire she felt in her chest reflected in them. They knew. All of that sounded good, fighting against the enemies of the church, but today was about revenge. This was personal.

As they continued through the trees, soldiers and mages suddenly began to appear, and in the center of a meadow up ahead was Monica. Byleth gripped her sword.

“Welcome to the forest of death!” she called out  to them as rage built in Byleth’s chest. “My name is Kronya. This weakling girl was just a borrowed look for me.”

She transformed in a flash. Was Monica… dead, then? Was that what would have become of Flayn? The woman standing in her place had short orange hair and a sickly sweet look to her, with lips painted grey and a pale face. 

“This is what I really look like. I’ll take down every last one of you!” 

“Forward!” Byleth called, taking the lead. They used the trees to their advantage for the most part, dodging incoming attacks and taking the enemies by surprise. There were a handful of demonic beasts here as well, but the class was used to it by now. Nothing was particularly a challenge, and unlike most battles, Byleth was happy to take the lead, cutting down enemies without a moment’s hesitation as she fought her way towards Kronya. Kronya -the one who killed Jeralt.

After the beasts and the other soldiers fell, Leonie was the first one to reach her.

“Monica, you’ll pay for what you’ve done,” she said as she rode up on horseback, lance at the ready.

“I told you already, my name is Kronya!” she snapped back. 

“I don’t care what you’re called,” Leonie countered. “I don’t care if it takes my last breath. I’ll kill you!”

She hit Kronya with a fantastic blow of her lance, though the counter-attack came in and knocked her right off of her horse. For just a moment, Byleth had deja vu to the time she’d nearly died - well, the time she had died. At least she’d been able to fix that death. But she knew Leonie wasn’t down for the count yet.

“Now!” Leonie called, and so Byleth broke into a run. Kronya looked back in surprise to see Byleth running at her, Sword of the Creator at the ready, glowing hot with magic.

“You’re a fool to be so brazen!” she declared. “You’ll never avenge him at this rate!” 

But her attack hit. Kronya stumbled backwards, and then broke into a run - she was all bark and no bite, but Byleth wasn’t finished with her yet. She pursued her through the trees until they reached another large stone ruin, and Kronya tripped over the steps. She got shakily to her feet, pulling out a dagger as Byleth closed in on her.

“But how?” Kronya asked, trembling. “How could I really lose, to a lowly creature like you?”

Byleth readied herself, but a second later, Solon appeared behind Kronya.

“Well,” he said, and Kronya turned in shock to see him.

“Solon! Don’t just stand there and stare! I need your help!”

“Yes,” he said quietly, “you most certainly do.” 

He walked toward her, and Kronya gasped as he took hold of her waist with one hand, lifting her with a tight grasp and squeezing until the bones cracked. Byleth winced as Kronya’s eyes went wide in fear. 

“Have no fear, Kronya,” Solon said calmly. “Your sacrifice will help to rid this world of filthy vermin that have long infested it.” 

He lit in dark purple flames, and so did the pillars surrounding them. Byleth glanced back at them warily, but then kept her eyes on Solon as he backed slowly away from the ruin. He was still holding up Kronya, and she let out horrible screams as her body distorted under his grasp, bones snapping and breaking- but then, the magic spread, lighting a border around the ruins and surrounding Byleth completely. Tendrils of it shot out, grasping at her arms and legs, holding her in place even as she struggled against it.

“Solon-” Kronya whimpered, “stop this!”

“The time has finally come,” he said, pulling his hand from her chest, “to unleash the forbidden spell of Zahras upon our enemies!” 

He crushed something in his hand, and Kronya fell to the ground in front of Byleth. Looking at her upside down, she reached an arm weakly back.

“Please - help me-”

The magic engulfed her, and then made its way to Byleth. She readied herself, grimacing and holding her sword up against it as it covered her, dragging her far, far away from the world. From anything. The last thing she heard was the calls of her students. Had they seen it? Her brazenness costing her everything? Or was this unavoidable - was it completely out of her control - was it the same fate Sothis talked about taking her father, the fate that Claude had said brought them together?

She tried, even though she knew it wouldn’t work, to turn back the hands of time. But everything went black instead. 

 

When she opened her eyes, Sothis was in front of her, sat upon her throne in a glowing green light.

“You fool! What were you thinking, charging right into an enemy’s trap?”

“I can explain-”

“Excuses won’t help us!” Sothis protested. “This darkness is terrifying! As you and I are one, I too am trapped inside this void. But consider this...This realm of darkness we are in is separate from the world from which you came. I mean… that it would take a god to leave this place. In time, our hearts and minds will cease to be. Are you prepared to die?”

“No,” Byleth replied, frowning.

“I thought as much. I also do not wish to die. And yet…” she sighed. “There is no other choice.”

“What choice?”

“Do you recall your father’s diary, where he said you were a child that did not laugh or cry? I think I am the one to blame. I must have been asleep, but even then, I feel I was a part of you. I do not know how Rhea managed it, but she allowed me to exist… inside of you.”

What?

“The truth is, I have always been with you. It is within you that I found my power again. The power of a goddess. The power… of the progenitor god.”

“So- you really are-”

“My name is Sothis. You must be well aware by now what that means. I am the one who watches over Fodlan, and all the creatures dwelling there. I am Sothis - the one who died and then returned.”

Byleth shut her eyes. She knew she was right. She knew this had all been more than just weird dreams, or an imaginary friend, or anything like that. She just hadn’t been able to come to terms with it. How easy was it to come to terms with a god living in your head? But that revelation, that Rhea had put her there - what did that mean?

“There is but one thing to do to save us from this darkness. However, I lack a body of my own. And so, I must relinquish all the power that I have… to you. The time has come for you and I to join as one. And when that time comes to pass… I will disappear.”

“No, Sothis-”

“When I say disappear, I do not mean that I will be no more,” she interrupted Byleth, shaking her head. “My soul will join with yours. But I will no longer have the chance to speak with you. I shall miss it... So long have we been on this path. Through you, I got to see and hear this world. I may not have acted like a goddess… but it was fun. For all that you have done, thank you. I am glad that it was you to whom my fate was bound.”

There was that word again. Byleth tried, desperately, to think of anything else they could do. But Sothis seemed much more prepared for this than she was. She had an answer. A way out. 

“Sothis… thank you,” Byleth replied, not knowing what else to say. “I’ll miss you.”

“We must pray,” Sothis said, smiling softly at her, “so our spirits two will join as one. Your wish is to return to the forest, stop the enemy, and rescue the little ones. No need for words. I know your heart as though it were my own.”

She looked at Byleth as if she was still making up her mind, then stood and walked down the long set of stairs from her throne.

“Your will and mine are now as one. Both sides of time are revealed to you… and you alone. You know I am The Beginning. What shall you do?”

Light, golden and blinding, surrounded them as Sothis reached the bottom of the steps. Byleth lifted a hand out, reaching for her. For the way back. To save the others, to fix everything. To join souls with a god. Sothis reached out to her in turn, and came towards her, disappearing into shimmering light as she did so. Byleth shut her eyes as she felt her spirit tickle against her cheeks, as she felt her own spirit grow stronger. It was just a quiet hum at first, but then it exploded into something else altogether; she could feel the new power coursing through her veins.

The sword. The sword was ready.

She grasped the handle and unsheathed it. Power crackled around the blade and the hilt, and wind whipped at her hair and her cloak. To use the power of a goddess- to find her way back-

“I’ll cut through anything!” 

 

Chapter Text

Byleth stabbed the sword through the very fabric of the void that was holding her prison. It found purchase, and she slid it downwards until she could see Solon - that vile man’s face - looking, shocked, into the darkness.

That’s right, she thought to herself - I’m not done with you yet.  

She landed hard onto the stone ground, holding the sword and glaring at Solon with more rage than she’d perhaps ever felt.

“You… are Teach, right?” Claude exclaimed from behind her. She turned and saw her class all there, lined up and at the ready. She met Claude’s eyes and his expression lit up. “I knew you could cut your way through anything.”

She smiled at him only briefly before looking to Solon, who had taken his chance to relocate to the top of the hill, surrounded by other mages.

“What did you see in the darkness of Zahras!?” he called. “This should be impossible. The only being that can withstand that darkness is… tsch, unless I dispose of you myself, I may never have the chance to send you back there!” 

“Are you all ready?” Byleth asked, ignoring Solon and looking back at the class. Fire lit in their eyes. This had to have been the best - or worst - field trip of their lives. “Two groups. Let’s go.”

Demonic beasts stood guard on either side, but she was confident in her class at this point, more than ever. And they seemed more riled up to battle than ever, too - she wondered how it had looked when she disappeared. Had they all been confident in her return? Either way, she was back now - and as she fought her way uphill to Solon, she could taste revenge, sweet on the tip of her tongue and within reach.

He had the uphill. It didn’t matter. 

“I am terrified by you,” he admitted as she ran up the steps with her sword at the ready, “even though an emotion like fear has no place inside me. That means you must be eliminated.”

Byleth hit at him with the sword. It let loose a terrifying amount of crest magic, crackling with power as it latched onto his body and wrapped around him. She didn’t feel like entertaining him with any opportunities to attack her. She was over it, now. 

“But- this is not the end,” he warned, choking on his words as the sword tightened . “Thales will find a way to carry out our mission!”

Byleth whipped the sword back to herself, and Solon fell to the ground with one last defeated yell. It was satisfying, but not as much as she had hoped. Monica - Kronya - was gone. But she was part of a bigger organization, clearly. There would still be more enemies to defeat, more battles to be won, before Byleth ever felt like Jeralt had been amply avenged. At least this was a start. 

“Thales…” Claude muttered to himself, from behind Byleth. She turned in surprise; he was closer than she’d expected, and his eyes lit with surprise in return as she looked at him. “Who could that be?”

“There was another mage who resembled Solon when Jeralt-” Byleth stopped briefly- “when Jeralt was killed. He was the one who- um-”

She paused. Probably better to not tell Claude about the whole turning back time, thing. She looked back at him, wondering if he’d noticed the way she cut herself off. His bright green gaze was stuck on her, and she had a feeling he had noticed, but part of him also just looked… strangely stressed.

“I’ll be honest, Teach, when you disappeared, I broke into a cold sweat,” he admitted, breaking the momentary silence. 

“I thought you said you knew I could cut through anything?” she asked, sheathing her sword and smiling at him.

“Yeah yeah,” he said, laughing. “I was just glad to see you back. All’s well that ends well, right? And Jeralt’s killer is dead.” 

“True,” she replied. 

“Okay, you’re kidding, right?” Claude said suddenly, looking at her curiously. “I understand putting it off while we were in battle, but now that it’s over, spit it out. That hair, those eyes, that unfathomable power - what happened?”

“My hair?” Byleth asked in confusion. She pulled some out in front of her eyes and saw light green strands between her fingers. “Did my eyes change?”

“They’re green,” Claude replied, resting his hands on his hips and waiting for her reply. She sighed.

“I… I really wasn’t holding secrets from you, Claude,” she began, “except for one. I always had this voice in my head. A girl named Sothis, who had no memories, and didn’t know what she was. I thought it was just… too crazy sounding, so I never brought it up to you."

She looked at him sympathetically. “I didn’t even know what the goddess’ name was until a few days ago, when Rhea spoke it to me. I was starting to put it all together, but… it’s kind of a hard thing to come to terms with… but just now, when we were stuck in that darkness, she gave her power to me. And now her voice is gone, but she’s… she’s me. Or our spirits are, or something.”

Claude’s jaw dropped. This was probably a strange revelation, particularly after their conversation on the bridge the other night. 

“You… are you serious?”

She nodded. There was no other way to put it. If she hadn’t just cut her way out of another dimension, she wouldn’t have believed it herself. But she could feel it, and see it, and- 

“The way you look now… I guess I have no choice but to believe it,” Claude said, though he was still staring at her in disbelief. “How could that even happen? Maybe there’s a clue in Jeralt’s diary. If you believe the diary, then there’s a high possibility that Rhea did something to you when you were born.”

“I agree,” Byleth nodded.

“But… what was Rhea after?” Claude asked. Byleth’s mind began to go fuzzy. “What was she after you for? Was it-”

His voice trailed off. She fell forward, and he caught her, and that was all she remembered. 

I’m so tired.

 

She woke at one point to a familiar song, one she had heard Rhea singing, the night of the ball. Sothis had said it was her that wrote that song, so how did Rhea know it? She supposed it could have just been some church ballad, but… Her eyes flickered open. Her head was resting in Rhea’s lap.

“Professor. You must remain still.”

“What... happened?”

“It’s okay. Everything is all right. Those who are trying to harm you are far away. I… have heard whispers of what happened to you. You received power from the goddess. From the moment you took hold of the Sword of the Creator, I prayed that one day, the radiant power of Sothis, which bathes Fodlan in its celestial light, might reside within you. But you are so much more than the light. You are my-”

She sighed.

“Close your eyes, dear one. Sleep just a while longer.”

It wasn’t a hard sell. Byleth’s eyelids were heavy. She let herself fall back into a deep and much-needed slumber.

 

She woke in the infirmary the next day. New clothes had been laid out for her, and a note left on the bed stand from Lady Rhea to see her at once. When she got there, her and Seteth were waiting for her, and explained that there would be a ritual at the end of the month for her to visit the Holy Tomb and receive a revelation from the goddess. That was her mission for the moon.

It wasn’t exactly what she’d hoped. She wanted to keep hunting the enemy. And a revelation from the goddess - how? Sothis had joined spirits with her. There would be no talking with her any more. But she wasn’t sure she could explain that to Rhea. Claude at least believed her, but Rhea… might consider it blasphemy.

Her free day that month was a blur. Jeralt’s loss was still felt throughout the monastery, but her new hair and eye colour was a source of chatter for the students. She had to admit, she sort of liked it; and as much as she missed Sothis, it was refreshing to see her in her own reflection. She’s with me.

“Teach, are you okay to be wandering around on your own?” Claude asked, as she made her way to the training grounds for that month’s magic tournament. “Just don’t topple over again and scare us half to death.”

“Oh, right,” Byleth replied, “I never thanked you for catching me that day.”

“Yeah, you kind of fell right at me,” Claude said with a weak laugh. “I just want to make sure you’re okay.”

“I am, but thanks for worrying about me,” she said with a smile. “It’s good knowing you’ve got my back.”

“Always, Teach.”



She was feeling productive that day, so she didn’t spend too long chatting. Manuela, Hanneman, Catherine, Shamir, and Cyril had all agreed to help her whenever she asked; beyond that, she had a few students she wanted to recruit. Felix was hesitant to join knowing Sylvain was there, but she convinced him anyways. Mercedes and Petra also expressed interest in joining, so she brought them on as well. Their team was growing, and fast.

In a meeting with the class ahead of the night at the Holy Tomb, Claude pretended - and relatively well, in fact - that he didn’t already know exactly what was going on.

“The Holy Tomb? So you can receive a revelation from the goddess? News to me.”

Uh-huh.  

“But wasn’t the goddess living inside you? How could receiving a revelation be possible anymore?”

“My thoughts too,” Byleth admitted. The class might not all have believed her story, but she did think it fit to tell them, anyways. The secret was out. None of them were excited about going into the Holy Tomb, but all of them came along anyways - except this time, she left Raphael and Marianne, and brought Mercedes and Felix instead on their first mission as part of the Golden Deer.

Rhea was with them when they got downstairs. The room looked… familiar. Sothis’ throne loomed above them in the dim green light.

“It is said that our creator, the goddess Sothis, sat upon this very throne,” Rhea said, as they looked up at it. It was definitely the right one. “Do you recognize this throne?”

“Yes,” Byleth replied. She had seen Sothis walking down from that throne to give relinquish her powers. She wouldn’t sit upon it again. 

“So long,” Rhea sighed happily. “I have waited so long for this day. Sit upon the throne. I have no doubt you will be gifted a revelation.”

Byleth hesitated, but then obliged, climbing the stone steps and sitting gingerly on the edge of the stone seat. She touched the stone armrest with her fingers, gently. But nothing happened. She knew nothing would happen. It was a strange thought that occurred to her, but she had to wonder - Do I count? Sothis had relinquished her powers to her. But that couldn’t have made her the goddess; wasn’t she just a vessel for her powers? What would happen when she died? Could she die?

“We have some uninvited guests!” Claude suddenly announced. Byleth stood from her seat and looked upon them as they arrived - led by the Flame Emperor.

“Thank you for leading us down here,” one of the men beside the emperor laughed. “The Imperial army will now take possession of everything within the Holy Tomb!”

“The Imperial Army?” Ignatz asked, in shock. “What are they doing here?”

“So the Flame Emperor has been allied with the Empire from the beginning,” Claude realised aloud. “There’s only one thing grave robbers are after - they’re here for treasure.”

“For a fool, you catch on quickly,” the Flame Emperor quipped. “We are here for the crest stones… they are masquerading as a medicine but are actually a poison. We will ride this world of them!” 

So a battle was underway anyways. Byleth drew her sword, staring down the Flame Emperor as the Imperial army began to spread out throughout the room, heading towards the caskets to steal crest stones.

“Divide and conquer,” Byleth said. “The emperor is mine.”

There were demonic beasts alongside the Imperial army, which was confusing. Didn’t the Flame Emperor just say that the poison of the crest stones had to be stopped - and yet here they were using it to their advantage, and stealing more? Whatever was going on, it made little sense, but there was nothing to do but fight.

“Don’t let the thieves escape,” Byleth called out. Easier said than done, since the bastards were making a break for it as soon as they’d swiped a stone. They might have been fast, but her students were faster, and her sword - more powerful than now than before - could reach further, too.

Byleth, with Claude at her side, took the center of the room and made a break for the emperor and the Imperial army commander. He had a scary face, but as Byleth struck him down with the sword and Claude landed a brutal arrow through his heart from the back, it was over before it even began.

“No,” he whimpered, falling to the ground and dropping his sword. “I was just- following orders!”

He let out an angered yell. Interesting choice of last words , Byleth thought - and then she turned her attention to the emperor. 

“You wish to interfere?” the emperor asked, pulling out their axe. “Then your life is forfeit.”

“Don’t underestimate me,” Byleth snapped back, sending her sword flying at the emperor. It hit them square, and though they lifted their axe to let the sword wrap around it, an arrow from Claude followed up and stuck into her shoulder. Byleth brought her sword back and ran in for another attack, even as the emperor readied to hit her. Her sword clashed with the mask of the emperor, and it was sent flying down onto the ground, revealing - no -

“So the end has come,” Edelgard said, her lilac eyes looking evenly upon Byleth from under her helm. 

What?

“Is this some sort of sick joke!?” Claude exclaimed. Rhea caught up with Byleth then at the end of the room.

“You have disappointed me, Edelgard,” Rhea said, anger thick in her voice. “To think that a descendant of House Hresvelg would dare betray the holy church… Professor. Kill Edelgard at once. She is a danger to all of Fodlan. Such a rebellious heart cannot be allowed to keep beating.”

“I have achieved my objective,” Edelgard interrupted, shaking her head. “I will retreat. Farewell, professor. If we meet again, it will be on the battlefield.”

“To flee is futile, wicked girl!” Rhea called, even as Edelgard disappeared - alongside Hubert. Byleth couldn’t help but be grateful she hadn’t had to fight her then and there. Of course she wanted to avenge Jeralt, but… Edelgard… it was hard to believe.

Rhea left with the class, but Claude lingered behind.

“So… it’s been her all along. But why?”

“I-”

Byleth thought back to when the flame emperor had asked them to join forces. There had been sympathy in her voice. Empathy, even. But her partnership with Solon and the Death Knight and the others - Monica - it was beginning to make sense.

“I’m not exactly on friendly terms with the princess,” Claude continued, “but I do have questions for her. She knew the crest stones hold power. So she must know how to use them. There’s a lot more Rhea isn’t telling us, too. I just feel like… there’s not enough time. I have this strange feeling that an age of anarchy is upon us.”

He looked up at her, sadness evident in his eyes, for what had to be the first time.

“Let’s hope I’m mistaken.”



She met the Golden Deer in her classroom, later on. Everyone was pale. War was upon them.

“I heard what happened, Teach,” Claude said, as Byleth entered the room with books in hand. “The princess - well, the emperor. She really did it, didn’t she? The lords and dukes of both the Kingdom and the Alliance have been called out, and now have to choose between the church and the Empire. We find ourselves in the middle of a war that will tear Fodlan in two.”

Each of them were worried for their own reasons. Hilda, for her brother. Leonie for her hometown. Raphael for his sister.

“Only time will tell,” Byleth said. Her mind was too busy to think properly. She was trying to be optimistic. It was hard.

“You’re right, Teach. I’m sure a lot of us are worried about our homes, but… all we can do now is prepare for battle. And tread carefully.” 


 

She met with Rhea and Seteth at the beginning of the new moon. According to Shamir’s reports, they hardly had two weeks before the Empire’s armies would arrive at Garreg Mach. They had to send out an evacuation order, and prepare defenses. And… Rhea had asked that Byleth take over her sacred duties, should anything happen to her on the battlefield. 

“Sacred duties?” Byleth asked.

“You must have guessed it by now,” Rhea replied knowingly. “The truth of who you are. I have stood as a mere poxy for you, all these years. But the duty is yours and yours alone. Only you can lead the people of Fodlan.”

What does that mean?  


 

On the day of the attack, they readied themselves at the gates of Garreg Mach alongside Rhea. Edelgard was there, along with Hubert, and a couple others she didn’t recognize beyond the few soldiers. They had a gruesome fight ahead of them, and there was no time to wait. 

“Stay close. Play it safe. No risk is worth it,” Byleth informed the team she’d brought. Catherine and Shamir were alongside them as well this time around. Everyone had come out to defend the monastery. They had to give it everything they had.

Winged demonic beasts were on the enemy team. Pegasus knights. Mages and dark mages, Archers. Axe-wielders. 

They had a defensive line to try to hold, but at the same time, Byleth knew they had to get rid of Edelgard. There were plenty of allies on the field too to factor in. She let these conditions weigh in her mind before making her decision.

“Claude. Hilda. Felix. On me.”

They’d take the center. The others would protect the defensive line and then the east and west strongholds. With Mercedes and Marianne each covering a side, support shouldn’t have been a problem.

Slowly but surely, they began to push through. Claude looked after the fliers with ease, while Hilda and Felix helped with the brute strength, and Byleth used her sword to deal with archers and mages at a distance. They were pushing their way through to Edelgard. The princess. The flame emperor. The adrestian emperor. The traitor. And when Byleth finally arrived, with her class behind her and the imperial army on retreat, there was a moment of pause.

The unrelenting sun beat down on both of them from above. Byleth wasn’t tired. She wasn’t exhausted. She wasn’t angry. She was just disappointed. 

This is such a waste.

“I wish you were someone whose heart could be swayed by my words and deeds,” Edelgard said, tightening the grip on her axe. “If it were so, I would have done anything to make you my ally.” 

“Your allies killed my father,” Byleth replied, lifting her sword. “There is nothing you could have done to make me want to join you!”

They attacked at the same time. Edelgard’s axe came down on her shoulder, and she was brutally strong; Byleth’s sword pushed into her chest and sent her skidding back along the cobblestone road. There was blood on the tip when it returned to her. I hate this.  

“Here she is, Her Majesty, looking as pleased as a dog with a stick,” Claude said as he arrived, bow at the ready. “What exactly happened to make you this way?”

“I’m simply seeing through a promise I made to myself a long time ago,” Edelgard answered, clutching her stomach even as blood seeped through her fingers. 

“Isn’t this much force excessive? Thanks to you, my own long-held ambitions are nearly destroyed!”

“If you don’t want them to be destroyed completely, I suggest you turn tail and flee.”

But Claude wasn’t about to flee. He sent an arrow soaring into Edelgard’s shoulder, through her armor; she responded with brutal lightning magic that knocked Claude to one knee. But he had another arrow ready, and sent it next, hitting her other shoulder. Finally, she fell to her knees as Claude shakily got back to his feet.

“You fought well,” Edelgard admitted. She looked… sad. “But now, your fight is over. Send in my reserve troops! Give my uncle the signal!”

It was a call to action. Byleth exchanged panicked glances with Claude. Soldiers began filing in behind Edelgard - countless troops that would overrun the city and the monastery in no time. 

“Retreat back to Rhea, and regroup!” Claude called, and Byleth nodded. They broke into a run back through the town until they reached the hilltop. When they stopped and turned at the top of the hill, as the sun was setting and painting the land in a deep burnt orange glow, the imperial army flooded the town. Claude and Dimitri were not far away, fighting off the soldiers as they tried to get to Rhea, but it was unsustainable. Byleth gripped her sword and readied herself to keep fighting. It was all she could do.

She only got a couple steps forward before Rhea’s hand landed on her shoulder, gentle but firm. She took a few steps in front of Byleth, and then turned around with a smile.

“Everybody here, young and old, is in your hands.”

Byleth’s grip on her sword weakened. She knew what Rhea meant, though she didn’t want to acknowledge it. They had to retreat. They had to get everybody out. But what about you?

She got to work evacuating the students and soldiers, even as the army continued its advance uphill. Not a moment later, a deafening roar echoed against the walls of Garreg Mach and the surrounding town, and Byleth turned in shock to see a massive dragon lifting off into the sky and crashing down into the army, sending soldiers flying and crushing many others. She recognized that beast. It wasn’t like the rest. Claude had showed her a picture one day in the library - one of the Immaculate One - and pointed out the crest-like design on its forehead. She could tell. That was her. 

So Rhea is-

Magic burst from her mouth, sweeping through the ranks of the soldiers and boiling many alive. Byleth could hear the screams even from so far away. It was complete chaos and destruction. With this… we could still win.  

Demonic beasts arrived, running and leaping at Rhea, latching onto her with their claws and sending her into the wall at the edge of the valley. Entire portions of the wall began to fall atop them. Byleth broke into a run - they couldn’t lose her, not now - and sent her sword whipping at one of the beasts. It broke straight through its mask and sent it through the wall, crashing into the ravine below. With that, Rhea was able to remove the other offenders from her body. 

“Why did you come?” she asked, when she finally turned to face Byleth, who sheathed her sword and looked upon the dragon. 

Why? 

A familiar sensation sank into the pit of her stomach. To save you. To fix it. To protect the monastery. 

A trap- 

She turned just in time to see that same dark mage from the chapel; the one who must have been called Thales; firing a ball of dark magic her way. There was no time to shield herself. She lifted her sword and braced for impact, and it sent her flying back, past Rhea and all the way to the edge of the ravine where the demonic beast had fallen before; she tried to grip the edge, to grip anything, but the cliff gave out. The land beneath her feet gave away, and she was in a free fall. 

All she saw was Rhea, the Immaculate One, roaring a mournful sound and stuck on the field by the beasts. There would be no miraculous rescue. She had miscalculated; and it cost everything. She'd already had her second chance.

Sothis- the students- Claude-

She shut her eyes as she fell, wind whipping past her. She held her sword tight to her body as the bottom of the canyon came closer and closer.

I'm sorry.

Chapter Text

“You… how long do you intend to sleep?”

Sothis?

“Your body is awake. Your eyes must open now, and you must find the strength to stand upon those legs of yours. Like so much rain, a pool of blood has fallen to the ground… as spears and arrows pierce the earth, it weeps. And even now… it weeps. In order to survive, they kill. And so, the people of this world are lost in an abyss of suffering. They weep as well. The only one who knows the true nature of such things is I… or rather, you.”

Oh… I’m still tired.

“You are a complete and utter fool! Have you not changed one bit!? Get on your feet. Right now! I’ll coddle you no more! You are just like a child, always needing me to hold your hand.”

Consciousness came flooding back. From where, she couldn’t tell. Sothis was gone. But she had been there after all; always with her. 

“H-hey, you’re awake?”

Byleth opened her eyes to see dirt and stone in front of her. She was on the ground, and though she felt weak, she got to her feet lest Sothis begin lecturing her again. A man stood in front of her, looking half scared and half concerned.

“Who are you?” she asked. 

“I’m just a villager,” the man replied, “but… what are you doing in a place like this? I didn’t expect to find someone floating down the river. Garreg Mach is upstream of here, but that place is abandoned.”

“Abandoned?” Byleth asked. The memories from before were slowly coming back, fuzzy as they were.

“You… don’t know? The Church of Seiros isn’t there anymore. Though there have been some folks still living there in the five years since… well, you know. Anyways, there’s thieves in those parts these days.”

“...five years?” Byleth asked, a cold shiver running down her body.

“Um… are you okay? You didn’t hit your head or anything, did you? It’s the Ethereal Moon, 1185. It’s been nearly five years since the monastery fell. Tomorrow was supposed to be the millennium festival, but who’s got time to think about things like that,” he said, shaking his head. 

“The millennium festival…” Byleth said, rubbing her temple in thought. Those words were familiar. The millennium festival. Claude’s face flashed into her memories. They promised - she promised to be back there. She looked up at the sky. It was still dark out, but a faint glow on the horizon told her that sunrise was fast on its way.

She turned on her heel to leave.

“Hey, where are you going!?” 

“The monastery,” she replied simply.

“Are you crazy?” the villager pushed. “There’s thieves running amok in there! Forget about it!”

She shook her head. 

“Just remember I tried to stop you, got it? It’s not on my conscience if you wind up dead!”

“Believe me,” she said, smiling weakly over her shoulder at him, “I won’t.”



When she got there, the monastery was indeed in ruins. She tried not to look too closely at anything. There were skeletons all over from unfortunate souls left to rot away, never given a proper burial or any respects after their life had ended. But all of the weapons were gone. Even the clothes, all stripped away by thieves and the elements. Entire walls had come crashing down, and Byleth almost found it difficult to traverse. But she knew where she was going.

The Goddess Tower, incredibly, was mostly untouched. It was covered in dust and cobwebs, but it didn’t look all that different than it had five years ago. Her footsteps echoed in the spiral staircase as began climbing. Sunlight was pouring in from somewhere above, and dust played in the golden rays as Byleth continued her way to the top. She wasn’t sure what she would find there. She was trying not to spend too long thinking about it. The monastery was destroyed; could any of the students have gotten out safely? 

She shut her eyes. The alternative was too hard to think about, and it made her tired heart ache. 

As she approached the top, she lifted her gaze and saw a shadow cast across the stone floor in front of her. Standing on the edge in front of the open doors was a figure silhouetted by the light of the rising sun. It took her a moment before she could make out the yellow cape and the sparkle of a silver earring. The man turned, and Byleth caught sight of a pair of all-too-familiar emerald eyes. Her breath caught in her throat.

...Claude?  

He looked at her over his shoulder, shock splashed across his face. But his expression quickly softened as he turned fully to face her, resting a hand on his hip. A new and longer golden cape hung off his shoulders, which were noticeably broader than before. His outfit was far more regal than Byleth was used to seeing. He looked… decorated. 

“You overslept,” he greeted her. There was something nostalgic about hearing his voice, even though it felt like she’d just seen him yesterday. Now that she thought of it… his voice is deeper, too. “Pretty rude to keep a fella waiting like that, don’t you think?”

Her eyes widened. Waiting?  

“What’s with that surprised look, my friend?” Claude asked, looking at her curiously as he walked towards her, stopping a foot or so away. Byleth found she had to look up at him - he’d grown taller, and now, a short beard framed his defined jaw. He tilted his head, a strand of hair falling awry in his face. His voice fell quieter before he continued; “You didn’t think I’d really given up on you coming back, did you?” 

He was smiling, but Byleth could see the sadness tainting his eyes, hard as he might have been trying to hide it. Those words echoed in her mind. Coming back. Her chest ached with grief. There was a hesitancy to the way Claude was standing, like he wanted to come closer but couldn't bring himself to, so she took a step towards him and stood up slightly on her toes to wrap her arms around his neck. He tensed, for just a second, and then returned the embrace, holding tight and dipping his head into her shoulder. She shut her eyes as he let out a long breath. So she’d guessed right; he needed the hug. 

A few seconds later, they pulled away, and Claude smiled warmly at her before turning his gaze to the rising sun. Byleth looked out as light swept over the rolling hills, painting the world in colour.

“Can you feel it?” he asked. “A new dawn is finally here. Not just for us. For all of Fodlan.”

“Claude…” she said, after taking a moment to savor the view, “has it really been five years?” 

She knew the answer, but it still didn’t feel real. She needed to hear it from him. 

“Five long years,” he said, nodding as he looked back to her.  His brow furrowed in concern. “Where… were you? Don’t tell me you were napping,” he added with a weak laugh. Byleth dropped her gaze to the floor, trying to remember. The Empire had attacked the monastery. Edelgard - a traitor. And Rhea… that creature she’d become…

“You… don’t remember anything from after the last battle, do you?” Claude realised aloud. Byleth lifted her eyes to his, trying not to look as sad as she felt.

“I didn’t mean to abandon you,” she said, before she could help it. He blinked, and then let out a sigh.

“I never thought that. Not for a second.”

He was looking at her evenly, and she searched his eyes for something, anything, and for once - for the first time - it was all there. She believed him. Her heart was caught in a vice grip. Five years had passed in a second for her, but he’d been here this whole time, waiting, struggling with the aftermath of that fateful day. He sounded confident that she’d come back, but even she wasn’t sure how she hadn’t died. Was it because of Sothis?

“I guess it’s on me to catch you up, right?” he asked with a faint smile. “The monastery and the town were both crushed by the Empire.”

“I guessed as much,” she sighed. “So… Rhea, she’s-”

“All we know for sure is that she vanished after the battle,” he clarified. All they knew. So she could have been dead. It could have all been for nothing. Byleth tried to stop her stomach from lurching.

“The Knights of Seiros have apparently been searching all of Fodlan for her, but the fact that this place is still in ruins tells me they still haven’t had any success,” Claude said with a shrug, looking out at the ruins below the tower.

“We could find her,” Byleth suggested, looking up at him hopefully. Claude nodded.

“True. I still have a mountain of questions to ask her, after all.”

So do I, Byleth thought to herself, but she wasn’t as concerned about that now, not like she used to be. 

“I’m not so sure it would be good to have her return as the archbishop, though… no, nevermind. This could be a dangerous conversation.”

“I don’t care, Claude,” Byleth said, shaking her head. “After all this time, you still worry about that?”

He looked like he was about to say something, but stopped short, smiling a little instead.

“You must be hungry.” 

“Yes,” she answered quickly, and Claude laughed. 

“It’s not much, but I brought some food with me. Let’s eat up, and go from there.”

She was grateful beyond belief for that, and they sat on the stone floor of the Goddess Tower, filling themselves with pastries and fruit as the sun lifted higher and higher. It felt like how it used to be. It felt, for a little, like nothing had changed, and she savored that feeling. In truth, everything had changed. Even Claude looked worlds different than before. He looked even older than her now, and handsome beyond words. It was hard to keep her eyes off of him. But she couldn’t help the guilt that plagued her over disappearing like she did. Over putting herself in danger like that. It had just been for Rhea’s sake, and she’d endangered everyone - for the second time, at that - but anger tainted the guilt when she remembered Edelgard. 

“I don’t know if I want to ask,” she began, slowly lowering an apple from her mouth as her appetite faded. “What happened to… everyone?”

“As far as I’ve heard, they’re all okay,” Claude said, but he looked worried still. “But everyone sort of… went separate ways after what happened. There was no more monastery. No more you to keep us held together. I had my responsibility to the Alliance calling. My dreams, calling.”

His eyes looked out to the sun. Byleth understood, but still she couldn’t help feeling disappointed.

“I was hoping to run into more than just you here.”

“You were hoping to see me?” she asked, not sure if she was being sarcastic or not.

He looked sideways at her in surprise, like he’d been caught out. A sly grin pulled at his lips.

“I knew you weren’t gone, Byleth.” 

Her heart jumped into her throat. That was the first time he’d ever said her name. She wasn’t ‘Teach’ anymore. She struggled against the tears that threatened to brim at her eyelids, and looked away into the sun, willing the ache in her chest to stop. She had left, and he, after all that time, he never gave up hope. He came back to the Goddess Tower.  But the rest of Golden Deer, did they think she was gone?

“The students-” she choked, not wanting to finish her sentence.

“I… don’t know about them,” Claude said, seemingly understanding what she meant. “I was hoping they would be here to meet up, like we promised, but no one’s here.”

He looked genuinely upset over it. The class had meant everything to him, just like it had to her.

“It’s still early,” Byleth reassured him, and he lifted a hand to run it through his hair.

“That’s true. There’s still some daylight left. Let’s get some exercise in while we wait though, to help with digestion, and stuff.”

“Exercise?” she asked, but his only response was a grin. Oh no.  

 

He led her down to one of the many destroyed courtyards of the monastery, where bandits had set up camp. 

“These bandits are trying to plunder the monastery’s treasures,” Claude explained. “I think they were too nervous before that the Knights would be here, but I guess they figured it was safe five years later. Guess they were wrong,” he said with a wink, climbing above his wyvern as they prepared to enter the ruins of the courtyard. Byleth met the small dragon’s eyes, piercing and green, just like Claude’s.

“He’s new,” she observed. Claude only laughed.

“A lot is new,” he said, holding up a strange-looking bow with a crest stone in it. A relic. “Come on. Let’s make sure your skill’s still sharp.” 

The bandits were shocked beyond belief that anyone else was in the monastery with them, and Claude had grown in skill level so much that he took them out with a single shot each. But their numbers were great, and Byleth was feeling rusty after apparently sleeping for five goddamn years. She could tell it was going to be a long fight - until a bandit in front of her was cut clean through with an axe, burning orange and blood-covered. 

Hilda, atop her wyvern, looked up and met Byleth’s gaze with her wide pink eyes and a beaming smile. 

“Professor, is that really you!?” 

“Hilda!” Byleth exclaimed. “Thank you!” 

An arrow went whizzing past her, striking the head of another bandit. It hadn't come from Claude; she looked behind her to see Leonie arriving on horseback, her hair longer than before.

“Professor! You’re alive!! I guess we can celebrate that after this is handled,” she said, grinning as she took off further into the ruins. Byleth’s jaw dropped; Lorenz and Ignatz arrived on one side as well, followed by Raphael, Lysithea, Marianne, and - somewhat shockingly - Sylvain, Mercedes, Felix, and Petra.

“There’s still some virtue in this world,” Claude declared proudly as he moved forwards. He was a ways away, but even from such a distance, Byleth could see him flashing her a confident smile. 

Her heart warmed. There was something surprisingly therapeutic about killing a bunch of thieves as a class reunion, and by the time they finally took care of the leader of the thieves, everyone was almost… giddy. Like it was too good to be true. And they had all grown. Each of them looked so much more mature than before, and in only five years. 

After being so scared, and so lost, she felt that unmistakable feeling again. 

Home.

Chapter Text

Byleth pushed open the doors to the Golden Deer classroom with Claude and the others behind her. Sunlight filtered in through the window at the back, shining light on all of the dust that had made its home here over the last five years. The tables, the books, the bookcases, were all coated. Claude walked ahead to the chalkboard, flipping it over to reveal the same “fear the deer” drawing he’d had on it ever since their very first mock battle. It was faded, but unmistakable, and Byleth wasn’t sure what feeling took hold in her heart when she looked at it. Nostalgia… and sadness. 

She watched him look at it, not able to see his face; but when he turned, he was smiling.

“This could become our base of operations again, so-to-speak,” Claude said, resting his hands on his hips as the others gathered around. 

“What are you talking about?” Hilda asked.

“I’m talking about the Leicester Alliance taking over Garreg Mach Monastery,” he replied with a smile. “It’s right in the middle of Fodlan. It’s a critical strategic location.”

“...are you suggesting we fight back against the Empire?” Lysithea said, in disbelief. 

“Aren’t you getting ahead of yourself?” Lorenz interjected. “The alliance is in complete discord at present.” 

“And as leader of the Imperial faction of the alliance, isn’t your father, Count Gloucester, the main cause of that discord?” Claude asked. Lorenz let out a sigh.

“Yes, well… It was inevitable. Our house’s territory is close to Imperial land. Had we not consented vassalage under the Empire, the Imperial army would have invaded immediately.” 

“Naturally,” Claude replied. “And to be clear, I have no problem with your house maintaining its Imperial ties until we’re sufficiently prepared to revolt. The Empire is the cause of the infighting. If we remove them, the situation should resolve itself. That’s why I’m thinking we should make this our base, raise up an army, and stir up some trouble for the Empire.” 

“Now you’re talking,” Raphael exclaimed, grinning from ear to ear.

“So Mr. Leader Man,” Hilda said, “does this mean you intend to rope us all into your scheme?”

“Leader man?” Byleth asked, looking to Claude in amusement. He scratched the back of his neck.

“I guess you wouldn’t know. My grandfather passed away, so yours truly is officially the leader of the Alliance.”

“Claude!” Byleth exclaimed. “Congratulations.” 

“If we had a more reliable leader, perhaps the Alliance wouldn’t have been divided in the first place,” Lorenz quipped.

“Think what you will,” Claude replied with a frown. “I just need to know if you’re in or out.” 

“I’m happy to lend a hand,” Leonie immediately said. “I won’t let those Imperial dogs take one step into Alliance territory. I couldn’t bear it if my village got caught up in the war.”

“I’ll fight too,” Raphael agreed, clenching a fist. “I gotta protect my little sis.”

“I will join as well,” Lysithea piped in. “House Ordelia was once dragged into an Imperial revolt, and it ruined us…”

“I’ll fight too. It’s time I took responsibility for my own future,” Ignatz said decisively. He looked far more confident than he had before, and seeing so brought a smile to Byleth’s lips before she could help it. He had grown.

“I don’t want to run anymore,” Marianne said quietly, shaking her head. Everyone turned to look at her. “I hope I’ll be of use.”

“What about you, Lorenz?” Hilda asked, her long pink hair falling past her shoulders as she tilted her head sideways at him. “Are you seriously going to go back to your scary dad?” 

“We can’t rely on Claude’s scheming to bring us to victory,” he said with a sigh, “therefore, I will remain. It is my duty to ensure that Claude does not worsen the situation in the Alliance.” 

“We’re all fighting for different reasons, but we have a common enemy,” Claude said. “So, Byleth - will you join us?”

“Yes,” she said, without a moment’s thought. Her wounds were still fresh. She was still chasing revenge.

“With you on our side, the church will join us. That makes fighting the Empire a moral cause as well. It’ll be easier to rally support,” he said, clearly happy with her answer. “Without you, my schemes are nothing. Just words. We need you.”

“You’re really laying it all on the table, huh?” Hilda said with a smile. “That aside, we can’t very well make our base in a ruin. This place is a mess! Who would help us out with that?”

“You know…” Claude said suddenly, lifting a hand to his chin in thought, “I have a funny feeling this place isn’t as abandoned as they say.” 

 

He was right. When they got to the audience chamber, knights initially ran out to attack them - and suddenly stopped. Their helms lifted to reveal the shocked faces of Catherine and Alois. 

“You were alive all this time!?” 

Seteth. Him and Flayn hadn’t aged a day.

“Cyril?” Claude said suddenly in surprise as more people arrived, “is that you? You’ve grown up, kid. Have you been searching for Rhea with the nights?”

“Yeah,” Cyril replied - he certainly had grown up. Byleth nearly didn’t recognize him. “Without her, I don’t belong anywhere.”

“Cyril, that’s not…” Claude sighed. “Nevermind. We’ll figure it out.” 

“Oh my,” Manuela’s sing-song voice greeted them, “the Golden Deer House, together again at last.”

“I do regret that we weren’t able to give a proper graduation for all you students,” Hanneman said. Byleth looked to both of them in shock.

“Why are you here?”

“... we had hoped that Rhea might return here, on this day, for the millennium festival,” Seteth explained with a frown. 

“Even if she did want to return, I doubt she’d feel safe enough to do so,” Claude observed, glancing around at the ruins. Hilda nodded eagerly in agreement.

“This monastery is so important to the church, I’m surprised you’ve left it in such a state!”

A callout. They certainly were grown up. 

“I suppose… we’ve left it like this for too long,” Alois admitted. “We can make it right.”

“I can clean this place right up!” Cyril declared. “It isn’t fit for Lady Rhea in this state!”

“Agreed…” Seteth sighed. “We will need skilled craftsmen to help us. I’ll search for individuals willing to return.”

“That’s it!” Ignatz added, “we can restore it to its former glory!” 

It was decided. The monastery belonged to the Alliance, and was their base of operations once again. Rebuilding would begin immediately at Garreg Mach, and the Alliance officially partnered with the Knights of Seiros with two main goals - take down the Empire, and find Rhea. They had their work cut out for them. Morale was high, however. It seemed that most people were confident, considering they had Claude and Byleth on their side - but both of the so-called fearless leaders knew that it would be a tough uphill battle ahead. A series of them.

Claude even came up with a new symbol for them to fight under - the Crest of Flames. She had to admit, it was a good idea, at least for the time being. The students - no - the Golden Deer, as she knew them, began training and studying once more, now that Garreg Mach and all its resources was available. All of them had grown exponentially more skilled, and so there were new exams for them to take. 

 

“What? We’re still going to be studying and writing exams?” Hilda exclaimed, when Byleth took her spot once more at the front of the classroom. 

“Are you saying you’ll still be our Professor?” Ignatz asked, having sat cheerfully at the front as always. Byleth smiled. 

“You don’t have to call me Professor, but we should all work together and train like we used to. I’m just happy to do the hard work like before. Unless you’d like to mark papers, Hilda,” she said. Hilda smiled sheepishly.

“No, no, that’s okay!”

“I know you’ve been away for five years Prof, but the rest of us have already done a lot of growing! Are you sure we need it?” Sylvain asked, leaning back in his chair..

“I’m sure you remember how much you learned and grew when studying before,” Byleth replied. “There’s no harm in keeping sharp with our skills. Especially when we’re up against such a big enemy.”

“Te- Byleth here is right,” Claude said, correcting himself. “We should all work just as hard as we used to if we want any chance of this crazy plan working.”

It was nostalgic, being back at the front of the room. Despite the fact that most of them still called her Professor, or some variant of it, she didn’t really feel like it anymore. She felt more like just a guide, or a leader, at least alongside Claude. He had become quite the Wyvern Rider, and in their training, it became clear that he and Hilda were forces to be reckoned with. Petra had a wyvern of her own as well, along with Seteth, who occasionally joined them. Marianne had taken to riding a pegasus, and Leonie, Sylvain, and Lorenz were all on horseback. Felix, Ignatz, Flayn, and Mercedes were the only ones now - along with Byleth - without a mount.

Even though everyone with the Golden Deer had grown, Byleth couldn’t help imagining that the students in the other houses would have grown as well. She hoped she wouldn’t need to face any of them on the battlefield. Now that she thought of it… what had happened to Dimitri?

-

“What are you doing up at this hour?”

Byleth had been lost in thought, looking out at the stars on the edge of the Goddess Tower. It was a good place to escape to at night, where most students or other knights wouldn’t find her. But Claude, as ever, was the exception. She smiled when she heard his voice, and looked over her shoulder to see him walking up to her, his hands in his pockets.

“I couldn’t sleep,” Byleth replied honestly.

“I guess it’s harder to sleep the more you have to think about,” Claude said thoughtfully, coming to stand next to her. He lifted his gaze to the night sky. “At times like this, I like to stare up at the stars to clear my head. I’ve been that way since I was a kid. Looking up at the big starry sky makes me feel like my dreams are actually small, which makes it feel like they could actually come true.”

Byleth followed his eyes up at the sky. The stars were endless; clusters of galaxies and constellations stretched out as far as the eyes could see. It certainly did make her feel small. She liked Claude’s perspective on it, and she believed in him. Even if his ambitions seemed big, in the grand scheme of things, if anyone could pull it off… it would be him.

“I didn’t believe in gods as a kid. Maybe that’s because the night sky took their place for me,” he mused, trailing off and then sighing. Then his gaze turned to her.  “Byleth… will you sit with me a while?” 

He was looking at her intently. She nodded, smiling softly to herself. It was always nice spending time alone with him. The two of them took a seat on the edge of the tower, with what looked like all of Fodlan laid out in front of them.

“I’m sure you’ve figured this out,” he began, “but I wasn’t born in Fodlan.”

She felt a little bad about it, but she honestly hadn’t given it much thought. It also wasn’t as heavy as a realisation to her as he might have thought it would be. Those not born in Fodlan were certainly more rare, but she didn’t hold any feelings towards it one way or another… unlike most people, it seemed.

“Where I come from, the people of Fodlan are looked down on as cowards. Technically, that cowardice runs through my veins… on my mother’s side, anyway. That’s why the people who were around me when I was growing up thought of me as an outsider. But I don’t believe the people of Fodlan are cowards. That kind of perspective is just based in ignorance.”

He leaned back on his elbows, keeping his eyes on the stars as he spoke.

“The person from Fodlan who I know best is my mother. She fell in love with a man on the other side of the border, and had the guts to leave home to pursue him.” He let out a quiet laugh. “I always threw that in the face of anyone who who tried to make a fool of me. My mother is proof that the people of Fodlan aren’t all cowards. ...just saying that doesn’t change anything, though. I need to destroy the prejudices that have taken root in my homeland.” 

Byleth watched him curiously as he spoke. With his russet skin, it wasn’t a stretch to assume that maybe… he was Almyran. But she didn’t want to push it. It was nice to have him finally open up to her; finally sharing all of his secrets.

“That’s why I came here, to see Fodlan with my own eyes. I thought I might be able to find a new perspective that could help me change things. And what did I find?” He sighed. “The people here view anyone who’s an outsider as a... beast of sorts. I was shocked. Even though our cultures and beliefs are different, our two lands have that much in common. That’s when I realised… the only way to change things is to bring the whole world together, and start anew.”

“Start anew?” Byleth asked, leaning back and looking sideways at him.

“To unify the Alliance, then all of Fodlan… to bring a new set of values to the land… but also to break open the borders and let a new perspective come rushing in. A total start over!”

His eyes were flashing with determination as he stared up at the night sky, but then he let out a weak laugh and looked back at her in amusement. 

“Do you think that’s just a crazy pipe dream? Or a brilliant ambition?”

“It might be crazy, but I think you can do it,” she replied, smiling back at him. His eyes twinkled.

“Not too long ago, I would have said that it was too ambitious to accomplish on my own. But that’s not how I feel anymore, because I have you on my side now,” he said, winking at her. “I have to admit, I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about how I wouldn’t have made it this far without you.”

“You made it five years without me,” Byleth reminded him. His expression dropped, and he looked back out at the view in front of them.

“Don’t remind me.”

“Sorry.”

She paused. He’d spoken at length, on several occasions now, as to what she meant to him and how valuable she was. At first, it had come across like he was using her, but she didn’t feel like that anymore. After all, he was valuable to her , too - there was no way she’d have gotten this far without him either. At least, it didn’t feel like it. If she thought back to all of her days and time spent at Garreg Mach, imagining it all without Claude…  seemed so lonely. A new feeling took hold of her heart - one of appreciation. But it was more than that. It was the way he spoke of his ambitions to lead a better world; the way he looked as he stared up at the stars; and the way he looked at her. 

“You and I can do anything. Go anywhere.” 

He looked back at her, and Byleth suddenly found herself hyper-aware of how close their hands were sitting on the stone floor.

“I hope that you always walk in step with me, you know. At least until the day comes when we can look out at the peaceful world we’ve built. Together.” 

Together.  

 

“Professor, Claude - here you are!” 

Leonie arrived at the top of the stairs, completely out of breath. Both of them turned in surprise to look at her. 

“We’re under attack!” 

Chapter Text

The Empire had gotten word of the Alliance taking hold of Garreg Mach. Claude wasn’t surprised, since according to him, ‘nothing gets past that woman.’ Perhaps Edelgard had known. What she didn’t know, however, was Byleth’s return. Byleth  wondered how it would be facing off with her once again. She hadn’t had the taste for revenge on her tongue in so long, but now it was back, tenfold. In a way, she’d never completed avenging Jeralt’s death; her falling off the cliff five years ago had absolutely been thanks to Edelgard, but at least she’d survived to fight again. Jeralt was gone. There were no second chances. 

The sun was quickly rising as they got down the hill to the ruins of the town where the empire soldiers had reached.  The Imperial vanguard was apparently being led by a man named General Randolph, and his plan - according to Shamir’s reconnaissance - was to simply overwhelm them with numbers. Even so, they didn’t have anything close to the numbers they’d had the first time. Byleth was confident that Garreg Mach would not fall a second time.

“They’re trying to beat us with numbers. So we’ll fight fire… with actual fire,” Claude said decisively. Byleth had heard him plotting some sort of plan using explosives and fire, but there hadn’t been time for him to brief her on the details. As usual, all she could do was trust that he knew what he was doing. Not only did they have to push forward, but also had to make sure no enemies could get to their backlines and infiltrate the monastery; so Byleth asked that Catherine and Petra stay as guard for the two paths uphill.

“We’re almost ready for the fire attack,” Claude said to Byleth after dispatching one of the pegasus knights that threatened to attack her. “We just need their attention.”

“I feel like we already have it,” Byleth replied, wincing as she narrowly dodged an incoming fireball from an enemy mage.

“You can’t defeat us with that many soldiers?” Claude suddenly yelled, and Randolph,  leading the opposing vanguard, looked up in surprise. “The Imperial Army is doomed without a capable general!”

“Quiet!” Randolph yelled back, “Don’t think you’ll get away with mocking me! Attack! Make sure they never speak again!”

The knights surrounding Randolph advanced, axes at the ready. Byleth took a hesitant step backwards, and was grateful she did, as Claude called out the order - “Now!”

Explosions littered the ground in front of them, stretched across the entire attacking line. Fire lit in the grass and the rubble on bundles of wood that had been hidden away. The knights armor, gleaming white hot in the sun, began to turn into hot deathbeds for the enemy soldiers instead of their life-saving protection. 

Over the burning, Byleth could barely hear Randolph command all the units to retreat.

“If we let them escape, they’ll just come back to attack later. Take them out!” Claude called. Even with fire burning underfoot, Byleth went ahead to help the winged members of their team take down the offending soldiers, as the archers and mages helped from afar. When they pushed through to Randolph, he readied himself for combat, silver axe ginting in the light of daybreak as the sun peeked over Garreg Mach’s stone walls.

Lysithea was the first to hit him. The magic not only sent him staggering backwards, it also healed her somewhat, which was a welcome relief to Byleth after seeing the burn marks on the bottom of her robe. All of them would need a trip to the infirmary after this; and a fair amount of aloe. 

Claude struck at Randolph with a well-placed arrow, and Byleth, with a silver sword at the ready, knocked Randolph to the ground and plunged it into his chest. He coughed out blood, stammered something she didn’t quite catch, and then fell limp. It was gruesome, maybe. She wasn't happy about killing someone she could have been friends with in another life. Someone who was defending his own family, his own ideals. But they were defending the monastery, and sending a message to Edelgard. This is what awaits you for all that you've done.

 

All of them met in the reception hall later that night, to go over their next move.

“We won without much incident, thanks to all of you,” Claude said gratefully to the group. 

“Your fire attack was ingenious,” Alois commended him. “The Empire will think twice before ever marching on Garreg Mach again! But now they know we’re on the move; what do you plan to do?”

“I intend to ask the Alliance lords to share some troops with us, to bolster our forces,” Claude replied. 

“I will speak plainly-” Lorenz interjected -”no matter whom we beseech for reinforcements, our envoys will inevitably pass through Gloucester territory. My father is being cautious not to give the Empire any pretext to intervene. He is unlikely to allow even envoys to pass through.”

“What about the Kingdom?” Byleth asked, looking to Claude. 

“I guess I didn’t tell you yet,’ he sighed. “There… was a bloody coup. Both the King Regent and Prince Dimitri… apparently the whole family was killed.”

Her heart sank. Surely Dimitri had deserved better than that - surely the Kingdom, any people of Fodlan, deserved better than that.

“All Blaiddyd territory, including the Kingdom capital, is being ruled by those cooperating with the Empire.”

“Oh - I know someone we can ask!” Hilda suddenly piped up, looking at Claude with the same mischievous look Byleth knew him so well for. “She’s close, and on good terms with Claude…”

“The hero of Daphnel!” Lysithea realised aloud.

“Lady Judith?” Leonie said with a smile. 

“I bet she would lend us a hand,” Marianne agreed. Byleth smiled; Judith certainly had the girls’ approval. And she had to admit, she was a fan of Lady Judith’s as well, even if just thanks to their brief meeting so long ago. She had Claude all figured out, and that was a feat in its own right.

“She’s a fearsome one-woman army,” Claude agreed. “She did a lot for me, even before I was recognized as heir to House Riegan. I don’t like the idea of owing her anymore than I already do, but...given the situation, sacrifices must be made. I’ll reach out to her. As for the rest of you, prepare for the next battle.”

 

In the following days, Byleth couldn’t help noticing Marianne becoming increasingly… nervous. She was always pretty timid and easily spooked, but it was noticeably worse, and she wasn’t even going out around the monastery as much as usual. When Byleth spotted her one day being harassed by a random man, she ran to see what was going on.

“There’s no reason to feign ignorance! I know all about you! Just come here!”

“Professor!” Marianne exclaimed, as Byleth stood in front of Marianne and rested one hand on the hilt of her sword. The stranger let out a frustrated sigh.

“Don’t interfere. Just hand her over.”

“No,” Byleth replied. What was this guy’s problem?

“Fine! I’m telling you this for your own good. You’re putting yourself in danger by associating with her. Do you know of the Wandering Beast stalking the woods in the Edmund territory? It is said that it attacks people every night, and drags them off to feast! The true identity of that beast… is that girl right there!”

Byleth froze. The man was clearly expecting some sort of shocking revelation on her behalf, but she merely smiled instead. 

“Marianne? You’re kidding, right?” 

The man was silent. Byleth sighed.

“I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

“No matter,” he replied quietly, “I’ll get the evidence I need.”

As he left, Marianne let out a shaky breath.

“I’m sorry for getting you involved in that. That man… has been following me since my father disappeared. He’s a Crest scholar.”

“And why is he following you?” Byleth asked, turning to face her.

“The Crest that my father bore and was passed down to me… it was Maurice’s Crest. Also known as the Crest of the Beast. It’s said that there were twelve elites who saved Fodlan. The King of Liberation, Nemesis - the ten elites - and finally… Maurice. But one day, he suddenly transformed into a beast, and slaughtered innocent people. It was like what happened to Miklan. The people of Fodlan grew to despise him, and he was stripped of his honor.”

Her gaze fell to the floor, and she clasped her hands in front of her. 

“The rumor goes that anyone who bears his Crest is burdened with misfortune… and that those who carry the Crest become beasts at night, and slaughter innocent people.”

“...So, what that man mentioned earlier-”

“The wandering beast in the woods. People are saying the creature is similar in appearance to Maurice’s bestial form.”

“If it’s defeated, would the rumor be dispelled?”

“Yes, but I doubt I could do it on my own. Professor, would you and some of the others… come with me?”

“Of course!” Byleth replied. Marianne smiled softly back at her, her shoulders relaxing.

“Thank you. Promise me, though, to not tell anyone about my Crest?”

“I promise,” Byleth agreed; and with that, she began gathering some of the others for a nighttime beast brawl.

 

When they arrived in the forest in Edmund territory, all was covered in a thick fog. Visibility was so poor that the group of them consistently bumped into each other as they were walking. Byleth tried to keep a close eye on everyone, but Marianne was so determined to see things through that she powered on ahead - until she was no longer within sight. 

“Shit,” Claude cursed. “She’s somewhere in the trees ahead. I think I can hear her.”

“You…”

Shivers ran through Byleth’s body. That voice was not human. It was definitely from a beast, and a big one at that, and the sound of it echoed through the otherwise silent forest. There was no other life to speak of here.

“Do you bear our Crest? For what purpose did you come here?”

“It must be talking to Marianne!” Claude said, looking sideways to Byleth. She nodded, but as she began to lead the way forward, it became clear that there were other creatures slinking around the forest; and none of them very small.

“Stay close. Get ready,” Byleth called. Petra and Hilda took the lead atop their wyverns; Felix and Sylvain were on the perimeter; Mercedes and Ignatz traveled alongside behind the rest of them, and Leonie and Claude stayed in the back, firing countless arrows into every beast they came across. Their numbers seemed endless.

“Everyone, please be careful!” 

It was Marianne’s voice, calling out from the trees. At least she hadn’t been hurt.

“This is the den of demonic beasts,” the same voice from before came shuddering through the trees. “You will be lucky to make it out alive.”

As they continued pushing their way through dense trees and demonic beasts, Sylvain was hit with a brutal attack. A boulder came flying into him from the trees. He fell off his horse, but Felix managed to catch him; both of them hit the ground in a heap. Byleth looked back at them worriedly; a limp Sylvain was laying in Felix’s arms; and so she shut her eyes, and turned it back. She was trembling somewhat when she returned to just a few minutes prior, hitting at a beast with her sword and then whipping back around to face the two men on the perimeter.

“Fall in,” she called to them, “now!” 

Despite their initial surprise, both of them did so, and the boulder crashed into the trees near Sylvain instead. His horse reared, and he and Felix both came closer to the group as they were slowly surrounded by beasts creeping out from the trees. Byleth turned to Claude. He was looking at her curiously, but there was no time to chat.

“Professor!” 

It was Marianne, flying in on her pegasus. She’d found them. They must have been close. 

“The wandering beast’s true form - could it be - oh, sorry, I need to focus!” 

She sent a magic attack at the beast near Sylvain, and he and Felix managed to finish it off. With that done, Byleth was relieved she could at least focus on the two beasts ahead of them. With help from Hilda, they fell - and then the forest fell eerily silent again.

A shape was moving in the fog ahead of them. It was twice as big as the other beasts. Slowly, it took heavy steps towards them, its countless teeth glinting in what moonlight could penetrate the forest canopy. 

“That looks just like Miklan when he turned into a black beast,” Claude observed, holding his bow at the ready. “Could a Heroes’ Relic be at play here?”

“Hero…” the beast repeated, “there is a word that takes me back.”

“Takes you back?” Claude said, lowering his bow slightly. “You- are you-”

“After so long, I cannot speak of it.” 

No, Byleth thought to herself - that can’t be Maurice, after all these years? She looked at Claude, who had a look in his eyes that told her he was thinking the same thing. Even so, he steeled himself, lifting failnaught and firing off a volley of arrows to begin the fight. The beast roared in agony as they pierced his thick scaling skin.

A brutal battle ensued. Byleth and the others did their best to keep the beast stunned, but he had what seemed like unending endurance. Only once did he manage to strike a blow on all of them; his claws swiped through the group that had gathered in front. Claude vaulted off his wyvern to avoid them, Felix ducked, but Petra and Hilda were both sent down to the ground. Byleth waited to make sure they were okay; two thumbs up came up from beneath the wyvern’s wings. Good, she thought - we can end this.

She whipped her sword out, glowing and crackling with power, and sent it at the heart of the black beast even as it reared up for another attack. Its defenses were open. All she needed was a clean hit - and clean it was. She felt the sword pierce him, and she held tight to the hilt with both hands as it broke through his heart - his Crest - and then the sword, job finished, came flying back to one piece as always.

“...well done,” the beast breathed, crashing into the ground. “Finally, this nightmare of a thousand years is at its end. Inheritor of my Crest - if this body is to decay, then the sword… I leave to you.”

Swirling crest magic dissipated from the beast’s body as it slowly disintegrated into nothing. All that was left was a pile of bones, unmistakably human - and a sword. Marianne’s trembling hands picked it up, curved and jagged, with a crest stone glimmering in the hilt. 

“Marianne-”

“Maurice,” she said quietly, holding the sword and looking down at the skeleton left laying in the dust, “spent a thousand years wandering these woods, suffering for his murderous past.”

“Maurice… himself?” Claude said in disbelief, walking over with Hilda’s arms linked around her shoulders. She'd been injured, but looked like she'd be okay.

“I feel as though my curse has been lifted,” Marianne continued, clenching the hilt of the sword tightly. Her light brown eyes lifted to Byleth, glimmering with a new light. “Thank you, Professor.”

Chapter Text

It took much longer than expected to get a reply from Judith. They didn’t have an endless supply of food, so dinners were rationed, and everything was cut back. Raphael was the most outwardly upset about this, but it would have been a lie to say that others hadn’t been affected as well. Just when morales were about to fall to new lows, however, Claude called a meeting. When Byleth arrived, her footsteps echoed in the otherwise silent chapel. It was also noticeably empty, save for Claude, standing at the far end of the room.

“Where is everyone?” Byleth asked as she came to stand next to him.

“I told them a later time. I have something to ask you, first,” he said, turning to face her and resting his hands on his hips. She looked at him expectantly, and waited. “It’s about the battle in the woods the other day.”

“What about it?”

“You told Sylvain and Felix to fall in, right before a beast that we didn’t know was there attacked,” he said, watching her intently. “It was like you knew it was going to happen.”

She tensed, but only for a moment. She remembered the look he’d given her after it had happened. Nothing got past him, did it?

“In fact, you always seem to have a good idea of the enemy’s next move. Honestly, until now, I chalked it up to just good battle sense. But that fog was impenetrable,” he continued, shaking his head. “We had no idea where the beasts were. I guess what I’m asking is… how did you know?”

Byleth looked up at the tall stained glass windows, filtering through soft, colourful sunlight into the chapel. Time to tell him.

“Do you remember when I first met you and Dimitri and Edelgard, that night you were attacked by bandits? Their leader tried to attack Edelgard at the very end, but I stopped him.”

“How could I forget?” Claude replied, smiling. “That was the first time I ever saw you in action.”

“Well, the first time he tried to attack Edelgard, I didn’t get there in time. He would have killed me, if it weren’t for Sothis.”

“What? You mean the goddess, Sothis?”

“Everything stopped when his axe came down,” Byleth replied, nodding. “She gave me the power to turn time back. It’s how I knew exactly what was going to happen.”

“You’re telling me, every time we’re in battle-” Claude trailed off, his eyes wide in disbelief.

“No, it has limited use. I don’t like to rely on it, which is why I never told anyone,” she interrupted him. She met his eyes and frowned. “I don’t actually know how many times I could use it before I couldn’t anymore. I don’t want to find out.”

“So… when have you had to?” Claude pushed, clearly too curious for his own good. She didn’t blame him.

“Besides the very first, three times. In the woods for Sylvain, in Remire for Leonie, and...” Byleth said, dropping her gaze to the floor as she remembered the last, “...to try to save Jeralt.”

“Try?”

“When I turned it back, that dark mage arrived to stop my attack, to protect Moni- Kronya,” she corrected herself. “It was like he knew what I was capable of.”

“So - Sylvain and Leonie-”

Byleth merely lifted her gaze back to his. She didn’t want to say it. Thinking about how they’d looked hurt too much. She had always thought herself to be numb to those things, to not let death get to her. But seeing them… seeing Jeralt… made her distinctly aware of how much it hurt. And she had a feeling it was better to feel the hurt than to not. 

Claude’s expression fell. His shoulders relaxed, and he reached forward to her hesitantly to rest a hand on her shoulder, giving her a reassuring squeeze. If she was being honest with herself, it felt good to get it off her chest; to share it, finally, with someone else.

“Thank you.”



Chatter from the monastery doors distracted them, and they turned to see some of the knights and the other Golden Deer members arriving.

“Lady Judith has agreed to send us soldiers and supplies,” Claude announced once they were all gathered, to many sudden smiles and cheers. “As for where we’re going to receive this delivery, well…”

He trailed off, and lifted up the letter from Judith, which he began reading: “As this is a request from none other than the leader of the Alliance, I wish that I could send troops at once. However, openly marshaling soldiers within my territory could provoke other members of the alliance. Therefore, I will secretly gather troops in Ailell, the Valley of Torment. Will your group be able to receive the soldiers at this location? From there, it should be safe to return to the monastery by following the border between the Kingdom and Alliance.”

“...Ailell?” Byleth asked. The Valley of Torment. Cheerful name.

“Ailell is on the border between Daphnel territory and the Kingdom. It’ll make sense when we get there, but it’s a peculiar region. If we use that valley, we shouldn’t have to worry about being noticed by other Alliance lords.” 

“I recall there being a scary legend about it,” Marianne said quietly. Anywhere with a name like that must have had at least a couple scary legends, Byleth figured. 

“Let’s get going so we can get our food supplies faster!” Raphael suggested eagerly; she’d never seen him so excited to go on a mission before, but it was true that morale among the monastery was beginning to falter. They needed the help.

 

When they arrived at the valley, Byleth was shocked. She’d never seen such a landscape in her life. The ground was molten, and lakes of lava littered the region, bubbling and boiling and shifting the ground. It was certainly desolate; and a good place to hide.

“Ugh, I’m all sweaty,” Hilda complained as they arrived at the base of the valley. Byleth had sweat on her brow, too. No one seemed particularly happy to be there, but it had to be done, and then they could go back to the monastery, food and assistance in tow. 

 “I remember the legend now!” Marianne exclaimed suddenly. “It’s said that the goddess let loose a pillar of light from the heavens that completely destroyed the forest that used to be here.”

“What? That doesn’t sound characteristic of our oh-so-benevolent goddess,” Claude replied. 

“Well, it’s what the legend would have us believe… but it’s not recorded in any of the scriptures.”

“Either it’s completely made up, or the goddess is some sort of monster,” Claude said. But there was no time to continue wondering; Cyril’s head lifted suddenly, and Byleth followed his gaze to further in the valley where new figures were silhouetted against the red, cloudy sky. They were unmistakably soldiers. 

“That banner does not bear the Daphnel Crest,” Lorenz observed. 

“If memory serves…” Claude trailed off, eyes narrowing towards the newcomers, “that’s the crest of House Rowe, formerly lords in the Kingdom. They sided with the Empire without hesitation during the coup. Now here they are… lying in wait for us.” 

“House Rowe is mediocre and vulgar, but their knights are supposedly quite powerful,” Lorenz sighed.

“What about the Daphnel soldiers?” Hilda suddenly exclaimed, looking worried. 

“It takes more than that to take down Judith and her soldiers. Let’s prepare for battle!” he looked sideways to Byleth with a confident smile. “I leave the command in your capable hands, my friend.” 

The enemy commander was an older, gruff looking man. Among the ranks of soldiers that readied themselves throughout the canyon, Byleth recognized one of the archers.

“No way,” Sylvain breathed.

“It’s Ashe,” Felix said solemnly. Byleth’s heart lurched. She didn’t want to have to hurt him, but he was up at the front, holding his bow at the ready and looking to them in determination. She exchanged a look with Claude, and his jaw was set. They’d have to do whatever had to be done - especially with Judith and her soldiers on the line. 

“Let’s go, and watch your step,” Byleth warned. Deadly steam and lava and fire was bursting up from cracks in the earth; standing atop it would be sure to cause some damage and wear them out faster. They’d have to be smart. She could see that the path ahead of them split into two, so she sent the fliers - Claude, Petra, Hilda, and Marianne - decidedly away from Ashe, and sent Lysithea and Lorenz along with them to help with the armored knights. Meanwhile, her, Sylvain, Felix, and Leonie moved north. They’d have to be quick crossing the molten ground in order to not be burned, but this did mean facing the risk of Ashe’s arrows hitting them first.

Sylvain took an arrow to his leg as they advanced. Byleth had to wonder if Ashe had intentionally missed his head or his chest, but it was impossible to tell; even if that was the case, there’d be no holding back. But she wasn’t about to make his old housemates do the dirty work, so she took the lead.

“I don’t want to fight you, Professor…” Ashe said with a frown as she approached, sword at the ready. “But there’s no turning back.”

Apparently not, Byleth thought to herself as she whipped the sword towards Ashe from afar. He sent an arrow back in return - it hit her square in the shoulder, but her sword made contact. He was thrown up and onto the ground. At least it had been fast.

“I know this is the end,” he choked, “but I don’t want to die.”

He struggled for only a moment before falling still. Byleth let out a shaky breath, sheathing her sword and looking back at Leonie, Felix, and Sylvain. All of them pressed forward without looking. It was better that way.

Byleth and her squad caught up with the others when they circled back around the winding cliffs looming perilously over the endless lava. Lysithea was already taking aim at Gwendall, the enemy commander; miasma struck at him from every angle, but Lorenz was the one who ran in with the final hit with a lance from horseback. 

“Ah, so I have found a place to die,” the old man coughed out as his armor was pierced. “Thank you… young ones.”

Why is he thanking us?   Byleth wondered, but she wasn’t entirely surprised. There had always been those who had a horribly casual view on war and death, and perhaps that made it easier for them to accept it when it came, instead of focusing on the gravitas and heartbreak of it. But there certainly was a stark difference between him, who had already seen most of what life had to offer him, and Ashe… who should have had plenty of life left to live.

Judith approached them from the other side as the House Rowe knights began to fall - at least, those that hadn’t been able to get away.

“To think we’d get into a scrap here, of all places,” she laughed, wiping sweat from her brow as she greeted them. “Long time no see, Professor! Are you still watching this boy’s back?”

“Can you quit calling me a boy in front of everyone?” Claude complained. Byleth smiled. She’d missed Judith’s take-no-prisoner stance towards him. “I’m the leader of the Alliance now! It’s not proper-”

“Not proper, says the leader who has neglected Alliance territory for years,” Judith interrupted, lifting her eyebrows at him. “If you’re really the Master Tactician, you should go back to working quietly at whatever little desk you do your planning on.”

“Don’t call me that, either,” Claude groaned, rubbing his forehead. “Who even came up with that nickname?”

“I think it’s the perfect title for a boy that loves crafty schemes as much as you do. You know, you should be grateful to the professor. On your own, you’d look like a scoundrel of a leader,” Judith quipped back. Hilda let out a laugh.

“Claude’s usually so flippant, but even he gets overwhelmed when Judith is around,” she giggled. Byleth glanced sideways to Claude; he looked only the tiniest bit flustered, and even seeing just that was fun enough. 

“As expected from the leader of the prestigious House Daphnel,” Lorenz agreed. “Her dignity is beyond compare, even if she is no longer one of the Five Great Lords.”

“Thanks for the exposition, Gloucester boy,” Judith snapped, and then continued even as Lorenz gasped- “now, to business. There were some hiccups along the way, but I have soldiers and supplies in tow.”

“Thanks, Judith. I’ll gladly take them off your hands,” Claude said, relieved.

“Hold your horses, boy. These soldiers are precious to me. I made them what they are. I’m not about to loan them out to someone.”

“You’re not? Then why did you come out here?”

“What I’m saying is that I’ll be joining your army,” Judith replied with a confident smile. “You’re fighting the Empire, right? Not without me.”

“What of your territory?” Claude asked.

“What of yours?” Judith replied offhandedly. 

“That’s- I’ve left mine in the hands of a reliable retainer,” he stammered, suddenly defensive.

“And I’ve asked that retainer to watch over Daphnel territory as well,” Judith answered calmly, much to Claude’s chagrin.

“You asked my retainer to do that without even asking me? No respect, this one,” Claude sighed, shaking his head. 

“No objections, then?” Judith asked, smirking. “Good. House Daphnel is yours to command.”

Chapter Text

With Judith joining their forces, they had gained some more troops and allies, albeit not many. Claude seemed confident that they could secure more troops and supplies thanks to the new support, his plan being to gather House Daphnel and Riegan’s armies north of Count Gloucester’s territory in order to draw him north… so they could then take over the bridge of Myrddin, securing Gloucester territory from the threat of the Empire. Lorenz, incredibly, had agreed to not tip off his father of their plan. For all of his talk about being a noble gentleman over the years, he was finally beginning to live up to it. He was putting Fodlan first, just like the rest of them.

The plan sounded good. Putting it into action was something else entirely. But so far, Byleth had gone along with all of Claude’s schemes, and had seen all of them succeed. For all the faith he had in her, she believed in him just as strongly. 

With Cyril and Shamir in tow, they reached the bridge of Myrddin. Byleth had never seen it, but as they spotted it on the Airmid river, with sunlight peeking down in rays through dark storm clouds that sat heavy above the water, she nearly shivered. It was massive. She’d seen big forts and towers and keeps before, but this bridge… it was intimidating. It would prove difficult to storm, especially if it was an important place for the Empire to hold.

“There aren’t bridges that big in Almyra, that’s for sure,” Cyril exclaimed, burgundy eyes wide in surprise. Claude smiled sideways at him

“Defenses will be tough,” he warned them. “It’s an incredibly strategic location.”

“Let’s finish this quickly,” Byleth said. Lysithea, from beside her, nodded eagerly.

“You’re right. The enemy’s guard should be down. Let’s end it before they have a chance to retaliate!”

Sure, Byleth thought to herself - and I’m just already excited for it to be over. 

According to Shamir’s reconnaissance and Claude’s research, the enemy general was a woman named Ladislava, one of Edelgard’s most trusted. To make matters worse, Ferdinand was also stationed here. As awful as it might have been to admit, Byleth had a feeling she wouldn’t feel as bad cutting down Ferdinand as she had Ashe. 

They began the attack quickly, but reinforcements came in the form of an Alliance noble named Acheron. Claude had no issue with killing him, seeing as he was already a traitor, and given his chance to join them, turned it down. But his forces were powerful nonetheless. Byleth did her best to keep everyone grouped up as they slowly battled past enemies and healed their own wounds simultaneously, thanks to Marianne and Mercedes. The first fortress was an easy enough capture; laying ahead in wait, however, were demonic beasts, Ferdinand, and Ladislava herself.

Byleth approached Ferdinand herself first; she didn’t want the others to have to kill any former students if she could avoid it. She knew it was hard on them. But Claude and his wyvern landed in front of her first, and he glanced back at her with his bow in hand.

“I’ll get him. You get Ladislava.”

She paused, but then nodded, running beneath the wings of his wyvern as he took back off and headed for the general instead as Claude flew straight for Ferdinand, with Hilda close behind. They were a fearsome pair, but Byleth didn’t bother to listen close as she heard Ferdinand’s yells echoing across the bridge. She had her sights set on the general, who was atop a wyvern herself.

“To repay her Majesty’s favor,” Ladislava began, as Byleth approached, “I will not let you pass!”

Her favor?

“Then I can’t let you live,” Byleth warned.

“Ladislava! Retreat! Tell Edelgard of this,” Ferdinand called suddenly; he’d been struck down by Claude, and took a staggering step towards them, but fell to one knee. Byleth looked to Ladislava, whose eyes widened as she looked upon Ferdinand. Claude readied another arrow.

“We’ve already sent a messenger-” Ladislava protested. “I can’t flee while you die!”

“Then - even if I die - please protect the bridge!” Ferdinand pleaded, and a second later, an arrow from Claude went straight into his neck. He fell to the ground, and Claude and his wyvern, along with the others, began closing in on Ladislava. Byleth watched as she shut her eyes tight and then looked back at her with a new fire.

“Even if it costs me my life, I will protect this bridge to the end,” she swore. Byleth frowned, whipping her sword out and steeling herself.

“You’ve made your choice.”

Ladislava set things off by flying at her, axe at the ready; Byleth prepared herself and tried to dodge, but the edge of the axe hit her anyways, slamming into her shoulder and sending her skidding back. Instead of moving away, she braced herself as it stuck into her skin, and glared up at Ladislava, who stared down at her confidently. But as Byleth lifted her sword and sent it flying up her way, there was no way for her to dodge; she was sent right off the top of her wyvern as the relic pierced her armor and through. There was no chance for any last words.

Byleth fell backwards, the axe still stuck into her body, and hit the stone floor of the bridge painfully as her sword returned to one piece. Some of the others took it upon themselves to clean up any stragglers still standing, and Claude dismounted his wyvern and rushed to her side.

“Byleth!”

“I’m okay,” she assured him, wincing as she looked up. “Can you get this thing off -um, out of me?”

“It’s going to hurt,” he warned her. Mercedes skidded to a stop on the bridge beside them, worry bright in her eyes.

“Professor! Oh dear- Claude, if you pull it out, I’ll get ready to patch the wound.”

“Alright,” he agreed warily, taking the axe with two hands and readying himself as Byleth shut her eyes. When he pulled, it was agony, but a moment later the strange numbness of healing magic washed over the wound. She let out a relieved breath, sweat on her brow. Ladislava’s axe clattered to the ground, and Claude linked an arm under Byleth’s, helping to lift her to her feet.

“Don’t scare me like that,” he said, quiet so only she could hear. She struggled to regain her footing on the cobblestones, and held tight to his shoulder. 

“Sorry,” she mumbled, glancing up at him. The frustration in his eyes quickly faded.

“It’s okay. We just can’t afford to take any risks, not now.”

“That was a calculated risk,” she countered, and he laughed.

“Right. Hang in there.”

 

Byleth was still holding onto him as everyone regrouped. She couldn’t help but notice Hilda smiling at her, more than usual, but tried not to think about it. Her wound was still searing and painful, though much better than it could have been, thanks to Mercedes.

“Well done, everyone. The great bridge of Myrddin is ours.”

“I was prepared for bloodshed, but this was more than I was expecting,” Leonie said quietly. “I guess I’m still not used to this.”

“Even our enemies were fighting for their own cause. They held on without fleeing til the bitter end,” Ignatz said thoughtfully.

“You don’t have to get used to it,” Byleth said, looking at Leonie reassuredly. “I know it’s hard. It’s okay.”

“True. I don’t want to be the sort of person that feels nothing when someone dies,” she replied, looking a little better. “So, what next?”

“I need to return to Alliance territory and convince those lords to join us,” Claude said, and then he looked to Lorenz. “Will you return home for the time being, and lay the groundwork with your father?”

“Fine,” Lorenz agreed. “After all, this is for the Alliance. Or rather, all of Fodlan.”

“For those of you that live in Alliance territories, I ask that you return to your houses, and spread the word. Until we’re done preparations, Judith and the knights will do everything in their power to defend the great bridge.”

“What about me?” Byleth asked, looking up at Claude curiously.

“I was hoping you’d come with me, to help negotiate with the lords,” he replied, glancing down at her, his grasp tightening on her arm. “They’re followers of the Church of Seiros, after all; it’ll make things easier if we have someone there to speak on Rhea’s behalf."

It wasn’t the answer she was expecting, but it made sense enough. Part of her was surprised he didn’t tell her to go back to the monastery and rest up, but she was curious to see the meeting of the Alliance lords. And, if she wasn’t mistaken… this meant traveling alone with him. 

Crap.  

 

She was feeling much better as they made their way east, toward Derdriu. The countryside was beautiful, and it had been a long time since Byleth was awarded the luxury of just enjoying the journey anywhere, so she spent lots of time in silence, soaking it all in. But she could feel Claude’s eyes on her as they walked. Byleth had a theory about his ‘plan’ to bring her along to speak to the alliance lords, but she had to wait til night time to see if she was right or not.

When the sun did begin to set, and no town or village was within sight, she looked expectantly to him and saw him, as expected, lost in thought.

“So, where are we spending the night?”

It was nothing but fields stretched out on either side of the carriageway. The road was at least lined with the occasional tree, but besides that, there was no shelter to speak of. 

“Right here!” he bluffed, gesturing to a big oak tree at the top of a small hill nearby. “Best place to watch the stars within alliance borders.”

He’s a confident liar, I’ll give him that, Byleth thought to herself, smiling as she followed him up the hill. He sat down against the tree trunk and crossed his legs, resting back with a happy sigh.

“Look at that view. Can’t beat it.”

She sat down beside him, resting back against the bark next to him and looking out at the endless rolling hills and stars that blanketed the land below. He was right, it was beautiful; but this couldn’t have been his plan all along. 

“Claude,” she began, “were you really planning on bringing me?”

There was nothing but silence for a few seconds; then Claude sighed.

“You could tell, huh.”

“Why am I really here?”

“I… well, this is embarrassing,” he laughed nervously, running a hand through his hair. Byleth leaned her head back to look at him expectantly. “I wanted to keep an eye on you, after what happened today.”

“You must know by now that I know what I’m doing,” she complained. 

“Of course I do,” he answered, brow furrowing. “I just… still worry. I can’t help it. And once I thought of it, I really do think you’ll help sway the lords to our side at the roundtable.”

“Okay, but that wasn’t your first reason?” Byleth pushed. Claude let out a frustrated breath.

“No, it wasn’t. Happy now?”

“Yes,” she replied, inching slightly closer to him and resting her head down tentatively on his shoulder. He tensed. “Is this okay?”

“...Yeah,” he replied after a moment, his shoulders relaxing. “Of course.”

She let her eyes fall shut. Something about being with him made her feel safe; beyond safe. Invincible? Or was it that she could have died in that moment, and it would have been okay? The rational part of her knew that wasn’t the case. They had lots to do, and it was ever-looming in the back of her mind. But for just a little, tucked away in the wilderness of the country and far away from everyone and everything, Byleth could imagine that everything was as it should be.

Chapter Text

Byleth woke up slowly. Her cheek was resting still against Claude’s shoulder, and she could feel his cheek on her forehead. His arms were folded across his chest, and she lifted hers slowly to try to stretch them out. His golden cape was strewn across her; he must have put it over her at some point last night, even though it wasn’t really chilly or anything. She tried to lift her head. The sun was peeking up over the hills. They had to get moving.

Claude let out a quiet groan as she tried to pull her head away. He let out a sigh and his head dropped to the other side, which promptly jolted him awake. 

“Good morning,” she greeted him tiredly, stretching her neck one way, then the other. He blinked back at her in surprise as she pulled the cape off of her and handed it to him. “Thanks.”

“Y- you’re welcome,” he stammered. “I was worried you’d be cold.”

“I wasn’t, but that was comfortable,” she admitted, smiling a little. “Sorry I fell asleep on you.”

“Don’t be,” he replied quickly, taking the cape from her and re-attaching it to his shoulder guard. “I’m the one who didn’t plan a proper trip. We can stay at an inn on the way back from the meeting.”

“You’re pretty warm, but an actual pillow would be nice,” Byleth admitted. Claude was silent in return, and when Byleth glanced back at him, she was surprised to see a faint red stain across his cheeks. Oh.

She looked away quickly and began heading back down the hill to the carriageway. No no no - was he blushing? 

It couldn’t be. 

I’m seeing things.  

Her mind was racing as they walked, and Claude’s must have been doing the same, since neither of them said a word for a while. Byleth was trying to do the math in her head. What did the students call it; a crush? When you got blushy and heartracey around someone? But it wasn’t quite like that for her and Claude. He’d had a sort of aura about him she’d noticed since day one, the sort that made her feel vulnerable and open and also compelled to trust him, but that was… that was just Claude, wasn’t it? If she was really being honest with herself and her feelings for him, it was more along the lines of wanting to spend time with him, wanting to learn about him, wanting to open up to him and wanting the same back; complete trust and honesty. And she had to admit, she loved his emerald green eyes and the way he looked at her; the way his face looked when he tilted it up, the way his hair fell back. She liked his arms, and how warm he had been, even last night and feeling his shoulders lift up and down slightly with every breath-

Oh no.

She blushed profusely and stared sideways, out at the mountains, willing for it to go away as they walked. 

“There’ll be snow on the peaks soon enough,” Claude suddenly said, and Byleth nodded, keeping her eyes fixed on the horizon. “Have you ever been outside of Fodlan?”

The heat on her cheeks faded as she considered his question. Maybe conversation could take her mind off of it.

“No,” she replied after a moment, “but I’d like to.”

“When this is all over, you should come meet my parents,” Claude suggested, and when she finally turned back to look at him, he had a faraway look in his eyes and a soft smile on his lips. “You’d like them.”

“You won’t tell me where you’re from, will you?”

His expression fell as he looked back at her.

“It’s okay,” she assured him, hiding her disappointment as best she could. "You don’t have to. As long as you really do think that all of this… will actually end."

“It has to,” he replied breathlessly. “I still have other dreams to chase.”

 

The castle in Derdriu was much less intimidating than Garreg Mach, and Byleth had already decided she liked it as they found their way through a series of small courtyards overflowing with golden flowers and ivy. Claude looked at home here, for the most part; many people stopped to greet them as they passed, and he was obviously well-received. Byleth found herself immediately impressed by how he seemed to know everyone’s name, and how he returned all of their greetings in kind, regardless of the sheer number of them.

When they reached the grand hall of the fortress, a bearded man greeted them, with brown hair slicked back not unlike Claude's, but shorter in length. A scar was struck across his nose and right cheek, and another cut down the left side of his face. He’d clearly seen his fair share of battles. Something about him reminded Byleth of Jeralt. Though he looked intimidating, the first words out of his mouth surprised her.

“Is that you, kiddo?” he greeted Claude, a great smile stretching across his face. Claude cleared his throat.

“I have returned, Nardel,” he said slowly, looking expectantly at the man. Byleth looked sideways at him curiously.

“Ohh- ah,” Nardel stammered, “Master Claude, it’s you. I mistook you for one of the local children. My apologies.”

His tone was suddenly very formal, but it was forced. A smile tugged at Byleth's lips before she could help it. She glanced sideways at Claude to see a less-than-pleased look on his face at the comment about being mistaken for a local child. These two were obviously close; but there was clearly a game at play. She was more than happy to play along. 

“It seems you have adjusted to your work here,” Claude continued, smiling. “Our recent strategy was successful, thanks to you.”

“I was a bit concerned when House Goneril’s army intervened from the east,” Nardel admitted.

“Count Gloucester must have requested reinforcements from them,” Claude sighed. 

“Yes, and they have that young general who won some acclaim from his battles in Almyra… Regardless, they showed no signs of seriously wishing to attack us, and merely fulfilled their obligations to House Gloucester. Now then…” he said, looking warmly to Byleth suddenly, “who is this lovely lady?”

“This is Byleth, my old professor, who I asked to join me at the roundtable conference,” he introduced her, then looked back at her while gesturing to Nardel, “this is Nardel, that retainer Judith was talking about.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” Byleth said with a smile, bowing briefly to Nardel. When she looked back up at him, he was smiling in the same carefree way as earlier.

“How polite! I’ve heard good things about you from Master Claude.”

“All good, I hope,” Byleth said, looking in amusement back at Claude. She couldn't help but be flattered that he'd spoken about her.

“As you can see, he wasn’t born in Fodlan,” Claude said to her with a smile. “Still, trust me when I say he’s highly capable.”

“True! In fact, my capability is my only redeeming quality,” Nardel joked.

Master Claude should know by now that I’m not one to care about the circumstances of someone’s birth,” Byleth said with a light laugh. Nardel’s eyes sparkled knowingly. Byleth was relieved by how much she liked him and Judith; she was suddenly grateful she’d chosen Claude and the Alliance, all those years ago. She wished Jeralt had been able to meet them.

“I hope you’ll continue to look after Master Claude, lady Byleth,” Nardel said with a bow. 

“I will,” she replied assuredly, looking gratefully sideways to Claude. He was looking at her with a new sort of expression, as if he was seeing her for the first time. “We make a good team, after all.”

 

The roundtable conference was held at, sure enough, a massive circular wooden table. Byleth was seated right beside Claude, and it was nerve-wracking to say the least to have four other nobles staring at her expectantly as they prepared to begin the conference. Was she supposed to say anything, or just let Claude do the talking? Now that she thought of it, he hadn’t briefed her at all before they headed in. Once the initial small-talk was done and everyone had taken their seats, Nardel shut the door to the room. Byleth was sure she’d seen him shoot a wink her way before the door closed. 

“I’m sure you all know why we’re here,” Claude began, leaning his chin against his hands as he rested his elbows on the table. “The Empire threatens to destroy Fodlan as we know it, and is willing to take as many lives as they need to to do it. They have to be stopped- no, they have to be destroyed. We have the full strength of the Alliance at our disposal to take them down, not to mention the Knights of Seiros.”

“You’re still sucking up to the knights, huh,” one of the men said, and Byleth recognized him immediately as Hilda’s older brother. It had to be. He had darker rose-pink eyes than hers, a sharp nose and tousled pink hair in a messy style not unlike Sylvain’s. A scar on his jawline traced all the way down his neck, disappearing under the collar of his armor. “Don’t tell me my sister is still with you.”

“That she is,” Claude replied firmly. “Hilda has grown. I’m excited for you to see her when all of this is over, Holst.”

“Hah!” Holst laughed, leaning back in his chair and resting his feet up on the table in front of Count Gloucester, who looked entirely disgusted. “I’ll bet she isn’t. But the faster this is done, the faster she’ll come home, I bet. How’s my axe?”

“Terrifying as ever,” Claude replied with a smile. Byleth thought briefly of the strange relic Hilda had gotten her hands on. It had to be the same size as her, and seeing her kill people with it was… well, it was something.

“Pardon my rudeness for intruding, but I must ask,” Count Gloucester interjected, leaning forward on the table and calmly removing Holst’s feet as he did so, “just who is this young woman you decided to bring along with you? Surely not your date? If this were a social event, I would have RSVP’d my own plus one.”

Byleth had to stop her jaw from dropping. So that was where Lorenz got it from. The count had the same lilac hair as Lorenz, and though it was fading a bit from old age, he still looked pretty good for an old man. It would be a long time before Lorenz took over the house.

“This,” Claude said, resting a hand on Byleth’s shoulder, “is Byleth, Lady Rhea’s appointed successor for the Church of Seiros.”

Something in the room changed, but what it was, Byleth couldn’t be sure. Count Gloucester’s eyes lit up as he looked upon her.

“My oh my... Lorenz did mention you. And what is it that you have to say?”

“Me?” Byleth asked, glancing to Claude. He looked sideways at her and nodded reassuringly.

“We- the Alliance is Fodlan’s last hope at peace,” she began. “The Empire is fighting for power, but we’re fighting for the people. We’re on the right side of history, I’m sure of it. We just need your help to see it through.”

Silence. Claude’s fingers squeezed her shoulder ever-so-slightly, and then he stood up. 

“All we need is support. I have the plans to make it happen, but the Leicester Alliance is nothing without combined forces working together for a common goal,” he said. “So what’ll it be?”

“I would love nothing more than to do my part in supporting you and the church,” Count Gloucester said, after a moment. He leaned back in his chair and crossed his legs. “Just tell me when.”

“I guess I’m in too,” Holst said with a sigh, resting one cheek in his hand and staring at Byleth across the table. She blinked. “You’ve sold me.”

Edmund and Ordelia agreed without much consequence then, and it was decided. They’d done it. The Alliance... was allied again. 

 

Heavy grey clouds swept over the ports at Derdriu as Claude and Byleth walked along the docks. Byleth couldn’t take her eyes off of the sea. It was a beautiful, endlessly dark blue, and high tide crashed relentlessly onto the stone walls of the city, tossing the ships in harbor like toys up and down and spraying cool ocean mist with the break of every wave.

“You’ve seen the sea before, haven’t you?” Claude asked, hands resting behind his head as they walked.

“From afar,” Byleth replied, still staring out at the horizon. “Not this close."

“Do you like it?”

“Yes,” she said, without a second thought. “I could stare at it forever.”

“That’s what my mother used to say,” Claude said with a laugh. “Out of everything she missed from Derdriu, the sea was the biggest one.”

“She’s from Derdriu?” Byleth asked, finally looking back to him.

“She… was the daughter of my grandfather, the late Duke Riegan,” he explained. “She left Fodlan to be with the man she fell in love with. My father.”

“Not many people leave Fodlan,” Byleth mused, clasping her hands behind her back. “He must be quite the man.”

“He is,” Claude replied, evidently being careful not to give too much away. “But he’s not as ambitious as her or I. You’d like him.”

“Why’s that?”

“How do I put it…” Claude pondered, putting a hand to his chin in thought as they paused at the end of the dock. “He’s pretty charming. He lets off this energy that makes you feel like everything is going to be okay. Like it doesn’t have to all be so serious all the time. It used to drive me crazy, but I can appreciate his mindset more now.”

“He sounds a lot like you,” Byleth said thoughtfully, looking at Claude honestly as he glanced back at her in surprise.

“How do you figure that? Honestly, I pride myself on being more ambitious and serious than him, even if it’s not saying much.”

“The other part,” Byleth said, shaking her head. “The part where he makes you feel like everything is going to be okay.”

His expression, once again, was hard to read. For a while there since she’d returned, he had been completely open, but just lately she was seeing it again in his eyes where something was hidden; something just under the surface. He looked like he wanted to say something, but also like he wasn’t sure of it himself. Am I being too honest?  

“I’m glad I- I’m glad, then,” he said quietly, turning to look out at the sea. “I want to think that everything is going to be okay, too."

Chapter Text

By the time they returned to the monastery, everyone else was back, too. Shamir and Judith interrupted a war council meeting at the chapel to inform them that troops were being gathered at Fort Merceus, and in massive numbers.

“Their army is immense,” Shamir warned. “Likely led by a renowned general. Or perhaps even-”

“Edelgard,” Byleth said, without thinking. Claude grinned. 

“Well now, that would be interesting. If we can defeat her, the Empire will collapse.”

Easier said than done.

“There’s more. An unidentified army has approached the bridge of Myrddin,” Judith said. “They passed through Daphnel and Goucester territories from the northwest with incredible speed. They’re raising the banner of House Blaiddyd. Perhaps they’re remnants of the Faerghus royal family… from what we could tell, they posed no threat to citizens of the Alliance, so we refrained from engaging them in needless combat.” 

“Maybe they hope to fight against the Empire to avenge their fallen prince…” Claude wondered aloud. “What about the bridge itself?”

“Obviously we wouldn’t let them pass without receiving envoys first,” Judith replied. “They left, and headed east.”

“I’m reluctant to ease up on our surveillance, but it would be difficult to track them there,” Claude sighed. “For now, let’s just assume they’re troops belonging to the old Kingdom. In any case, we should proceed with caution. Soon we’ll be entering Empire territory ourselves. If our enemies are going to intercept us with an attack…”

He trailed off and lifted his gaze upwards as he thought.

“It would be at Gronder Field. How fitting that it was the site of the Battle of the Eagle and Lion five years ago.”


As usual, Claude was right, though Byleth had sort of hoped he wouldn’t be. Gronder Field was a familiar battlefield, but in the early morning light and covered in fog, it wasn’t familiar at all. Nevermind that time hadn’t been as friendly to it. The grass was packed down from so many armies marching over, to and fro, and it had clearly been subjected to many battles over the last five years thanks to its central location. She remembered what Claude had said, five years prior - a good place to wage war. She never could have expected this back then. So much had changed.

It felt like forever waiting for the fog to lift. When it did, the first thing they saw were fireballs headed their way from high up in the sky. They flew into the ranks of Alliance soldiers, but also shone a light on - literally - a third army approaching the field. Even from so far away, Byleth could spot Dimitri’s bright blonde hair, though it was longer now and partially covering an eyepatch. He waved his spear, a terrifying looking relic, in a sweeping motion towards all of them. He was alive. But he didn’t look the same.

“I will crush anyone in my path,” he declared, his piercing blue eyes looking sideways towards the Alliance. 

“As far as big class reunions go, this has got to be the worst in history,” Claude muttered. With her sword at the ready, Byleth looked at him to see a distinct sadness in his eyes. Regardless, he took a few short steps forwards, passing the burning bodies of those who had been hit by the fireballs. 

“Years ago, we fought here as classmates,” Edelgard announced, from the other side of the field. “...but not today.”

Before they had a chance to think about it, it begun. Byleth could see familiar faces dotting the battlefield. This would be nothing like the battle of Eagle and Lion five years prior. Nothing like any of the skirmishes or fights they’d had so far. Claude looked back at her, but didn’t say anything before climbing atop the new wyvern he had been given by Nardel. His armor was new, too; he was stronger than ever, but Byleth still watched worriedly as he took off into the sky. 

She steeled herself, and looked back at the others to see if they were ready. It didn’t really matter. They had no choice. Defeating the most enemies wouldn’t give them a ‘win,’ not today. Surviving meant winning. And even then, she doubted it would feel like a victory at all.

Bernadetta was ahead of them, atop the same giant wooden hill that had been there before. As they made their approach, Byleth could see her trembling. 

“Stay back,” she warned, lifting her bow. “Stay back, or I’ll shoot!” 

Byleth looked to Claude and nodded; he frowned, but readied himself nonetheless, exchanging arrows with her until one finally struck into her heart and sent her toppling down the back of the hill. They would be taking a roundabout way towards Edelgard, but having her out of the occasion was necessary to protect all of those she had on wyverns and pegasi. 

Hilda and Petra had been sent to look after Ingrid, while Leonie and Raphael were headed for Dedue. Sylvain and Felix were helping to pick off the soldiers, and Ignatz, Lysithea, and Lorenz were on the perimeter towards where Edelgard was sending troops after them. Byleth knew they had to finish things quickly to not be caught in a pincer attack, but she couldn’t attack Dimitri in cold blood; not without trying first.

As they approached the Kingdom troops and Dimitri, Byleth lowered her sword.

“We don’t have to fight,” she called. “Can’t we take down Edelgard together?”

“Professor…” Dimitri muttered in a greeting. “It’s too late.”

“What does it achieve, us killing each other here?” Claude called to him, soaring in atop his wyvern. “We could work together!”

“Move,” Dimitri snapped. “I have no time to exchange words with you!”

“You’re not listening, are you?” Claude yelled back. “I’m not budging!”

Dimitri only answered by sending a stream of lightning at Claude, who’s wyvern landed onto the ground with a defiant roar. Byleth could see Claude clutching his chest as electricity wracked through his body, but Marianne was close behind with her magic. Trusting that he’d be safe, she ran past the wyvern and straight for Dimitri.  Her sword clashed with his spear, and he glared daggers at her until his face suddenly went white. His gaze lifted to somewhere over her shoulder.

“Ingrid-” he breathed. 

There was only a split second when he wasn’t holding the spear with his full strength. Byleth pushed back against him and spun, slamming her sword down onto him, with the intent to finish it as fast as possible; but his armor made that difficult. He gasped, staggering back and hitting back with his spear. Crest magic crackled through it and sliced a clean cut on her thigh, even as she fell out of the way. Her sword whipped out and back around; Dimitri glanced back in a panic as it ricocheted back and struck him clean. An arrow, well-placed by Claude, lodged into his chest through a crack in his armor.

“So- be it,” he coughed, the tip of his spear falling to the grass. “My battle - is not with you.”

He left. Byleth had never seen someone so casually abandon a fight before, and it wasn’t the result they’d wanted; why couldn’t he have just joined them? Byleth looked back to see Leonie and Raphael looking just as confused.

“Well, that’s that,” Claude said through clenched teeth. “Edelgard’s up ahead.”

Byleth decided to take the high ground, what with the big wooden hill in the center where Bernadetta had met her fate. Other Empire soldiers were awaiting them there, but as they approached and clambered to the top, explosions shook the earth beneath them. Byleth struggled to keep her footing alongside Felix, who had just cut down an imperial soldier. Fire erupted from underneath the wooden planks. A trap.

“Careful!” Hilda called, her wyvern lifting higher to avoid the flames. At least the fliers were okay. She looked sideways to Felix, who grimaced and backed away from some of the fire. 

But it doesn’t make sense, Byleth thought; there’s still imperial soldiers here!

Edelgard didn’t seem to care. Through the flames, Byleth could see Hubert, smiling from underneath his dark locks as he stood beside her. They wouldn’t be an easy fight, and still, there was more army - and two massive beasts - to push through. She couldn’t let herself get tired. Not with the world on fire beneath her.

“Get off the hill,” she commanded. Claude lifted her atop his wyvern, and Sylvain lifted Felix up on horseback, jumping through the flames. Byleth looked at Claude in surprise as they reached a small set of trees, and he slid down off the back of the wyvern with his bow, patting it reassuringly on the neck.

“I’m going to catch her by surprise,” he said, winking. 

“Be careful,” Byleth urged, hopping off of the wyvern as well and running back out to help the others with the beasts. Hubert’s magic, from afar, was wreaking havoc on them; Marianne and Mercedes struggled to keep up the healing, but finally, they were the only ones left. Byleth made a break for Edelgard, her sword whipping out and soaring towards her. Her chestpiece cracked, and she looked up angrily at Byleth, her lilac eyes wide.

“I knew when next we met, one of our paths would come to an end.”

“You’ve grown lovelier than ever, Edelgard,” came Claude’s voice suddenly. Edelgard turned quickly to catch sight of him, and an arrow whizzed past her cheek and lodged itself in Hubert’s shoulder. 

“You’re not so unfortunate yourself,” she replied, “and you have the aid of the professor. Frankly, I’m jealous. Now’s the chance for you both to leave!”

Byleth hit at Hubert, but Edelgard must have seen through their plan; she intercepted her attack, the sword wrapping around her axe. Dark magic emanated from Hubert’s book. Byleth’s eyes widened; she recognized that magic; Lysithea had the same tome, and it was horrifying. She was expecting it to come for her, but it shot towards Claude instead. He drew back an arrow with his bow as the magic swirled around him; he fell still, aiming carefully, even as he was completely engulfed in a swarm of black magic.

Claude!” 

From within the cloud of magic, a crackling red arrow soared out, piercing straight through Edelgard’s already-cracked armor and sending her staggering back. 

“You’re not making my path an easy one,” Edelgard said, staring at Byleth as she fell into Hubert’s arms and the both of them vanished. Byleth looked quickly to Claude, only to see his bow clatter to the ground. He faltered in place, and then collapsed into the grass. 

She ran, fighting back against the deja vu that plagued her mind - not now - don’t think about that-

Her knees hit the ground as she skidded to a stop in the grass beside Claude. His eyes were shut tight, but his chest was still lifting in weak, shallow breaths. She put one arm under his head and lifted him; his lips dropped open, his head falling backwards. She readied herself to do everything all over again, but-

“Don’t,” Claude choked out, peeking one eye open, “don’t reverse it. We got her. No one else has to get hurt.”

For someone who didn’t have a heart, it still felt like it was breaking. Byleth’s hand clutched at his shoulder, desperate.

“Promise me you’ll be okay,” she pleaded, not even realising she’d begun crying until she saw one of the tears drop from her cheek and onto his. He let out a weak breath, smiling tiredly up at her.

“I promise.”

Chapter Text

The monastery halls were quiet and solemn after the battle at Gronder. The Alliance had won, which of course was a great success; they’d had minimal casualties, thanks to the work of Byleth, Claude, and the former academy students. But it had come at the cost of killing old friends. Sylvain and Felix had barely said a word since Ingrid’s death, which was causing Hilda to feel bad for having killed her; Petra was torn up about Bernadetta, who she was sure hadn’t even really wanted to fight. And Dimitri… the prince of Faerghus… had been killed in his pursuit of Edelgard. Hilda said he’d been pierced by imperial spears. That he’d deserved better.

Byleth was sure she’d said those words regarding Dimitri at least once before. It was such a needless waste for them to have not joined forces. 

And Claude, for the remainder of the afternoon and evening, was stuck in the infirmary. She’d wanted to go visit him, but Manuela kept her at bay, saying he needed his rest. She knew she was right, but it was driving her insane nonetheless. At least the verdict seemed to be that he would be fine; Hubert’s magic had just done a number on him.

That evening, when the sun was just beginning to set and the sky was a deep turquoise, Byleth was sitting in the courtyard, lost in thought. Was this how he had felt, after she’d disappeared? Had it been better, for not knowing her as well as he did now; or did that make it worse?

“Penny for your thoughts, professor?” Hilda greeted her suddenly, hands clasped behind her back as she approached. “Byleth, right? That’s what Claude calls you now.”

“Whatever you like better,” Byleth replied, moving over on her bench so Hilda could sit beside her. “Hilda… when I was gone, what happened?”

“What do you mean?” Hilda asked, looking confused as she took a seat. Byleth frowned.

“I mean… did you think I was dead?”

“Well… we were worried about you,” she admitted, clearly feeling guilty about it. “But Claude… even after seeing you fall like that, he never gave up hoping.”

Byleth tilted her head. So she had seen the fall. Hilda looked suddenly sad.

“We- well I saw what happened, and I told him and the others, and- it just didn’t seem like anyone could come back from that, not even you!” 

“I understand,” Byleth replied quickly, shaking her head. “It’s okay, really. I was just wondering about how it affected you all.”

“Claude talked about you like you weren’t gone,” Hilda went on, her voice quiet as she looked out at the courtyard. “It was hard, because none of us really knew for sure. It wasn’t like we wanted to accept that you were gone. But it was easier than holding onto hope, right? Though, I guess that’s what he did the whole time.” 

“I guess so,” Byleth said, cold realisation washing over her. “I feel awful over it.”

“Don’t feel bad!” Hilda protested, looking at her with wide eyes. “Knowing Claude, this was just part of some big plan all along!” 

She was completely serious, and seeing so was surprising to Byleth. She let out a laugh before she could help it. Hilda looked surprised at first, but then smiled, her shoulders dropping. 

“You know, you two are the most genuine around each other. I told Claude that once. That he only really smiles when he’s talking to you.”

“You did?” Byleth asked, her laughter stopping abruptly as she looked back to Hilda. “What did he say?”

“Something about it being a punch to the gut,” Hilda answered, lifting her gaze in thought. Then she beamed. “I guess that means I actually read Claude for once!” 

Byleth smiled. You’ve grown so much. She didn’t want to say anything, knowing that Hilda would likely be embarrassed or flustered or write herself off in some way if she was complimented so genuinely like that; but it was true. From the girl that drove her crazy asking to be on the sidelines, who got everyone else to help her… well, she’d always been more clever than she’d admit. But the person standing in front of her now was not that same girl. She wanted to think that she’d helped in that, but after 5 years away, she wasn’t sure she could claim any credit. Life… war… had taken over. And that was more of a learning curve than any Byleth could hope to achieve. 

“Thanks for talking with me, Hilda. I’m sorry about today.”

“Oh… don’t be,” Hilda said dismissively, but it was obviously troubling her. “Felix already told me he knew it couldn’t have been avoided. It’s just… awkward. Especially about Dimitri.”

“Have you talked to Marianne?” Byleth asked, curiously.

“Marianne?” Hilda asked, blinking. “No, but I guess I should. And you should get some sleep!”

“You’re probably right,” Byleth admitted, and they both stood up from the bench. Before she could walk away, Hilda pulled her in for a sudden hug. Byleth returned it in kind, and Hilda was smiling when she pulled away and left towards the second floor dorms.

“Goodnight, Byleth!” 



Byleth had nearly fallen asleep when she heard a knock at her door.

“I’m asleep,” she called, rolling her pillow over her face. 

“It’s me.” 

Claude.

Byleth threw the covers off instantly and ran to the door, pulling it open. Claude smiled at her, and then his gaze traveled down to the golden tank top and shorts she was wearing; the house-sanctioned pajamas that she’d never bothered to throw away, emblazoned with the Golden Deer crest.

“That’s cute.”

“Claude-” Byleth stammered, her eyes searching over his body; he was just wearing a t-shirt, and she could see what looked like branching burn marks all over his arm and disappearing from around his neck, down onto his chest. “You-”

“Yeah, Hubert really had it in for me,” he sighed. “That guy terrifies me. But we were both just trying to protect the people we love.”

Her gaze lifted to him in surprise. He was watching her under long lashes, his eyes stuck on hers. Realisation dawned on her, albeit slowly, and she took a hesitant step back, letting go of the door. He followed, and it swung shut behind him. She had a feeling she knew what he meant, but she couldn’t bring herself to acknowledge it.

“Y-you think Hubert loves Edelgard?” she asked weakly, and Claude, who had been looking at her with those horribly deep and inescapable green eyes, suddenly blinked - and then burst into laughter.

That’s what you got out of- shit-” he clutched at his stomach, still laughing, and doubled over in pain. “Aaah-”

“Are you okay?” Byleth asked, crouching down and looking at him worriedly. He grimaced, slowly lowering himself down onto the edge of her bed to sit. A bandage that had been wrapped around his arm was coming loose, revealing stained but dry blood beneath. Byleth sat on top of her leg on the bed next to him, and began re-wrapping it. Claude flinched.

“Hang on,” Byleth said, gently folding over the bandages evenly. He turned to look at her, watching her intently as she wrapped it around once more and re-pinned it carefully. Her eyes lifted to his, and her heart jumped. He had that look again. Like he wanted to say something, but couldn’t bring himself to do it.

“...what?” she asked, her voice quiet. 

“What?” Claude replied, his eyebrows lifting. Byleth tilted her head at him in confusion.

“It looked like you wanted to say something.”

“Oh,” he said, scratching the back of his neck and turning away. “I - well, I did bring a well-deserved treat.”

His other arm lifted to reveal a bottle of Adrestian honey mead. Byleth’s eyes widened. She hadn’t seen it in forever. 

“How did you find that!?”

“A man has his ways,” Claude replied with a grin, popping open the cap and offering it to her. It was already late at night, but after such a long day, she felt like she could use it. She took a long drink, savoring the sweet flavor and how it warmed her chest, and then handed it back to Claude. He drank in kind.

“So, what’s next?” Byleth asked. “You’re our master tactician, after all.”

“Enbarr, eventually,” Claude replied, passing the bottle back to her. “But in all honesty, I don’t want to think about all of that right now.”

“Really?” Byleth replied with a smile. “I thought you were always thinking about your next move.”

“Sometimes I’d rather be distracted,” he said, looking at her evenly. She blinked. “We just faced off against our own classmates. We killed some of them. I killed some of them. I know it had to be done, but… it’s still hard to swallow.”

Byleth frowned, thinking of Bernadetta and Ingrid. She took another drink of the mead, and offered the last of it to Claude. Her head was already swimming with the alcohol. She hadn’t really eaten anything for dinner.

“This isn’t hard to swallow,” she said. He took it with a weak smile and finished off the rest, letting out a long sigh after. 

“It sure isn’t. You know, it’s a good thing Felix and the others decided to stay with us. It would have been hard seeing him on the battlefield. Nevermind that he probably would have jumped at the opportunity to kill Sylvain,” he added with a laugh.

“I think those two really like each other, despite what they say,” Byleth admitted, smiling. “Half the reason I brought Felix on was because him and Sylvain were always giving each other looks.” 

“Is that so? You can tell just by a look?”

“Yes,” Byleth answered, looking at him confidently, “because you always look at me that way, Claude.”

His eyes widened, and a red stain spread across his cheeks. 

“Well, you look at me that way back,” he countered.

“Only because you look at me like that first. Look, you’re doing it now!” 

“I can’t see my own face!” he protested, but despite the serious way he’d spoken, a smile was tugging at his lips. Byleth could feel giddiness from the alcohol bubbling in her stomach, carefree and contagious. She broke into a laugh, and when it had run its course, looked back to Claude, who was watching her with a warm smile and a persistent blush on his cheeks. He leaned forward, catching her by surprise; she went to lean back, but he cupped the side of her face in one hand and pulled her toward him, pressing his lips to hers.

A kiss. Her chest lit aflame. For a moment, she was in disbelief, but then she let her eyes fall shut and gave herself to the moment. His lips were soft and warm, but firm in their movements, like he knew what he wanted. All she could do was sink into it. 

He pulled away after a short moment, and hot breath hung in the air between them as their foreheads rested against one another. Her eyes fluttered open, and she looked nervously up to see him watching her. From just one look, she could tell he was asking a silent question, and it was up to her to answer it. She hesitated, only for a second, before lifting her lips to meet his once more. 

Byleth could feel him tense as she lifted a hand to rest on his shoulder, but then he pushed back against her lips with such a passion that she lost her balance and began falling back. He followed, and the two of them fell back into the sheets, one of his arms wrapped around her and his other hand still in her hair. A breath of laughter escaped him, but he kept kissing her, and she smiled through his lips, savoring his warmth and the way her body had seemingly set aflame.

After an inconceivable amount of time - it felt like forever, but also not nearly long enough - he pulled away once more. Her chest heaved as she stared up at him wordlessly, her cheeks warm, her chest warm, everything warm. Nevermind that he was on top of her, one of his legs in between hers and all of his weight otherwise resting on his elbows. 

She searched his eyes, and this time, there was nothing hidden there from her view. He smiled, and she caught herself smiling back before she could help it. Claude adjusted a second later, laying down half on her and half off, his head resting above her shoulder, his hair and eyelashes tickling her neck. 

“Claude,” she whispered after a moment, playing idly with his hair, “don’t fall asleep.”

“Too late,” he muttered back, and then both of them laughed. But still he didn’t move, and before long, she could tell by his breathing and sudden silence that he had, indeed, passed right out. She stared at the ceiling, wishing that the moment could last forever - that she could wake up and everything would be fine - but her eyelids were heavy. Sleep came quickly.



Byleth woke slowly. It had been something of a restless night. At first, she was sure she’d slept as soundly as ever, but then it got warm; she wasn’t used to having someone else in the bed. 

Someone else.

Her eyes flew open, and her head fell sideways, only to see Claude staring at her, green eyes wide and mirroring her disbelief. His hair was a mess, and one of his arms was lazily draped over her stomach; but now, it seemed both he and her were frozen in place. It took a moment for the events of the previous night to come rushing back, and as they did so, Byleth saw understanding slowly work its way into Claude’s eyes as well.

“Byleth-”

“Claude,” she interrupted him, “it’s okay.”

“I’m sorry,” he said quietly, pulling his arm away and lifting himself up. “I shouldn’t have-”

“Claude!” she interrupted him again, shaking her head, “I really don’t want to hear any regrets from last night. We can just forget-”

“Regrets?”

He paused, and stared at her in concern. She lifted the sheets up somewhat over her chest, even though she was still wearing the golden tank top. Blush was spreading on her cheeks faster than she could help it. She wanted to give him an out. She wasn’t even sure why - she just felt like she had to. 

“I know we’re in a war, and we shouldn’t; we can’t get into all of that, I know-”

“Byleth,” he said, interrupting her again, “I could never regret kissing you.”

She paused. She felt suddenly very vulnerable, and inescapably sober. Claude’s gaze broke from hers as he looked up at the window at the back of her room. 

“I mean, you’re right, we are at war. I wouldn’t want to call us ‘official,’ or anything, but-”

“Official!?” she repeated, shocked. His eyes widened in surprise as he looked back at her.

“I- unless you don’t want that,” he stammered.

“No,” she replied quickly, “I do want that!”

What am I saying? She meant it, she knew she did, but coming to terms with her feelings for him had been hard enough on her own. Kissing was easier than all of this. Claude’s lips dropped open as he took a moment to decipher what she’d said. He smiled suddenly, then began laughing. Byleth smiled warily in return, half relieved and half concerned, her heart still racing.

“I’m glad,” he finally said, resting his cheek on his hand as he propped himself up by his elbow. His eyes gleamed as he looked at her, red on his cheeks. “So do I.”

All she wanted to do was kiss him again, but a cloud must have moved away from in front of the sun just then, because the room brightened considerably. What time was it?

“I think we slept in.”

The blush on Claude’s cheeks faded quickly, and his expression dropped. He looked up at the window and cursed under his breath, sitting up. Byleth followed suit, and then both of them groaned in turn; the room spun, and her head hurt. She hadn’t had a hangover like this in… well, she couldn’t remember when. 

“Right. The sweeter the mead, the tougher the hangover,” Claude sighed. “I should get out of here before anyone sees me wandering around in… this.”

“Don’t want to go for the casual duke look?” Byleth asked with a smile, swinging her legs over the bed and watching him as he stood up and stretched, his shirt lifting and showing his stomach as he did so. He glanced back at her over his shoulder and winked. Her breath caught in her throat.

“Don’t tempt me,” he replied. “I’ll see you in the classroom later?”

She nodded in reply, and he hesitated by the door before finally leaving, letting it fall shut behind him. Cool air washed into the room, which she hadn’t realised had been so warm. She fell back into the bed and stared up at the ceiling. 

What just happened?

Chapter Text

Fort Merceus was apparently otherwise known as the Impregnable Fortress, or the Stubborn Old General. It was to be their greatest challenge yet in fighting back against the Empire, nevermind that it was currently under command of the Death Knight. The Alliance had been unable to send troops to support them, and so they held a war council meeting to determine what to do next.

“The prevailing theory is that you need triple the numbers in order to take a fort, but we don’t have even close to that,” Claude explained, running a hand through his hair as he sat at the head of the table in the classroom. Byleth couldn’t help but notice that he looked stressed.

“So… we need a new plan,” Ignatz said quietly. The room was quiet as everyone took a moment to think over their situation.

“We could dress up as Imperial soldiers, and sneak in!” Hilda suddenly exclaimed. 

“I don’t think that would work,” Leonie protested, but Claude’s head lifted from his hands.

“No, no- she’s on to something. It just needs refining. If we can’t beat them by force, we have to be sneaky about it.”

Byleth took a look around the table. Hilda was one of the few that still looked confident in their ability to take the fort. As for the rest, morale seemed low. They had to keep up a good front, but they had already suffered losses. They were officially playing at a disadvantage until reinforcements could come from the Alliance territories. 

“When we do move again, it’s going to be our toughest battle yet. I can’t-” he cut himself off, his shoulders dropping. “I can’t guarantee that we’ll all make it out alive. If you want to leave and go home, now’s your chance.”

The room was silent for a moment. The look on his face was breaking Byleth’s heart. It wasn’t an easy thing, asking your friends to risk their lives. She knew he had to give everyone a way out, even if just to make himself feel better, but she had a feeling no one was ready to bail on their mission anytime soon. The sound of chair legs pushing back against the stone broke the silence, and Lorenz stood from his seat.

“I shall accompany you to the very end,” he declared. “After all, someone must step up to take leadership if you fall.”

Well, he had us in the first half.

Leonie was the next to stand up. “The future of my village depends on this! Besides… I have to protect Byleth. For Captain Jeralt,” she said, looking sideways at Byleth, who smiled back at her. They had an agreement, then. Byleth would always keep an eye on Jeralt’s only apprentice.

“I’m not going anywhere!” Raphael announced, standing up as well; his chair toppled to the floor behind him. “Because of the Empire, my little sis can’t live in peace!” 

“We can’t leave the future of Fodlan to others,” Ignatz agreed, standing up. “I’m sure everyone here feels the same.”

“So, what-” Hilda laughed nervously from her seat near the end, “we’re all supposed to take turns saying we’ll do our best til the end? What about you, Marianne?”

She looked sideways to Marianne, who kept her gaze hard on the table for a second before she stood up. 

“I’ll fight,” she said decisively. 

“Fine, fine,” Hilda resigned, pushing herself to her feet. “I suppose I’ll tag along too… to the bitter end.” 

With everyone in the room standing, Byleth stood up as well. She looked down at Claude, and the expression on his face was hard to read. But mostly, he just looked grateful.

“It’s an honor to keep fighting alongside such stalwart allies,” he said softly, getting to his feet and looking pointedly at Byleth. “Thank you.”

“You’re a stalwart ally too, Claude,” she replied with a smile. She was grateful for him beyond words could say; fighting to the death with him would be an honor, but now… after the other night…  it was more than that. If it was even possible, it felt like more was on the line. She hadn’t been scared of death before, not really. Perhaps it was that carefree feeling that had her falling into so many traps. Now, she really had something she wanted to protect, and keep safe; a future with him. Beside him. She couldn’t let him die, but at the same time, she couldn’t abandon him either. 

Claude looked back at her with a relieved smile, and then gestured for everyone to take their seats again.

“Okay, okay. Enough of that. Now that I know where you all stand, I can start planning for our assault on Fort Merceus. I’ll keep the crucial parts under wraps until the time comes, so leave the details to me until we’re ready.”

Although wary of what he was planning, the others still had an unwavering trust in him that he would get the job done. Byleth made herself look busy as everyone left, but Claude sat still at the end of the table. Once the room was empty, save for them, he dropped his head in his hands and groaned. Byleth stood up to go over to him, and tentatively rested her hand on his back.

“I’ll get it,” he reassured her, “don’t worry. I just need some time to figure it out.”

“I know you will,” Byleth replied, “but if you need anything, just let me know.”

He lifted his head from his hands and looked up at her. He stood a second later, and wrapped his arms around her in a hug; she held him back, tight.

“This helps,” he said quietly, and she had to agree. All of those years she’d spent being strong on her own, she’d had no idea how something so simple could make things so much better. Now that she thought of it, she was sure Claude had been through similar… or worse, more likely.

The reality of their situation suddenly came to mind, and she had a feeling Claude was thinking of it as well; it was certainly decided that they wanted to be together, but how to do so considering their current events was not something they’d gone over.

“By-”

“Clau-”

They interrupted each other, pulled away, and laughed. She shook her head, gesturing for him to go first.

“I can’t make any promises until this is all over,” he began, clasping her hands in his. “But I want to be with you. I understand if you can’t say the same.”

“No, I-” she cut herself off, trying to think of the right way to put it. “I feel the same. I just want to stay by your side, Claude.”

“There might be circumstances where we have to take time apart,” he warned her, looking suddenly sad, as if he knew something she didn’t. “But I’d always come back to you.”

“I’d always come back to you,” she replied eagerly, and Claude’s expression softened. He leaned forward to kiss her, gently, still holding on to her hands. It was a simple and small gesture, but Byleth was nonetheless breathless when he pulled back. 

Footsteps entering the room distracted them, and both turned sideways to see Lysithea standing in the doorway, framed by the sunlight and looking distinctly… guilty.

“Lysithea,” Byleth greeted her, feeling red spread on her cheeks; how much had she seen? “Do you need something?”

“I didn’t see anything!” Lysithea blurted out in response. Byleth exchanged looks with Claude. “I- I needed to talk to you two, actually. About Gronder.”

“Gronder?” Claude replied curiously, as Lysithea made her way back into the room. 

“Yes. There were strange mages among the imperial army; did you see them?”

Byleth had to think for a moment, back to the battle. She had been so preoccupied. But there were strange mages among Edelgard’s ranks, now that she thought of it; the strange ones in masks that had sent fireballs near the beginning in the fight had to have been them.

“With the masks?” she asked.

“That’s right. I have seen people dressed just like that before. House Ordelia was involved in a rebellion within the Empire, 13 years ago… after it was quelled, all of the key officials were caught and put to death,” she began. “The Empire sent replacements, who they used to control House Ordelia. And among those sent by the Empire were mages dressed in black, just like those we saw in battle.”

“If they’re Imperial mages, wouldn’t it make sense that they’re wearing the same outfits?” Claude asked.

“Yes,” Lysithea replied slowly, “but the mages from then and from Gronder… I do not believe they are from the Adrestian Empire. I got the impression they were from somewhere else, completely outside of Fodlan. But there’s… more.”

She paused, dropping her gaze to the floor.

“Those mages imprisoned the children from my house, and performed horrible rituals on them. Blood experiments.”

“Lysithea-” Claude breathed, “you can’t mean… even you?”

“Yes,” she replied after a moment, lifting her head. “All of the others were deemed failures. They all died. And… even I-”

She paused, and then let out a long sigh.

“It doesn’t matter. The point is that those monsters possess dreadful knowledge and power. I just thought… that you should know the sort of people who have allied with the Empire.”

“Blood experiments,” Claude mused, while Byleth looked sadly upon Lysithea. Imagining her as nothing but a child, being exposed to that sort of horrific torture; it was impossible to think of. “Does that remind you of anything?”

“Flayn,” she suddenly said aloud. 

“Exactly. That group that abducted Flayn and extracted her blood, five years ago. So… they’ve been behind the scenes with the Empire all along. Lysithea,” he said, looking back to her, “thank you for sharing that with us. We’ll uncover the truth of what they are, one day."

“Thank you. Now I should be going. Sorry for- for interrupting,” she stammered, as if she’d suddenly remembered what she’d walked in on. She turned on her heel and left the room quickly, leaving Byleth and Claude to smile sheepishly at one another.

“We probably should keep it a bit of a secret,” Claude admitted. 

“Knowing them, there’s already rumors,” Byleth replied, thinking of Hilda. That girl was more observant than she probably knew. Claude laughed.

“You’re probably right. In any case… I should probably begin planning.”


Claude spent the majority of that month holed up in his room, going over countless strategies and sending envoys back and forth from the monastery. Byleth was sure he had a good plan, but she could also tell he was stressed trying to get it all together so that they could attack Fort Merceus before their defenses were bolstered. On days when he looked particularly tired, she joined him in his room overnight, encouraging him to come to bed and get a proper sleep. It usually worked, but more than a couple times when she woke up in the mornings, she found him passed out at his desk. And for the nights that she had convinced him to come to bed… things had only become more and more physical. 

The night before their planned assault on Fort Merceus, she dragged him to her room instead, so that he wouldn’t spend anymore time reading over his plans.

“I really should- just give it another onceover-” he yawned, sitting on the edge of her bed as she pulled his clothes off of him, piece by piece, and folded each item on her desk. She thought she had a lot of pieces to her outfit, but Claude was on another level entirely. A sash, a necktie, a shoulder guard, a cape, the Riegan crest he wore on his other shoulder, dress shirt….

“You need a good sleep so that you can function tomorrow as our fearless leader,” Byleth countered, unbuttoning his dress shirt, the last layer. She knew she was doing him a favor, but at the same time, taking off his clothes was strangely satisfying. She wasn’t sure if it was just seeing all the layers come off, or seeing his chest and shoulders and stomach-

“You’re having too much fun with this,” he said suddenly, as if he could read her mind. She glanced up at him in surprise as she undid the last button, and he lifted a hand to cup her jaw, pulling her close for a kiss. 

“Mm-”

He kicked off his pants and wrapped his other arm around her, pulling her down and on top of him as he laid back on the bed. Her legs straddled his hips, and when he finally broke from their kiss, Byleth could do nothing but stare back down at him. He was only wearing briefs, and through her shorts, she could feel him, hard and pressing into her groin. Sudden warmth spread on her cheeks. They had gotten to this point several times, and each time, something had come up; she was tired, he was tired, someone might hear… but she had no room neighbors anymore as far as she remembered. And she wasn’t tired. She couldn’t help but want him, but-

Claude’s lips dropped open, and sudden realisation flashed in his eyes, as if he could read her mind.

“You… haven’t done anything like that before, have you.”

It wasn’t a question. He knew. And that meant-

“You have?” she asked quietly, not sure whether his inevitable answer would make her feel more or less relieved. 

“...yes,” he replied. At least he was being honest with her. “I don’t want you to feel pressured, Byleth. We don’t have to-”

She leaned down and interrupted him with a kiss. It was easier than saying anything. She wanted to - she definitely wanted to - she was just embarrassed. He tensed as she pressed her hips down, trying to let him know, without a doubt, that she wanted him. Fire spread between her legs and all the way up her chest, a hunger for something she never knew she’d wanted until now. She felt safe, with him. And maybe… if he knew what he was doing, it was better that way.

Claude kissed her back with a passion, lifting a hand up to run through her hair. His other hand swept down her back, following her curves and pausing on her waist. He pulled her closer to him, lifting his hips, his cock pressing through his briefs; she could feel the shape of it, the warmth, the wanting . Tentatively, she reached down to slide her fingers under his waistband and  take a tentative hold of him. It was hotter than she’d expected. A gasp escaped Claude’s lips, followed by a light laugh. He pulled her hand away, and helped lift the tank top off of her; then he took her waist and pushed up, flipping her so he was on top of her instead.

She met his eyes only briefly, and there was suddenly a sense of urgency. Claude looked simultaneously incredibly focused and lost in the moment. He pulled her shorts and underwear down; Byleth helped and  kicked them off until they were dangling off of one ankle. He bent down to kiss her neck, the tip of his cock resting between her legs, and Byleth’s back arched inadvertently. She had, in the past, spent time with herself, but this - this was something else. It wasn’t just about her pleasure. The way his cheeks were stained red, the way his hands swept over every inch of her bare skin, and the way his cock lifted and twitched in anticipation of just her... was something else altogether.

“Ready?” he asked, lifting himself to look at her. Byleth took a breath, meeting his eyes. She wasn’t sure what thoughts were going through her head. All she knew was that she wanted this.

“Yes,” she said quietly back, watching him in anticipation. He watched her for just a second, as if to make sure she really meant it, and then kissed her. He tugged lightly at her bottom lip as he slowly pushed into her. Her breath caught in her throat as he moved in and out, in and out, a little more each time; she felt her brow furrow because for a few seconds, it was strangely unpleasant. But not a second later, the angle changed, and she felt his cock slip inside of her like fire. 

A moan spilled from her lips as Claude let out a shaky, relieved breath. He dipped his head into her neck, his arms pushing under her shoulders as he held her tight and continued moving. Some strange, warm ecstasy flooded her body and mind; she reached around to hold his back, wanting to be closer. She was sure her nails were digging into his shoulder blades, but she couldn’t help it. With each thrust, she felt her mind go progressively fuzzier. He pushed harder, and Byleth slid her hands to both sides of his face instead, kissing him eagerly inbetween moans and shaky breaths.

At some point, Claude began to move faster, harder, and then paused to pull up and sit on his knees. He lifted himself up, bringing her with him so her butt was resting on his thighs and his hands were gripping her waist. He pulled her close, hard, with each thrust. Byleth lifted her hands to her mouth, trying and failing to keep it covered as gasps of pleasure escaped her with each push. Her eyes fell shut, and she gave herself completely into the sensation, letting him do with her as he pleased.

“Cl- claude-”

His movements became more erratic after she stammered out his name. She peeked her eyes open and watched as a sudden smile spread on his lips. But then his mouth dropped open and his breath hitched; his jaw clenched as his head fell back and his fingers dug into her waist as he came. Byleth watched breathlessly as, after a few final thrusts, he slowly brought his head forward again. A few strands of hair had fallen awry in front of his face, and sweat dripped down his brow. He looked at her longingly and then bent over her, his lips pressing to hers passionately, his cock twitching within her and each of their bodies tensing.

“How- was that?” Claude asked when he pulled away, still catching his breath. Byleth wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him close in an embrace. 

“You feel good,” she admitted, her voice muffled by his shoulder. His cock twitched within her a split second later, and both of them let out breathy laughter. 

“So do you,” he replied simply, sweeping a hand under her to hold the back of her head gently. “Wasn’t I supposed to do some planning tonight for, you know, the war we're fighting?”

“Before I succeeded in distracting you, maybe,” Byleth replied, feeling her breathing slowly returning to normal and Claude’s cock falling softer and softer within her. 

“Distraction, huh?” Claude pondered. “That could work.”

Chapter Text

In the forests outside of Fort Merceus, they gathered their forces in the trees. A cold breeze was blowing in from the north. It was another one of those mornings. If anyone at the fort had a strong battle sense, Byleth was sure that they’d be able to smell it in the wind. A battle was upon them, and it wasn’t long now. They were waiting on Ignatz, and when he returned, he looked confident.

“I delivered the letter to the fort. I don’t think they suspected anything.”

“I knew I was right to entrust that task to you,” Claude said with a smile. “You’ve got that honest kind of face that makes it easy to fool people.”

“Is that… meant to be a compliment?” Ignatz asked, looking concerned. Byleth had to admit to herself that Claude was right. 

“What was in the letter?” Lysithea asked.

“I informed them that reinforcements were on the way. It would have been suspicious for troops to just show up unannounced. We’re going to disguise ourselves as reinforcements from the Imperial capital, and sneak in to Fort Merceus.”

“You used my disguise plan after all!” Hilda exclaimed, beaming.

“We’ve also procured Imperial uniforms,” Claude continued. “However.... That alone wouldn’t be enough.”

“You did say the plan needed a little more refinement,” Hilda said. “Are you going to dress up as Edelgard, Claude?”

Byleth almost choked, and Claude laughed. 

“I’m not sure that would accomplish much. No. In the letter, I included the name of the Imperial general leading the reinforcements. And while we’re heading to the fort, a separate army is going to attack us. But it’s just for show - it’ll be our allies who are ‘attacking’ us.”

“So it will look like the Alliance is attacking Imperial reinforcements!” Hilda exclaimed. Claude winked at her.

“Right. When the troops in the fort panic and open up the gates, we’re in.” 

“Don’t forget that the Death Knight is in charge of defending the fort,” Judith interjected, looking worried. “They say he holds the most military prowess in all the Empire.”

“Don’t worry. We’ve got Byleth,” Claude replied simply. Everyone brightened, though Judith herself looked unconvinced. “It’s time. Prepare yourselves, everyone.”

They all went to get changed into Imperial outfits, but Claude stopped Byleth before she could follow them.

“There’s one more part to my plan… for your ears only. I had hoped it wouldn’t come to this, but I had no choice… after what happened at Gronder, I realised we can’t win if we don’t pull out all the stops. The army that’s going to be attacking us won’t be Alliance troops. It’ll be the Almyrans.”

He looked a little worried about her response, but Byleth was unsurprised. She’d had her suspicions from the start. 

“Nader- Nardel, I mean - is going to lead them in a mock attack against us. I just don’t want you to panic when you see them.”

“I won’t,” Byleth said, folding her arms and smiling. “I’m excited to see Nardel again.”

Claude smiled weakly back at her. 

“I also realised something else during that battle. The reason we were all able to keep our cool in the midst of the chaos is because we trusted you - in your command, and strength. Everyone here believes that we will win, as long as we have you on our side. You and I have what it takes to free Fodlan from the Empire’s rule.”

“The same could be said for you,” Byleth replied. Claude rested his hands on his hips.

“Maybe. I have to go around the back to lead the rest of the army. Are you ready?”

“I’m always ready.”


The Almyran army attacked from the north, as Claude and the other alliance troops made their push towards the back of Fort Merceus. The gates were opened, front and back, and so Byleth led the others in. The Imperial soldier uniforms were ill-fitting, but did the trick well enough. Through the streets of the fortress town, Byleth saw Claude and Nardel clashing; but only briefly. A moment later, there was a resounding cheer from both the Alliance troops and the Almyrans. They were in. They were ready. And they had to move fast.

“Caspar and Linhardt are here,” Lysithea observed, gesturing to a tower nearby where the two former Black Eagles students stood on either side of the Death Knight. It was strange, seeing the three of them standing together like that; Byleth couldn’t help wondering if Edelgard had ever briefed either of them, or any of the Black Eagles at all, on the nature of her plan and her less-than-desirable allies. She steeled herself. Edelgard had made her choice; so had those who decided to stay with her.

“Take the other gates to stop any chance of reinforcements,” Byleth commanded. “I’ll regroup with Claude and look after the Death Knight.” 

The soldiers stationed at the fort were taken completely off guard when Byleth and the others began attacking, nevermind the army coming in from the north. Since they’d broken in, the numbers weren’t as big an issue; they could take down the fort from the inside out. Caspar and some of the other soldiers pushed forward to attack, but Byleth left that to the others while she made a break for where Claude was. He was with Nardel, which was a relief, but even so - they had the death knight to go after still, and it would take more than just one of them, especially with Linhardt standing nearby for support.

Even if it was slow-going, they were making progress in stemming the flow of reinforcements by the time Byleth reached Claude and Nardel. 

“Well hello again, lady Byleth!” Nardel greeted her, not even looking at where he was aiming as he fired off an arrow to dispatch an incoming Imperial soldier. “Good to see you here!”

“Likewise,” Byleth replied with a smile. She met Claude’s eyes and he grinned, following her atop his wyvern as they began to make a beeline for the Death Knight, cutting through anyone that tried to get in their way. When they reached him, they exchanged a look. Destroying him meant the fortress would fall. Maybe Linhardt could even be saved.

“The appointed hour is upon us soon,” the Death Knight said, cryptic as ever, his voice deep and dark. Byleth ran at him, sword whipping out around her as she jumped and slammed it down upon him and his horse. He was silent even as the blades pierced and cut into his jet black armor, but cast a dark magic spell her way anyways; it swept over her, burning and suffocating, but she was still standing. An arrow fired off by Claude’s Failnaught struck into his neck. Considering the crest magic crackling around his body, he seemed strangely unbothered, but pulled the arrow out and let out a gruff sigh.

“If you wish to slay me, then follow. If you stay here, you will all die.”

He left, atop his horse, up the stairs to the top of one of the far fortress walls. Byleth didn’t even take a second to think about it; they had no choice but to follow, though it was strange that he seemed to be warning them of something. When they got to the top of the wall, the Death Knight only gave her a lingering look before riding his horse straight down the wall of the fort. He pointed one ominous finger up to the sky, and Byleth turned to see some strange light shining down through the sky; something long and thin was soaring in from the sky at incredible speed. It made contact with the fort, and a massive explosion ensued, swallowing the entire fort in fire. A cloud of dust and rubble erupted. Byleth didn’t realise until another one arrived that she hadn’t been breathing.

She tried to catch her breath and to not panic. What the fuck was going on? Why did the Death Knight know it was going to happen? 

Behind her, one of the troops let out a weak, nervous laugh. The others were shocked silent, including Claude. 

“The fort - it’s gone,” he breathed. “What on earth was that?” 

Byleth was speechless. She turned back to where the Death Knight had been, but he had vanished. She looked to Claude.

“Let’s see if everyone is okay.”


They met back where they had prepared  that morning, and once everyone was changed out of their uncomfortable Imperial soldier uniforms, they readied to debrief. Nardel and Judith joined as well.

“Hey, Kiddo… what were those javelins of light?” Nardel asked. 

“Javelins of light…” Claude repeated thoughtfully. “That’s a good word for it. I have no idea. It’s hard to imagine that the Empire would do such a thing, but if not them, then who? And why? If they wanted to kill us, why wait until now to use it?”

“We almost died just now, and without an answer to any of that,” Judith mused, shaking her head. Then she looked pointedly at Claude. “Speaking of unanswered questions, just why is Nardel here? Why do I feel like you two are keeping secrets from us? Care to explain?"

Nardel let out a nervous laugh, and looked to Claude.

“I’m… just going to go ahead and see my subordinates off to Almyra, kiddo.”

“Wait, Nader! Are you just going to leave me here and run away?” Claude asked, frowning. 

“I hope to see you again, Judith,” Nardel - Nader?? - said, and then looked suddenly to Byleth. “And you too, Byleth. I’ll be praying for your safety.” 

He turned heel and left then, before anyone could say anything more. But Judith’s jaw had dropped.

Nader? Are you telling me that Nardel is Nader the Unstoppable?”

“It’s actually Nader the Undefeated,” Claude corrected her with a smile. He glanced sideways at Byleth. “Almyrans love grand titles.”

“I knew he was no ordinary guy, but to think he was the great hero of Almyra… “ Judith pondered. 

“Hey, um, should we really be chatting right now?” Hilda interjected, looking stressed. “If another one of those… things falls, we’re all dead!” 

“She’s right. Claude, there are things I want to ask you, but for now we need to hurry and withdraw,” Lorenz agreed. 

“Right. Come on, let’s get somewhere safer,” Claude replied. 


They regrouped at the bridge of Myrddin, and Lorenz was obviously itching to get answers from Claude, even as the day passed quickly and the sun began to dip below the horizon.

“Claude. It’s time for you to explain - why are you so close with an Almyran general?” 

Byleth frowned. Hearing that Nader was Almyran was hardly a surprise to her. If anything, she was happy for it; it had secured their entrance into Fort Merceus, and therefore, their victory over the Empire. 

“Well, he did quite a lot for me when I was younger,” Claude explained. 

“When you were younger?” Lorenz asked. “So, before you joined House Riegan? How and where did you meet him? There aren’t many opportunities to meet an Almyran general in Fodlan…”

He was obviously skeptical, but Claude wasn’t having it. Despite the interrogation, Claude looked calmly back at Lorenz and smiled.

“If that’s what you believe, it’s only because it’s what you’ve been led to believe,” he replied simply. “After all, we have Cyril here among our allies, and he was born in Almyra.” 

“Don’t drag me into this,” Cyril protested, folding his arms. 

“There’s a big wide world outside of Fodlan, and it’s overflowing with different places and cultures,” Claude continued. “I know you think interacting with outsiders is odd, but isn’t avoiding contact with the outside world far more unnatural?” 

“Don’t change the subject, Claude!” Lorenz snapped. “To the people of the Alliance, the Almyrans are-”

“It’s true that there’s a history of hostility,” Claude interrupted him, looking firm in his resolve, “but why should that mean we’re doomed to remain hostile forever? The Almyrans aren’t monsters! Just look at Cyril - does he look like a monster to you?”

“What does that mean?” Cyril asked.

“Right, Byleth? What did you think when you met Nader?” 

“I like him a lot,” Byleth admitted, smiling. “He’s… really lovely, actually.”

“Hah!” Claude laughed, “I’ll tell him you said that. And I’m sure if you all got to know him, your preconceived notions would change, too. I know you guys, and I know you aren’t the type of people to reject someone without getting to know them.”

“But… how did the Almyrans even get past Fodlan’s throat?” Hilda asked. “I doubt my brother would just let them through without saying anything.”

“About that…” Claude smiled. “I actually made sure your brother met Nader in advance.”

“What!? Lord Holst met with an Almyran general!?” Lorenz exclaimed, looking completely shocked.

“But they’re bitter enemies!” Hilda protested, looking more confused than ever. “They’ve fought several times before!” 

“I know. It was a big gamble,” Claude admitted. “But rather than trying to convince them myself, I had them meet. They were surprised at first, but I had a feeling they’d hit it off, and they did. They were even drinking to their newfound ‘brotherhood’ before parting.”

“Makes sense,” Judith laughed. “Take the greatest heroes away from the battlefield… of course they’ll get along.” 

“Ultimately, someone’s bloodline has nothing to do with the friendships they forge. Relations with the Alliance and Almyra is something we’ll tackle in the future. Still, I want to make one thing clear to all of you - after we defeat the Empire, I intend to tear down the walls that separate Fodlan from the outside world. I want to let people and goods come and go freely, and in doing so, eradicate prejudices about the outside world.”

He paused; Cyril’s eyes had widened, but Lorenz looked unconvinced.

“During our time at the Officer’s Academy, all of you overcame the barriers of status, birthplace, and ideology.”

“I guess there were a lot of different people there,” Hilda admitted. “People we wouldn’t have met through the normal course of our lives.” 

“Can we really draw a definitive line in the sand and say one group of people is all good, and another all bad?” Claude asked. “I don’t think so.” 

Byleth smiled. He was persuasive, that much was for sure, and that would certainly be a required skill if it meant trying to convince all of Fodlan to this new way of thinking. She understood, for just a moment, why he might have been happy at Rhea’s disappearance; having her at the head of everything had obviously kept the peace, but had also cemented the land into certain ways of thinking. A new perspective was needed, but could it be accomplished at all with her as the archbishop? She was sweet and kind in her own way, but also firm and unrelenting - the qualities of a good leader, certainly - but Byleth found it hard to get behind her black and white way of thinking. Of course, when it came to Sothis and Seiros and the saints… it was clearly not a matter of believing. They were there, and Byleth was living proof. But couldn’t that mean then that the other gods of the world were just as real, and that their people were just as deserving of respect?

“But, if-”

“Save your objections for another day, Gloucester boy,” Judith interrupted Lorenz, who scoffed. “All we should focus on now is our next step - we’re invading the Imperial capital, right?”

“That’s right,” Claude said with a nod. “I’m sure Edelgard is eagerly awaiting our arrival in Enbarr. Reinforcements from the Alliance should arrive soon, so let’s get prepared to welcome them.” 


They made the long journey back to the monastery then, and there was a lot of talk about not only Claude’s plans for the future, but the javelins that had destroyed the fort. Byleth wasn’t sure whether to feel either optimistic or pessimistic about the future; if their enemies had access to horrific magic or weapons like that, whatever it had been, there would be no fighting back against them. How could they? Even just a couple would completely destroy Garreg Mach in seconds. But if that was their goal… then why wouldn’t they have bothered by now? 

She looked sideways to Claude as they walked. He was chatting idly to Hilda, but glanced her way as if he knew she was looking, and smiled back at her. That feeling washed over her again; that sensation that if he was there, everything would be okay.

It had to be.

Chapter Text

They reached the Imperial capital as the sun hit its zenith. It was a sprawling and massive city, all built around a central fortress. As their forces came to a slow step outside the walls, everyone took a moment to drink it in. It was a strangely bittersweet feeling; they were here, finally, at the last step of their journey. But it would also be a horribly tough battle. Ever since Gronder, the fight against the Empire had only become tougher and tougher. Taking down Edelgard would be no easy feat.

“It’s huge,” Claude breathed. 

“It’s not just big. The entire city is designed to protect the castle. It’s basically one big stronghold,” Judith said with a frown, folding her arms.

“...what about the citizens?” Byleth asked, not sure she wanted to hear the answer.

“Our scouts confirmed the citizens haven’t been evacuated,” Shamir interjected. Byleth looked sadly to Claude, and saw him looking back at her the same way.

“I’ve got to hand it to Her Majesty. Using her citizens as a shield to protect the castle takes some resolve.”

Resolve is one way of putting it, Byleth thought to herself, anger boiling within her chest. Maybe Edelgard knew they didn’t have the heart to kill innocent bystanders. It was still a gamble. And even then, there was bound to be crossfire and destruction; there was no guarantee that all of the citizens could be kept safe. How could she do that? Was that really the same Edelgard from the Officer’s Academy?

They breached the walls of the city without much trouble, but once they were in, they found the streets crawling with enemies and demonic beasts. It was a horrifying sight. 

“Hubert and the Death Knight are the commanders,” Shamir instructed Claude as he came down from atop his wyvern after scouting it out briefly. He ran a hand through his hair, thinking for a moment.

“Okay. We need to take them down, but we don’t have time to mop up all the other enemy soldiers. We’ll have to split up,” he said, glancing sideways at Byleth. There was a look in his eyes; one that told her he’d be taking a different path. She knew he was right. They couldn’t leave a group of the others alone.

“Claude, Mercedes, Leonie, Shamir, Lysithea - take Hubert,” Byleth instructed. “Felix, Marianne, Sylvain, Ignatz - stay with me.”

So it was decided. Judith and the troops helped to secure the streets while the rest pushed forward. Byleth cast a lingering look to Claude, and he watched over his shoulder for just a moment before taking off with his group to go after Hubert. She was sure he would be more careful than he had been in Gronder, but still - this would be a tough battle. She wouldn’t be able to keep a close eye on them as they fought. 

Just be careful.  

With her squad behind her, they made a calculated push towards the Death Knight. Countless enemies stood in their way, but with coordinated efforts and long-range attacks, they were able to get through promptly to where he was posted by the river. The water was blinding and sparkling, and flower baskets lined the streets, overflowing with hydrangea. It didn’t seem like the setting for a battle. 

Byleth had the others stay a safe distance away as she faced off with the Death Knight. There was a resignation in his stance, like he knew something she didn’t; like this was the final battle. There would be no retreating, no fancy disappearing magic, not today. They were in Enbarr, after all. There was nowhere else to run. The sound of battle was echoing out through nearby streets and roadways as Byleth lifted her sword and readied herself, the sun warm on her cheeks. She could do it. She had to. 

He lifted and twisted his scythe as she broke into a run, her shoes the only sound as they hit the cobblestone with each step. The jet black scythe came sweeping down towards her as she reached him; she stepped deftly on top of the blade and threw herself at him, stabbing her sword down and into his armor. She stared down at his glowing red eyes as she pushed the sword in, pieces of armor cracking and flaking away as crest magic crackled around his body. His horse reared, and both of them went flying off. She watched as the scythe’s handle slid up through the Death Knight’s grasp; he swung the blade back around until the cold metal of it was pressed smooth into the back of her neck, even as she kneeled atop him, her sword still stuck into his chest. 

Her eyes widened, and she froze. The red light in his eyes faded, his body tensing. 

“To kill, to die…” he whispered. “To know one without the other would be maddening.”

The scythe fell back off of her neck and clattered to the ground behind her. Byleth let out a breath she hadn’t realised she was holding, and slowly removed her blood-stained sword from the Death Knight’s limp body. So he had been human after all. She considered removing his mask, but after everything, despite his associations, she still had an inkling of respect for him. He had saved them at Fort Merceus. She was sure he would have killed her, if given the chance, but it was less of a personal or political attack and more of one of curiosity; like a good sparring partner. 

She stood slowly from his corpse, slightly shaken. 

“You really did that without taking a scratch, huh?”

Byleth looked up to see Claude arriving atop his wyvern, dried blood on the side of his face and an arrow stuck into one of his shoulders. His whole squad looked a little worse for wear. He slid down from the top of the small dragon as it landed, and she ran for him without even thinking, but stopped herself short before throwing her arms around him. 

“I shouldn’t have left Hubert for you,” she complained. “I should have-”

“This wasn’t even Hubert,” Claude interrupted her. “He was no match for Lysithea, in the end. I just took a few unlucky hits.”

“Unlucky? You? ” Hilda asked, having caught up with Judith and the troops. She grinned at Claude and then looked up at the castle, looming ominously in front of them. “Well… Edelgard is probably looking down at us from somewhere in there, huh?”

“From this point on, she’ll be giving it her all too,” Claude said with a sigh, wiping some of the blood off of his face. “Expect her to be tougher than the last time we fought.” 

“I heard the Alliance’s army had entered the city,” a new voice came suddenly. Heavy footsteps approached from beside them, and Byleth turned quickly with her hand on her sword hilt, but there was a familiar face staring at her instead. Dedue. Covered in scars. 

“Is that you, Dedue!?” Claude exclaimed. 

“I’ve been searching for you. I arrived here not long after the battle at Gronder. I am here to kill Edelgard.”

“If you want to fight alongside us, we’d be more than happy to have you,” Claude suggested, but Dedue shook his head.

“We fight for different objectives. I swore to offer Edelgard’s head to His Highness.”

Dimitri. Byleth’s heart broke.  

“But… should I fail, I will have no choice but to entrust that mission to you.” He sighed, and then handed a scroll to Claude. “This is the information I have gathered while hiding here. It includes details about the inside of the castle.” 

Claude stared wordlessly down at the scroll for a moment, before looking up sadly back to Dedue.

“I appreciate this, but… don’t tell me you plan on going after her alone?”

“I’ve done what I came here to do,” Dedue said simply, nodding respectfully to all of them. “Farewell.”

He left before any of them could stop him. They were all too shocked to do anything. Byleth looked back to Claude expectantly, and he clutched the scroll tight in his hand. 

“This is valuable info. We can use this to our advantage for the coming fight.”

He looked intently at Byleth. 

“We’re almost done.” 



When they got to the fortress, Edelgard’s forces surrounded them from behind; Dorothea was one of them. More demonic beasts and soldiers were awaiting them in the central chamber. It was going to be a brutal fight, but they’d made it this far - Byleth knew there was nothing to do but move forward. Everyone was tired. Everyone wanted it to be over. But ahead of them, standing in front of the Adrestian Empire’s throne, Edelgard awaited. The end of their journey, but also likely the beginning of another.

“I wish it hadn’t come to this,” Byleth said quietly as her and Claude took the lead. He hopped atop his wyvern and looked back down at her sympathetically.

“Neither do I,” he admitted, “but if it comes down to it, we have to kill her. Everyone is prepared for that.”

She steeled herself. She was prepared for it as well, ever since first seeing her face revealed under the mask in the Holy Tomb. But it didn’t make it any more pleasant. It seemed like such a waste. Edelgard’s ambitions were just as strong as Claude’s, so there was no way around it; but beyond ambition, even if he didn’t have such grand dreams, Byleth was sure they would still be fighting against her. She was taking too many liberties in her attempt at ‘unifying’ Fodlan. It was tearing it apart; people were dying; it wasn’t worth it. They had to do something. And in truth, Byleth believed that Claude would be a fantastic ruler, once it was all said and done.

By the looks of it, that moment would be coming sooner than later.

The doors locked behind them. Edelgard’s gambit was to lock them in and slaughter them while they were trapped, but it would be easier said than done. Byleth was growing more and more impatient with the war, but now, seeing Edelgard ahead of her, it was more than that. It was personal. For that reason, she decided to keep her distance; Claude was far more level-headed than she was when it came to killing people. She’d leave it to him. 

With most of the mages looked after, and Dorothea taken care of by a well-placed arrow from Leonie on horseback, all that was left was the demonic beasts. Sylvain and Felix could usually handle one on their own; Lysithea and Lorenz added long-range support, while Catherine and Byleth went for another. It fell strangely fast, and as it did so Byleth was surprised to see Dedue standing on the other side of it, axe in hand. He’d said he didn’t want to fight alongside them, but seemed content in helping to cut down anything on the way to Edelgard, so at least there was another ally she could count on.

Claude arrived at Edelgard first, his wyvern crawling up the steps in slow, crushing steps, its claws clattering against the marble steps and tail sweeping across the floor. 

“Our dreams are not so different,” Edelgard said to Claude, readying her axe. “But I cannot leave Fodlan in the hands of someone who does not understand its history.”

“It may be true that I didn’t grow up here,” Claude replied honestly, “but I’ve seen a lot of things in my life. Don’t worry. I’ll finish the job for you.”

Byleth had just finished dispatching several mages when she turned to see Claude using Failnaught to fire an arrow off at Edelgard. She ducked; perhaps she knew now where he liked to aim; and responded with thunder magic that sent a bolt of lightning crackling through the entire hall. It was a brutal hit. Failnaught clattered to the stone steps, and Claude and his wyvern were still only briefly before Claude slipped off the wyvern, his limp body rolling down several of the steps before falling still. He was completely unmoving, hair covering his face and blood beginning to seep out onto the tile floor-

No.

It didn’t have to be like this. Byleth turned it back, without a second thought; a little further back than she probably needed, just to be sure. As Claude was headed back to Edelgard, she ran in front first, sword at the ready. She glanced back at him, and perhaps he could tell just by the look in her eyes that it was for good reason. She was fighting back the vice grip that had taken hold of her chest from the sight of him, from before - that image would haunt her. 

“You are the person I wanted to fight the least,” Edelgard said to her as she approached. “But there’s no turning back now.”

“No, there isn’t,” Byleth replied. And now that she was looking at her - the one responsible for Jeralt’s death, for this war, for her being gone for five years, for everything - she realised she did have to be the one to end it. Not necessarily that she wanted to. But it simply made sense.

She looked back at Claude once more, determination set in her eyes.

“She’s mine.”

Edelgard only laughed, pulling her axe up and over her shoulder. 

“Don’t think I’ll put up an easy fight, Professor.”

True enough, she wasn’t counting on it. She swung at Edelgard with the sword, but missed as Edelgard moved down the steps and towards her with her axe. She yelled as she swung it down at Byleth, who dodged sideways and brought the sword back around to slam into Edelgard’s back. Bits of her red cape were ripped and torn away as the sword returned. Edelgard swung again as the sword became one piece, and Byleth lifted it swiftly to block the axe; metal clashed with metal, sparks flying for just a moment as they struggled against each other. She met Edelgard’s eyes and saw the same fire she was sure burned in hers. They were both fighting for what they thought was right. In that, there was something inherently sad about it… but every time Byleth thought of it, thought of Jeralt and all the needless killing Edelgard had caused to get to this throne… she knew better.

She pushed back against the axe with a newfound strength; Edelgard’s eyes widened, just briefly, as she tripped over the top stair and toppled back. Before Byleth had a chance to go after her, a nosferatu attack riddled her, eliciting a scream. When she came out of it, she was kneeling in front of the throne and staring wildly behind Byleth; Byleth followed her gaze and saw Lysithea there. 

“Lysithea,” Edelgard breathed. “We’re not so different, you and I.”

“We’re- you mean-”

“We could have worked together- against them-”

“You worked with them!” Lysithea interrupted her, rage burning in her eyes. Byleth looked back to Edelgard, who seemed down but wasn’t out yet; she lifted her axe once more and swung at Byleth, crest magic crackling. It was a surprisingly fast move, and Byleth found herself tripping back down the stairs. But as Edelgard followed, an arrow from Claude notched into her armor, breaking into her chest piece and creating a crack that split it nearly in two. She fell to one knee, her axe hitting the floor with a clang. Silence suddenly fell in the hall. Byleth got shakily back to her feet, and stood ahead of Edelgard, sword at the ready.

“My… teacher…” Edelgard breathed. “Claim your victory. Your path lays over my grave. Even now, people are killing each other; this war must be put to an end. If my death is what it takes…”

It was a sad sight, but Byleth couldn’t summon any sympathy for her. Every word she said was so self-serving. Is that what became of all leaders? This notion that whatever you did was for the people, even dying? In fairness, it was perhaps the best thing she would have done for the country so far -  but it all could have been avoided in the first place. Byleth had heard enough.

“I wanted- to walk with you-”

Byleth swung the sword down before she could even finish her sentence. There were a few gasps from those behind her as Edelgard’s body fell, bloodied and defeated, onto the floor. But then it was silent.

It was over.

Chapter Text

Claude rested a hand on Byleth’s shoulder, and she steadied herself. She hadn’t realised she’d been shaking. For so long now, in every battle, it felt like she was running on autopilot with one objective: revenge. And she had gotten it. It wouldn’t bring Jeralt back, but there had been justice for his death. 

Right?

She sheathed her sword and then looked sideways at Claude, concern shining in his eyes. She had forgotten, for just a moment, about what she’d seen earlier, and a delayed panic set in to her chest, but she stifled it back. There was no time to break down. No time to process what she’d seen just moments ago. No time to think about how she’d just executed someone she once walked the halls with, chatted with, almost became colleagues with. She was more grateful than ever to be beside Claude. And more grateful than ever that he was still alive.

“Here, boy. A letter.”

Judith arrived, her shoes clicking against the tiles as she came to a stop next to them. Claude reached for the parchment in her hands as she held it out for him.

“An Imperial general asked me to give that to you,” Judith added, folding her arms as she waited for him to open it. 

“It’s… from Hubert,” he said in surprise, and then began to read it aloud. “If you are reading this letter, that means I have perished. As Her Majesty would never surrender to another, I can only assume she has fallen as well. It greatly pains me to think of this coming to pass… That said, as the survivors, I must ask you to settle certain affairs in our stead. You must destroy the threat that slithers in the dark. I am sure you must recall Monica and Tomas. Their allies yet live.”

Claude paused, glancing up at Byleth. Of course - Thales, the mage that had sent her flying off of the cliff during the invasion of Garreg Mach. So that was why she felt like there was still more to be done. Her revenge wasn’t yet complete. 

Claude continued: “They hold a deep resentment against the children of the goddess and the people of the world, and they are biding their time until they can exact revenge. If left to their own devices, it is certain they will eventually bring unimaginable calamity and suffering to the world. I detected their sorcery when you took Fort Merceus.”

“Fort Merceus - those javelins of light, as Nader called them?” Judith interjected. Claude nodded solemnly, and then went on-

“I have determined the location of their stronghold, Shambhala. You will find its whereabouts enclosed. There is no question that they are the enemies of everyone in Fodlan. Do not allow yourselves to forget that. Lastly, while I cannot say she is in good health, the archbishop resides in a secret chamber in the Imperial palace. I have shared the location of the entrance to that secret chamber with the person to whom I have entrusted this letter. I believe that Her Majesty will be victorious… even still, I must plan for her defeat as well. If you wish to lead this world, I challenge you to rise to the occasion and surpass my estimation of you. Such is your obligation as the victors… and the only fitting tribute to all that Lady Edelgard sacrificed.”

Byleth’s eyes widened. So Rhea was alive.

“Hubert…” Claude sighed. “To leave a letter like this behind… He was a better man than I believed he’d be.”

“Rhea is alive,” Byleth exclaimed.

“Yes. And the fight isn’t over. Those who slither in the dark… sounds like Fodlan will never know peace unless we defeat them. But, who are these ‘children of the goddess’ they supposedly resent?”

“Let’s ask Rhea,” Byleth suggested, finding herself impatient to find her. Claude nodded eagerly.

“Right. We still don’t know if this letter is telling the truth or not, after all. Let’s find out.”


With help from the Imperial general that gave Judith the letter, they were led into dungeons deep below the Imperial palace. In the dark, wet air of the cavern, Rhea sat alone, her long hair dirtied at the ends and her face gaunt. She was thin, and frail. They had only barely kept her alive. 

When her eyes landed on Byleth, she tried to stand, but tripped over her feet; Byleth caught her arms, and crouched down to help steady her.

“You - you have come to save me,” she said weakly. “I longed to see you again. After all this time… is it truly you?”

“It’s me,” Byleth replied quietly. She’d forgotten that Rhea didn’t know she was still alive. The last time they’d seen each other, Byleth was falling to her supposed death. She helped Rhea to her feet, and all of them left the dungeons, returning to the outside steps of the palace.

“Claude…” Rhea said suddenly, prompting him to turn to her. “I can see you have grown into a reliable young man. “Thank you for supporting the professor, and for rescuing me. Surely the protection of the goddess has-”

“Wait, Rhea,” Claude interrupted her. “What do you know about the children of the goddess?”

“Children of-” Rhea cut herself off, her eyes widening. “What is this about?”

“Forgive my bluntness. Someone from the Empire filled us in on a few things. I know it must be painful for us to ask you difficult questions after your confinement, but we have no choice. We have a new enemy… those who slither in the dark.”

“Those… who slither in the dark…” Rhea repeated, deep in thought.

“Apparently they resent the children of the goddess, and the people of the world, and are planning something big. Something terrible. They use blood for wicked magic and are capable of dropping javelins of light from the sky, powerful enough to crush entire fortresses,” he continued. “If you can think of anything, please tell us. We need to know all we can to defeat them.”

Rhea dropped her gaze to the floor, hands clasped in front of her. Byleth looked sideways to Claude to see him looking increasingly impatient.

“This is the critical moment that will determine whether or not Fodlan falls!” he said, his voice bordering a yell as he took a step towards her. “Can’t you see that the time for secrets has passed!?”

Fire was burning in his eyes. All of those years of secrecy, of things hidden away, of censored library books - it had only fostered distrust. Distrust in the church, and in Rhea. Byleth reached a hand to Claude’s shoulder to try and calm him, but at the same time… she agreed. They had to know.

“It is true that there are a group of people who have slithered in the darkness and threatened the peace of Fodlan since ancient times,” Rhea finally said, her voice quiet. “I am sure you have heard the stories of a man named Nemesis.”

“The King of Liberation,” Claude said. “The hero to whom the goddess gave the sword of the creator.”

“Nemesis was originally the leader of a group of bandits. He plundered the Holy Tomb and stole the remains of the progenitor god. When Nemesis appeared in Zanado some time later, he already wielded the Sword of the Creator. I do not know how Nemesis obtained the sword, or why he appeared in Zanado. But he used that sword to massacre the people there. The children of the progenitor god. From their corpses, he gained more power, and brought war to Fodlan.”

“That’s… completely different than what the legends tell us about Nemesis,” Claude replied with a frown. 

“A mere bandit like Nemesis would not have been capable of anything so monstrous on his own,” Rhea added, looking at Claude sadly.

“So he had accomplices?” Claude asked. “Those who slither in the dark- they used Nemesis! And this time, they used the Imperial army to once again bring war to Fodlan… I finally understand. That’s why Edelgard was working with them. Just as they were trying to use the Empire, the Empire was trying to use them.”

He looked suddenly to Byleth. She was struggling a bit to follow, but if Claude understood, he could explain the rest to her later. 

“Thank you, Rhea,” he added, looking back at her. “Please, rest for a while. We should all head back to the monastery.”



It was already late into the evening when they got back to Garreg Mach, and about halfway into the journey, Byleth took hold of Claude’s hand and didn’t let go. After everything, she found herself no longer worrying what the others would say, or what rumors might spread. She needed him. And by the way his hand held tight to hers, she felt safe in assuming the feeling was mutual. 

When they reached the monastery, Byleth made sure all of the others were doing okay, and then found her way back to her room. It was the same dorm as always. Part of her felt like she should eventually move somewhere else - like maybe to Jeralt’s old quarters - but that would be difficult in its own way. There’d been no time to bother moving.

When Byleth opened the door to her room, Claude was already there. He was sitting off the edge of her bed, head in his hands. She hung her cloak up on the back of the door and then crouched in front of him, lifting a hand to cup the side of his face, her thumb sweeping along his cheekbone as his eyes slowly opened to look at her. Even for him, this had been a brutal and seemingly unending slog. He looked exhausted. Byleth felt the same.

“Claude,” she said softly, “you did really well today.”

He let out a breath of laughter, and dropped his hands from his head. 

“So did you. Thanks for saving me.”

Her breath caught in her throat. So he had known, earlier, when that had happened - when that had almost happened - just by the look in her eyes? Had he always been so perceptive? 

Yes, she answered herself immediately - yes he had been. She tried not to think too hard about what she’d seen, even though the image of him, limp and lifeless on the floor of the Imperial palace, seemed burned into her mind. She shut her eyes tight, willing it to go away.

“I’m sorry I put you through that,” Claude said quietly.

“Better you than me,” Byleth managed to choke out. She had scared him, too, back in Myrddin, and in countless other battles. For every one of the risks she’d taken, she’d come out alive thanks to the effort of her friends. But there was always that chance. There was always a possibility of everything going horribly, horribly wrong. And it was much harder to fix when it was her head on the chopping block. She opened her eyes and lifted her gaze to Claude, who smiled weakly down at her and then leaned forward to wrap his arms around her neck.

“I wish we were done. I wish it was over,” he said, his voice muffled through her hair. Byleth let out a long sigh, fighting back the urge to break into tears. Hearing him so upset was like a knife to the heart. It hurt.

“Soon,” Byleth replied simply, trying to convince herself as much as him. She wanted desperately to be right. 



Byleth started the next morning early, at the training grounds. When the sun was only just rising, it was usually empty, but today, someone had already beat her there; she could hear the telltale sound of wood clashing with the training dummies. As she came out into the sun and picked herself up a training sword, she looked to see who it was, only to have another wooden sword come flying at her from behind a pillar. 

She barely blocked it with her sword, and from behind the pillar, Felix walked out, looking slightly exhilarated. He grinned at her, tilting his head.

“Early morning training, are we?”

“I usually do,” Byleth replied, smiling back at him. “I haven’t sparred with you lately, though.”

“I’ve been going in the evenings,” Felix admitted. “But yes, it has been too long. What do you say, then?”

She nodded back at him, pulling her sword back from his and then getting into a ready stance. The sun was already beginning to cast long shadows across the courtyard as they began their spar. Felix was fast, and Byleth was sure he tried harder when he faced her, but that was good - it kept her on her toes. It was a nice distraction for a while, and by the time they were done - with Byleth taking the victory, as usual - sunlight had flooded the courtyard and both of them had sweat dripping from their brow. 

“I’ve been wondering,” Felix said somewhat breathlessly, “what I’m going to do with myself when we’re all done fighting. I thought the war would be over, and now we only have more to do. But it’s going to stop, at some point.”

“Mm,” Byleth hummed, putting their training swords away. “What about your house?”

“Fraldarius?” Felix scoffed. “I guess it’s on me to take it up now.”

Byleth paused, looking back at him in confusion. Felix folded his arms.

“Don’t look so confused. If Dimitri is dead, then so is my father. I’m sure he went out like a true knight.”

There was vitriol dripping from his last words. Byleth frowned; she couldn’t help it. Even after everything, even after their victory… it must not have felt like that for Felix. Byleth had to admit that even for her, it was a tough pill to swallow. And there was still more fighting to be done.

“Were you ever close with Dimitri, Felix?”

“No,” he replied without missing a beat. “But it’s such a waste. He… if I had stayed in Blue Lions, I wonder if I could have helped him. Stopped him from becoming so consumed with madness. He really just needed someone to kick his ass. To get him to stop wallowing in all his pain. The rest of us see people dying all the time, too. But life goes on.”

Felix’s burgundy eyes had lifted to the sun, slowly reaching its zenith.  

“I think you should lead your house,” she said suddenly, smiling a bit at him as he glanced back at her. “You’re very mature.”

“Mature?” Felix replied, eyes wide in surprise. “Most people just call me an asshole.”

“Maybe before they got to know you. But you’ve grown a lot, Felix. I’m glad you stayed with us, in the end.”

“Don’t flatter me,” he countered, but there was red on his cheeks as he turned to leave the training grounds. “And next time, I’ll beat you.”

Byleth rested her hands on her hips and watched him go. Everyone was in need of a cheer up, after the last few months. And while it was true that they weren’t done yet, she had a feeling they were close. She could taste it in the air, on the cold morning breeze. She could see it in the way the sun rose and set each day. They were almost done.



Soon, it was time to leave for Shambhala, using the instructions Hubert had provided in his final letter; and this time, Rhea was joining them on their journey. When they got there, it was unlike anything Byleth had seen before. Unlike anything any one of them had seen before. The floor and walls were all black, like a jet black tile; light traveled along the walls and floors as if by magic. Everything was lit in a dim, eerie light, and no one seemed how to react to their new and strange surroundings. It didn’t seem like it was of this earth, but it didn’t necessarily look like magic, either. It was nearly incomprehensible, similar to the javelins of light that had fallen to crush Fort Merceus… 

“Who are these people?” Claude wondered aloud, echoing Byleth’s thoughts as they made their way deeper and deeper underground. Byleth was speechless, like everyone else. But Rhea, even in her silence, seemed to be more troubled than the rest. Byleth hung back to walk alongside her as they found their way down seemingly endless steps, deeper and deeper into the underground city. 

“What’s wrong?” she asked quietly, prompting Rhea to look sideways at her suddenly.

“Nothing,” she said, clearly lying. She let out a pensive sigh. “It’s just… that we must defeat them, no matter the cost. However, the one they will want to kill most… is you, dear child.”

“Me?” Byleth asked, though she wasn’t necessarily surprised. Somehow, over the course of the last five-six years, she had become a strangely popular target. Rhea nodded.

“They are aware you can use the Sword of the Creator. Your body houses the same power they once bestowed upon Nemesis. That is why… I fear for you.”

Sh was clearly stressed. Byleth only frowned. 

“I don’t really understand,” Byleth admitted, looking intently at Rhea. They both knew she had the answers. 

“Forgive my errant thoughts,” Rhea said dismissively. “When this battle is over… I will explain everything. I will tell you all I know about who you really are.”

Byleth slowed as Rhea kept walking. All she knew - so there was information even Rhea didn’t know? At least whatever she knew would help to fill some holes in her understanding, but still. She didn’t want to feel even more confused, by the end of it all.

She was distracted as they reached the bottom of the steps. An expanse stretched out ahead of them, full of the mysteriously dressed mages and also several massive… 

“What are those big- things?” Claude asked, clearly also not sure what word could be used to best describe them. They looked like giants made of metal, holding massive curved shields and glowing with the same otherworldly light that lit their environment in a dim blue light. 

“Demonic beasts?” Rhea breathed. “No - they don’t look like they have a will of their own. They’re being controlled.”

“Then let’s find out by who,” Byleth said, pulling out her sword. “There’s not a lot of room to work down here. Split up until we can get to Thales.”

The group of them did as they were told, with Rhea sticking close to Byleth. There were enemies of all sorts down here; wielding bows, swords, axes, tomes. It was a struggle to fight through and find their way to a door. Some of what looked to be doors were dead ends, but on opposite sides of the massive area, there were stairs leading down. Unfortunately, the metal giants were also there, ready and waiting, soulless empty helmets staring down ominously as Byleth approached.

There was nothing to do but fight.

With their party split up, it was more of a slog than usual. Byleth found herself ducking and dodging from all sorts of attacks; Rhea had been right. They clearly wanted her dead. It was tiring, escaping so many attacks, and there was only so much she could do; by the time Claude, Hilda, and Felix were all sustaining injuries from just trying to protect her, she had had enough. She caught sight of a door in the center. She knew Thales was there. She could feel it. When she made a beeline for the door, Claude was right behind her atop his moon-white wyvern. 

She busted it open, and a long room revealed itself to her, with Thales standing atop a set of stairs at the far end.

“To think that base animals such as yourselves would dare bare your fangs at us,” Thales drawled, a sick smile twisting its way across his thin lips. “Do you really think you can defeat us?”

“We’ve come this far,” Byleth said simply, walking decisively through the room with her sword at the ready. She heard the unmistakable sound of Claude’s wyvern landing on the smooth floor behind, its claws scraping against the tiles.

“Do you really think you can defeat her and the Sword of the Creator?” Claude asked, sounding optimistic. Byleth tried to catch his enthusiasm. 

“The Sword that was given to Nemesis,” Thales replied, readying himself as Byleth got closer. “Who do you think is more powerful?”

“There’s a big difference between the living and the dead,” Claude replied simply. Byleth had to agree. She was alive. 

“Fell Star… or should I say, Sothis, ” Thales said to Byleth as she climbed the steps. “I will spill every drop of blood in your body to fulfill the longstanding goal of the Agarthans!”

Fell Star. Solon had called her that, too. He didn’t realise she was Sothis, but Thales knew. That knowledge, however, wouldn’t help him. Not now. Not anymore. It didn’t matter what horrifying black magic he had up his sleeve. She had her friends behind her - had Rhea, had her sword, had Sothis - and Claude. And nothing made her feel more relieved, more assured, than him. 

As the sword whipped out towards Thales and ricocheted back, dark magic swept from his hands and went washing over her. She ducked to the side and brought the sword around again, her heels clicking on the floor as he fired off more and more bursts of magic to try to catch her off guard. But the sword met its mark; he wasn’t that fast; and sent him backwards and down onto the floor. A grunt escaped him as he got back to his feet, and another ball of magic went soaring at her. She had a flashback to that day, over five years ago, when he had sent her off of that cliff. Sent her away from everything she knew, and loved. 

“I’m not that easy to kill!” Byleth snapped, ducking beneath the shadowy magic and sending the sword flying back at Thales with incredible speed. His eyes widened as it slammed into him, and he staggered backwards. Byleth held fast to the sword as it tried to detach; she wanted to make sure the job was done. Only then did she allow it to come flying back to one piece. 

“You- will never get to enjoy your victory,” he choked, dropping to the floor and pressing one hand down onto some sort of crest symbol. It lit in magical light. Byleth looked sideways urgently to Rhea, who had a look on her face like she understood what was happening.

“It can’t be-”

There was only a brief pause, and then the earth shook. Byleth staggered sideways, looking back in a panic towards Claude and the others as massive pieces of rock began to cave in on them. Light from the setting sun poured into the room a moment later. Byleth looked up to see more light glinting from the sky - it was those same javelins of light from Fort Merceus.

“Get everyone out!” she yelled back to Claude, desperate. “Please!” 

He hesitated, for just a second, his wyvern backing up and looking stressed as the dust settled. Finally he clenched his teeth, put his bow on his back, and pulled on the reigns of his wyvern to turn it around and look after the others. Byleth looked sideways to Rhea, but she was only staring up at the sky as another javelin made its way to them. She jumped, up and up, and in a flash she was the Immaculate One again, firing bursts of fiery magic at the javelins to explode them before they could hit the fort. But there were too many. They overwhelmed her, and a sad roar escaped her, not unlike the one Byleth had heard all those years ago when she flew off the edge of the cliff at Garreg Mach. More javelins came through. The sky exploded in a blinding, hot white light. All Byleth could do was crouch and pray as the earth shook, rumbled, and groaned all around her.

When it finally stopped - when her ears had finally stopped ringing, and when she wiped the dust and dirt from her face - she looked up to see Thales’ head, upside down and crooked, facing her from beneath some of the boulders. He was dead and well crushed. Byleth rubbed her eyes and turned - further back, where the sun was still shining through, on the tile and laying still, was Rhea.

Byleth broke into a run towards her. She was still breathing, but only just. Her soft green eyes opened slowly to see Byleth crouching above her, and she smiled. But something was wrong. Byleth could tell, even though Rhea looked otherwise completely uninjured... she was dying.

They had to get back to Garreg Mach.

Chapter Text

It was all a blur. Everyone was a mess, but mostly Cyril. Manuela would only be able to do so much to keep Rhea alive. It was a miracle, it seemed, that she was at all. Byleth’s mind was blank. She wanted to hear what Rhea had to say, about who she was. But she couldn’t ask. Not now.

Claude stopped her in the reception hall before she could follow the others to Rhea’s bedchamber.

“Byleth - remember the day Garreg Mach was taken, a pure white beast was on the battlefield?”

She looked sideways at him. Had he figured it out?

“I only caught a glimpse of it, but I didn’t understand where it came from. There were rumors that the goddess sent it to protect the monastery. But now I know better. That was Rhea.

“She tried to save me,” Byleth said quietly, confirming Claude’s suspicions. His eyes widened.

“You… knew?” he said, shocked.

“Yes,” Byleth replied, and she looked up at him honestly. “I didn’t mean to keep it from you. I just didn’t even think about it.”

“Remember that time I showed you a picture known as The Immaculate One?” Claude asked, and Byleth nodded. “Seteth confiscated it. The beast that appeared… looked just like it. So Rhea is The Immaculate One.”

“I remember,” Byleth agreed.

“The book said that it was a servant of the Goddess, but wouldn’t it make sense if beasts like that are actually children of the goddess? Rhea’s in a grim state, but there’s things we must ask her about. Once things calm down a bit, let’s go see her. Together.”

The monastery was quiet, later, when they went up to visit Rhea. She was still alive, thanks to Manuela’s efforts, though it was rumored that it might not be for much longer. 

“I am happy to see you two,” Rhea greeted them as they stepped out onto the terrace attached to her room. She smiled softly at Claude before her gaze landed on Byleth. She looked even worse than when they had rescued her from Enbarr. She was gaunt, white as a sheet, and frail… but still standing, nonetheless. 

“Sorry to interrupt your rest, but there are some things we absolutely must ask you,” Claude said quietly, standing close to Byleth. Rhea frowned slightly, clasping her hands in front of her.

“It seems I do not have much time left. I do not intend to hide anything any longer.”

“Rhea…” Claude began, “I have to ask. You’re the Immaculate One, aren’t you? If I’ve guessed right, that’s what the children of the goddess is referring to. In other words, you-”

“I am the last child of the progenitor god,” Rhea interrupted him, confirming his suspicions. Byleth’s eyes widened. Child, she said. So, did that mean Sothis…?

“A long time ago,” Rhea continued, “the progenitor god came from somewhere far away and descended upon this continent. She changed her form to resemble that of a human, and gave her own blood to birth her children. The progenitor god and her children shared knowledge and skills with the people of the land. Together, they built a prosperous civilization. But the humans turned their backs on the teachings of the progenitor god, and engaged in senseless wars. ...eventually, people began to think of themselves as gods, and challenged the progenitor god herself to battle. The land was scorched in the war that ensued, and the majority of humans were annihilated. I believe that those who slither in the dark are the descendants of those who retreated beneath the ground during that battle.”

“So they had been waiting all that time for their chance for revenge?” Claude asked, sounding somewhat in disbelief. Rhea nodded.

“It took the progenitor god an astounding amount of time to revive the ravaged world. But eventually, the continent found peace again, and the progenitor god fell into a long slumber in the Holy Tomb. The children who stayed behind built a settlement in Zanado to protect the Holy Tomb, as they quietly lived out their lives. But then Nemesis appeared… bringing tragedy with him. Even now I cannot forget the sight of that massive canyon, painted red with blood-”

She cut herself off, dipping her head and shutting her eyes as if to shield herself from the image of it. 

“I was never able to forgive those who proudly wielded weapons crafted from the corpses of my brethren.”

The relics?

“I was the only survivor of Zanado, and all I could do was wander across Fodlan, clinging to my desperate desire for revenge. I called myself Seiros, fostered the founding of the Empire, and prepared to oppose Nemesis and his followers. I put Zanado behind me to gather the remaining children who were scattered across Fodlan. Finally, we killed Nemesis on the Tailtean Plains, and I took back the Sword of the Creator.” 

“Let me get this straight,” Claude said suddenly, shaking his head as he tried to understand it all. “Saint Seiros… is you? You’re kidding, right?”

“Professor, Claude. There is something you must hear at once,” a knight interrupted suddenly, before Rhea could answer. Byleth looked wordlessly at Claude. She believed Rhea. She wasn’t joking. For the first time, everything was beginning to make sense. 

“If there is something you must report, do so at once,” Rhea assured the knight, who bowed in response.

“As you wish. We are receiving a constant stream of messengers from cities to the east. They claim that an unidentified military force is attacking, and that there have already been a large number of casualties. The reports indicate that the cities and towns along the East Gronder thoroughfare in the old Hrym territory have already been destroyed.”

“What!?” Claude exclaimed.

“Some villages were razed completely, leaving no survivors,” the knight continued. 

“Damn it! Did they come from Shambhala? Were there remnants still hiding there?”

Another knight came running up, alongside a panicked-looking Hilda.

“Report! They have crossed the Great Bridge of Myrddin! Alliance forces met them in battle, but they have already pushed through!”

“They’ve already made it so far… is Count Gloucester unharmed?” Claude asked.

“The count is fine,” Hilda said quickly, “but apparently my brother joined with reinforcements and was gravely injured…”

“You mean to tell me they easily got past a general as skilled as Holst!?”

“Is he okay?” Byleth asked quickly, and Hilda nodded, though she looked concerned.

“He should be. They say the enemy wields a weapon resembling the Sword of the Creator. Even my brother couldn’t stop him…”

“We are preparing to meet them in battle. We believe they are marching towards Garreg Mach,” the first knight said. Byleth’s brow furrowed. The Sword of the Creator - the Crest of Flames-

“There is only one explanation,” Rhea said, as the knights and Hilda left. “The one leading the enemy force… is Nemesis himself.”

“You mean he was brought back to life?” Claude asked.

“An incredible power that we children cannot hope to match dwells in the blood of the progenitor god,” Rhea confirmed, looking sideways to Claude. “Perhaps the seal was broken when Shambhala fell. Nemesis obtained that blood.”

“Right…” Claude said with a shaky sigh. 

“From the blood of the progenitor god, Sothis, he acquired the Crest of Flames. From her bones and heart, he crafted the Sword of the Creator.”

“That sword… is made from her bones and heart ?” Claude asked, looking worriedly suddenly to Byleth. She was feeling increasingly sick to her stomach.

“The same is true of the Crests of the 10 Elites, and the other Crest Stones…  they were born of the blood and hearts of the progenitor god’s children. Those who slither in the dark created them - stole them. Sothis never gifted that power to the humans.”

“But the Sword of the Creator that Byleth wields… doesn’t have a crest stone,” Claude protested. “How is she able to wield its full power?”

“The crest stone of the progenitor god… dwells within her,” Rhea said. Byleth was listening intently. The truth was finally coming out. She had her own guess as to why Sothis had been in her head all those years, why they had been able to fuse, but- “I reclaimed the heart of Sothis after I battled with Nemesis. I wanted to resurrect her. Even though I had to some- questionable things to achieve that goal, I- I wished to see Sothis, my mother, once more.”

Resurrect her?  

“So you placed her heart… in me,” Byleth realised aloud suddenly. 

“Yes. I believed that if I could resurrect my mother, I could regain all that had been lost. I suspected that you housed the consciousness of Sothis. Those suspicions were correct, and yet… she merely gave you her power… and vanished. My dearest wish did not come true. But you did inherit the power of the progenitor god.”

Rhea’s eyes landed on her. Byleth’s breath caught in her throat. Sothis… had lost her memory. She didn’t know who Rhea was. She had recognized that song, the one she sang on the night of the ball; she was her mother. Rhea truly was a child of the goddess. And all alone. 

“You have the power to defeat Nemesis, once and for all,” Rhea finished. “Fodlan’s blood-stained history must end.”


It was silent, but Byleth’s ears were ringing as she found her way down the steps of the monastery. She had left in a hurry. Somehow, she had known it to be true that she had Sothis’ power. She remembered cutting through that spell. She remembered her disappearing. Remembered her waking her up. Remembered not dying after falling off the cliff and sleeping for five years. Remembered how the Sword of the Creator felt in her hands, like it was part of her. 

Who would I have been, all this time, if not for Sothis?  

“Byleth!”

Claude’s voice finally interrupted her thoughts. His hand took hold of her wrist, stopping her as she made her way wordlessly down the stairs towards the reception hall. She paused, but didn’t know if she could look at him. After all those secrets… all of the things she didn’t know… now it was all out in the open. But when Claude spoke, his voice was quiet, gentle, and concerned.

“Are you okay?”

“Of course,” she replied immediately, without thinking. She turned and looked up at him from the step below his. “I knew- I knew what Sothis was, remember? I told you.”

“...yeah, but- all that about her heart and bones, and the children, and the heroes’ relics-” 

Byleth dropped her gaze to the marble steps. “I don’t think even she knew about that.”

“And she’s… gone,” Claude said. Byleth nodded, slowly. Sort of. Gone, as in she no longer heard her scolding; gone as in she no longer had a presence with her at all times; gone as in she no longer had repetitive dreams of a great war, the very one Rhea had spoken of; gone as in, her spirit had been absorbed by Byleth’s. Gone, like reborn, resurrected... but still gone. 

“Maybe it was for the best that she didn’t know,” Claude suggested, softly. Byleth had to agree, but there was something bittersweet about it. The way Zanado had been so familiar. The way she remembered that she was the goddess herself, but not her daughter. Not her children. Perhaps it was merciful, really, that she had been spared that. 

“Probably,” she finally said. “I can’t think about it right now. We have to go.”

Claude took in a breath. She knew what he was thinking - she was right, they had to go. But there was still so much to process. A lot had just been dumped on both of them, but mostly her. She couldn’t bring herself to come to terms with how she felt about all of it. She knew many who wielded the heroes’ relics, and they had been a great asset in helping to take down their enemies. They were using them for good, but that didn’t negate the reality of what they were made of. Bones. Hearts. Corpses of children, slain in cold blood. Children like Rhea.

“You’re right. There’s no time to waste. Are you ready?”

“As I’ll ever be,” Byleth replied, smiling tiredly up at him. He stepped down to stand next to her, his hand slipping down from her wrist to her hand; he lifted it to his lips and kissed the top of it lightly.

“It’ll be okay. As long as we’re together.”

A skeptical smile tugged at her lips before she could help it. Claude tilted his head curiously.

“That’s so sappy, Claude.”

“Well, I mean it,” he replied, smiling in spite of himself. “Come on. Let’s go finish this.”



Nemesis and his army met them in the fields outside of Garreg Mach, but something was wrong - there was water covering the ground like a wetland swamp. It was dark and festering, and certainly didn’t look like any normal water. Nemesis was at the back of his army, dark and brooding and massive. He was a behemoth of a man. But was he actually… was he even human?

His glowing red eyes, from across the battlefield, landed on Byleth.

“Out of my way,” he hissed, and despite the distance between them, it was as if he was speaking in her ear. “I must kill Seiros!” 

“He really is a crusty old bastard,” Claude said with a frown, pulling failnaught up off his back and standing close to Byleth. His arm brushed hers, bringing her back to reality. She looked up at him and saw, for perhaps the first time, just a flicker of fear on his face; the smallest amount of doubt was lit in his eyes, hard as he may have been trying to hide it. She took in a deep breath, and clasped her hand in his, their fingers intertwining. Claude turned right away to look at her in surprise. She stared at him, determined. She didn’t have any words. All she wanted him to know was that he had her.  

He watched her for a second, and then smiled.

“Thanks, Byleth.”

With the clouds rolling and thundering overhead, they pushed their way through the bushes and out into the battlefield. One of the enemy mages dropped a foot in the water as he prepared to cast a spell at them, and immediately fell into a coughing fit, falling to the ground and shaking. Everyone watched in horror as he struggled for a while before falling still.

“Oh...kay,” Byleth said, blinking, “don’t touch the water! Everyone stay close. We’ll take them down one at a time.”

As they began taking down some of the front line enemies, Byleth was becoming increasingly aware of a few that looked… different. Scattered among them were a series of commanders. Each of them looked like they were wielding a crest weapon, but she wasn’t sure how that could be possible, unless - 

A series of lightning strikes narrowly missed Hilda. Lifted towards the thundering sky, from a commander on horseback, was the very same spear that Dimitri had once wielded. So it was the same as Nemesis; they had copies, somehow.

“We need to take them out before we have a chance at defeating Nemesis,” Claude called, as he let an arrow loose towards the Blaiddyd commander. “They’re strong, so everyone, be on your guard!”

Felix, with the help of Petra, took down the first. He disappeared into dust once he was defeated; so they were definitely undead, but still killable. At least Hilda and Claude were able to fly above the water; the rest of them had to side-step, but the swamp took up nearly the entire field, so it was hard to avoid. There was some grassland on either side of the swamp, but Byleth wasn’t interested in splitting up, especially when one side had a winged demonic beast laying in wait for them. They’d sidestep for now, and have to work their way around.

Mages were in wait for them at the end of the bridge, and one was one of Nemesis’ commanders. Byleth went ahead to take her down, running along the wooden bridge as Claude flew along beside her. A bolting attack was sent her way, and there was no chance to dodge. She ran through the attack even as it burned her skin and crackled around her; with the sword out, she sent it flying at Lamine with a yell. Between that and an arrow from failnaught, it burst the mage into dust, and immediately after - the water vanished.

“So it was magic all along,” Ignatz observed. “It’s traversable now!” 

“Good,” Byleth replied, watching them advance carefully onto the now dry land. “But watch your step. That means they can get across now, too.”

“Good point,” Claude said through gritted teeth. It was wide open now. The stakes were higher. And there was still a winged beast at the other end of the field to worry about. Still, they pushed on, swinging around and up onto the wasteland plateau. Mercedes helped Byleth heal up from the magical attack she’d taken, and she readied herself as more commanders now turned their attention to the team. Hilda entered battle with her counterpart, the two Freikugel’s clashing with a dreadful sound - Lorenz and Ignatz went after Gloucester - and Charon, with a copy of Thunderbrand, was taken out by Felix. 

It was something of a free for all. Byleth saw two more of the commanders standing in front of Nemesis, but they were keeping a close eye on things; she could see the tip of a failnaught copy poking out above the shoulders of one of them; an archer on horseback. Riegan. The other was an armored knight, also on horseback, with a lance that reminded Byleth sharply of defeating Miklan way back in one of their group missions. Sylvain wielded that lance now, though he rarely used it; perhaps it gave him bad memories of his dead brother.

The demonic beast was making its way across the wasteland, not hindered by the terrain like the others. It attacked alongside Dominic, a knight on pegasus-back wielding a horrifying and massive hammer. He swung down at Mercedes, but Petra intervened. Hammer slammed into sword, and sparks flew; Petra skidded back towards Mercedes, who hit Dominic with a magical attack, though it didn’t do too much damage. Claude dispatched him with a well-placed arrow; and he dissipated into dust that washed past Petra and Mercedes, both of them looking shocked.

“Thank you!” Mercedes said happily, taking Petra’s hand in hers and running to meet up with the rest of them. Byleth knocked the winged demonic beast back a little as it approached; Felix, having defeated his mortal savant counterpart, hit it with a magical lightning attack that elicited a roar from the creature. It hit back at him, but Sylvain intercepted, taking the brunt of it; Hilda came in from behind, her wyvern clenching its claws to the shoulders of the bird and sending it down onto the ground as she plunged her axe into its neck. There was blood on her cheeks, and in the brief silence that followed the winged beast’s final cry, Byleth had a sudden reality check.

They were giving it everything. These weren’t the same kids she’d met, all those years ago, in the Golden Deer classroom. The sparkle in their eyes had turned to flame. If they wanted to live the life they were promised, they had to fight for it, first. They had to survive.

And in Byleth’s mind - Sothis be damned if any of them don’t make it.

Riegan and Claude traded arrows next, and Byleth went for Gautier. Leonie, Petra, and Mercedes were close behind to lend support, but Felix, Sylvain, and Hilda had fallen back a little bit to recuperate. Raphael, Ignatz, Lorenz, and Lysithea were finishing off the final few mages on the other side of the field - wiping out the remainder of Shambhala. Finally. 

Gautier dropped his lance to try to catch Byleth off guard, but she stepped deftly on the tip of it, vaulted herself upwards, and stabbed her sword into his chest while knocking him off his horse. An unearthly scream left him as he disappeared into dust, and Byleth stood shakily, looking sideways to see Claude riding towards her. Riegan was gone, too. Which meant all that was left…

“That sword...” Nemesis drawled, walking out from behind some scattered boulders. His red eyes were on Byleth, piercing, unforgiving. “You bear the Crest of Flames, just as I do.”

Byleth steeled herself as he came towards her. His own sword - a copy of hers - was much darker in colour, but it glowed an eerie red as he approached. He whipped it sideways and then towards her; she felt it hit her shoulder with immense power, and she winced, letting out a yell anyways as she hit her own sword back to retaliate. Nemesis was a large man, however; even though it hit him, and sliced through his shoulder again and again as she pulled it back to herself, the damage wasn’t anywhere near even. He pulled his back, and Byleth felt her shoulder tearing as the sword pulled out of her and went back to him. She staggered forwards, her cloak ripping and blood seeping down her arm.

The pain didn’t last; Mercedes was close by, and a numb sensation washed over her wound as she worked her healing magic. Lysithea fired off a luna attack at Nemesis, and the damage was brutal; Byleth smiled weakly to herself. More magic followed from a shaky looking Felix, and then from Lorenz; Ignatz fired an arrow, and so did Claude; and Nemesis let out an angered, frustrated yell as the failnaught arrow, crackling with power, lodged itself into his back.

“That’s it! We’re almost done!” Claude called. Byleth got back to her feet, steeling herself. She couldn’t let Nemesis get an attack on anyone else. He’d nearly killed her ; the others wouldn’t stand a chance. And she wouldn’t risk them, anyways.

She ran at him, taking careful but decisive steps through the wasteland as she picked up speed. She lifted her sword at him, and he blocked with his, clenching his teeth as sparks flew past both their faces, the swords clashing. Seeing him close up, he wasn’t as intimidating. He’s just another enemy to kill.

He pushed back, knocking her away, but she came back a second time, just as fast. Again he blocked, pushed away, and then he swung at her; she lifted her sword up just in time, but she was on the defensive now. He glared at her in a rage, and pushed forward, knocking her back; she was about to go back at him, but he swung his foot around, and she only narrowly moved back in time to miss it as a blade on his boot swung past her neck. An arrow from failnaught came directly after, slicing through the air in front of him and causing him to fall sideways. He hit the ground, hard, and then rolled, getting back to his feet as Byleth readied herself once more, glancing sideways only once to see where Claude was standing. He was close. 

“You are a foolish child!” he spat.

“Tough talk from the guy who’s lived too long,” Claude retorted from beside Byleth. “Allow me to fix that!” 

Nemesis let out a long breath and then whipped his sword out; it separated as the crest stone glowed red once more. He sent it flying at the two of them. Claude jumped, while Byleth sank below the ricocheting pieces and ran at him once more. His sword was back in one piece just in time to block her attack; she yelled and hit at him again, but again he blocked, grunting. He lifted his sword fast suddenly to slice through another incoming arrow from Claude; it broke into pieces, and he hit back with a yell at Byleth, who had to duck and roll to the side to avoid him. Her chest was heaving. She was covered in dirt and dried blood.

“You are all pathetic weaklings!” Nemesis declared. “You lack the courage to challenge me in lone combat.”

It was bait - and directed and Claude. Byleth looked quickly over her shoulder at him, but he simply drew another arrow, standing firm.

“Yet we have the strength to scale the walls between us - to reach out our hands in friendship - so we can open our true hearts to one another!” 

The arrow crackled with magic as Claude lifted his bow skyward and let it loose. It flew straight into the sun, and Byleth only watched it breifly before Claude did something she could never have expected - he ran straight at Nemesis.

That’s how we win!

When Claude got to him, Nemesis simply hit him aside like it was nothing; Byleth’s eyes widened as Claude hit the ground and rolled several times, failnaught clattering to the ground beside him. She staggered to her feet to intercept Nemesis as he went to follow-up, blocking his approach with her sword.

You can’t - have him- she thought to herself, desperate as she swung her sword around, feeling it glow with the power of her crest. He’s mine!  

She was angry beyond belief. Everything, everything she had been through, everything she had put everyone through, everything that had happened to her, had all led to now. There would be nothing after this. It would be finally fucking over. So she had to win. She had to win for everyone’s efforts, for all they had done for her, for all she had learned and for how she had finally felt human and real for the first time in her life. And, perhaps surprisingly, the last thought that went through her mind as she swung her sword at Nemesis was of Jeralt.

'Thank you, kid.'

Nemesis was swinging at her, his sword higher than hers as she aimed for his chest; this was it, whatever would happen. But as they got closer, an arrow flew straight into Nemesis’ arm from above, forcing it down and giving Byleth’s sword a clear path.

Claude - the one he had shot earlier. She couldn't help but smile, in that split second. He was always a step ahead.

The swords clashed, but Nemesis was caught off guard, and his sword broke into two as her sword flew through it and carved across Nemesis’ chest. He screamed as he fell back, and Byleth stood still, waiting, watching the arrow crackling in his arm and the cut she had made glowing a strange light. Cheers from the others, from behind her, suddenly erupted across the field. Nemesis’ own army, still staggering up the hills behind them, fell to ash and dust, just as Nemesis did a moment later, leaving only Claude’s arrow sitting on the earth.

She sheathed her sword.

“Future historians will refer to this day as the New Dawn of Fodlan,” Claude said, having gotten up to one knee. Byleth turned and walked towards him with a smile, and reached a hand to him to help him to his feet. “Of that, I have no doubt. It’s up to you now, Byleth.”

“To me?” she repeated, smiling up at him as he straightened up. Claude didn’t reply; he simply pulled her close in an embrace, his arms wrapped around her shoulders, one hand resting on the back of her head. She shut her eyes. 

“To us,” she said quietly, and Claude squeezed her a bit tighter, dipping his head into the crook of her shoulder. 

 

For all those times she had wished she could pretend everything was okay - for all those times she had shut her eyes and wanted it to all just be over, to just find herself at the end of the journey and feeling safe and warm - she was finally there.

Chapter Text

Everything changed, from then on. It was busy. No one seemed to know what to do with themselves, now that life was… normal. Or at least, a new normal. There were no more battles to fight, and there was no more war looming over their shoulders, but there was still a lot to do. The matter of what to do with Fodlan was pressing, and the continent was waiting. Even the countries outside of Fodlan were likely curious; Petra said it was vital that she return home to give the news to her people. That was the first sign of many changes to come, and Byleth should have noticed it at the time, but she was still holding tight to a naive ignorance regarding the fact that all of the people she’d grown so close to were soon to go separate ways.

Claude, shortly after Nemesis’ defeat, asked Byleth to meet him at the top of the Goddess Tower. It was funny that it had become something of a meeting spot for the two of them; it wasn’t necessarily private, but it was enough of a climb that most people weren’t keen on making the trek. Whatever he had to say must have been significant. That, or he was just building suspense. For Claude, either of those were just as plausible. 

He was there waiting for her when she arrived, staring out at the rolling fields of Fodlan, as usual, as the setting sun washed across the hills. The Riegan crest on his shoulder fluttered slightly in the wind, and so did the pom-poms hanging off of his sash. Painted in the golden light, Byleth couldn’t help thinking to herself that he looked quite… beautiful. She took careful, quiet steps up the last few steps, and spent a moment just watching him. This was the man she’d been through everything with, from the very start. 

Even if Byleth didn’t have a heart, it still felt as if it was in a vice grip anytime she thought of how much Claude meant to her. 

Is that what love is?  

She dropped one hand to her pocket, and thumbed the ring that had been in there ever since she’d found it in Jeralt’s room. The one he had once given his wife - her mother. The one he told her to give to someone she loved one day, to the person she’d want to spend the rest of her life with. Who would that be, if not Claude? But despite everything, despite all of their talks and their intimacy and the supposed agreement that they would stay together, the thought of actually asking him… to marry her, or- well at least something like that- gave her butterflies.

“Byleth?” 

She lifted her gaze slowly to meet his. He’d turned and saw her. She lifted her hand from her pocket, far too fast to avoid suspicion, and waved awkwardly at him.

“How long have you been there?”

“Just a minute,” she replied honestly, walking up to stand next to him. “I couldn’t help but watch you for a little.”

“Is that so?” he asked, smiling back at her and folding his arms. “Sorry I called you all the way up here. I just wanted it to be a little private.”

“It’s okay. This is our unofficial spot, after all,” Byleth replied, looking out at the view briefly before returning her attention to Claude. “So?”

Claude took in a breath, looking back out at the view. His hands dropped as he exhaled. Byleth watched him curiously; she couldn’t be sure, but he almost seemed… nervous. 

“Remember when you came up here, the night of the ball? The conversation we had?”

“Something about… praying to our ambitions, right?” Byleth replied, tilting her head sideways at him. His eyes flicked sideways to her, and he smiled.

“Yeah. I’m sure you remember, but back then… well, when I first met you, I just wanted to use your power to help my dream of a new world come true. But then I realised that’s not how I felt about you.”

“And I told you off for it,” Byleth reminded him, folding her arms. He laughed.

“Yeah, you did. And I’m grateful for that. Because what I really wanted all along was to see that new world... “ he trailed off and then looked sideways at her intently, “with you by my side. I was a fool for thinking I could ever do it on my own. But for so much of my life, I was all I had. Having you there to support me was like- was like-”

“I know,” she interrupted him suddenly, turning to face him. Her stomach lurched. She could hear it in his voice, the hoarseness, the distrust, the years of struggling and suffering and not knowing. She remembered feeling like that. It was the same reason - one of many- that she was so grateful for him in return. 

“Yeah,” Claude said, letting out a breath. “Anyways. I just wanted you to know that I’m sorry I put you through that. I know I have a tendency to keep a lot of things hidden away, and- and there’s going to be more of that, just a little, but- I’ve tried to be more open. For you.”

“I can tell,” Byleth replied eagerly, looking at him honestly as he turned in surprise to see her. Thinking back to how his eyes looked before, it was almost like looking at a pair of closed doors, but he had changed. And not just around her - around the others, too. He didn’t have to fight so hard to survive. He could trust people again… and so could she. “Really, Claude. But what do you mean, more of that?”

“Well-” he said shortly, avoiding her eyes now as he lifted a hand to scratch the back of his neck, “I have good news and bad news.”

“Bad news,” Byleth replied instantly. Claude looked at her warily. He looked like he was fighting some sort of internal battle with himself, like he didn’t want to say it anymore than she would have liked hearing it. But finally, he sighed.

“I’m leaving. I can’t rule Fodlan. I have to go back home, and fix things there, before I can say that my- that our ambition-” he corrected himself- “has really come true.”

Byleth’s breath caught in her throat. He was telling the truth. Her first thought was, what possible good news could follow this, if he’s leaving? and her second thought was, to Almyra? He had never confirmed that that was his homeland. It was just a hunch. Whether right or wrong, it didn’t matter. The fact was, he was leaving. But what did that leave her? What did that leave Fodlan?

“The coronation ceremony is tomorrow,” Claude continued. Perhaps he had seen the sudden look of panic in her eyes. But it was Claude, right? He must have had a plan of some sort. “I wish I could be there with you, but-”

“Me!?” Byleth exclaimed, purposefully ignoring the implication that he was leaving within the next twelve hours. “Leading? Claude, it should be you!”

“That’s flattering,” he admitted, “but I’ve done what I had to do here. I have royal ties in my homeland, insignificant as they may be. I’m going to go and fix things there, and then come back. You’re the leader Rhea appointed, right? I know it’s a lot to ask, but you’re the one who can help lead them to a new dawn. The people believe in you. I believe in you.”

Byleth’s mouth dropped open. She didn’t know what to say. Rhea had appointed her in charge of her ‘sacred duties,’ whatever that meant. It was definitely a much more vague job description than Fodlan’s Ruler, which was not a title she ever wanted. She could follow in Claude’s footsteps - in fact, it would be the only way she’d know what to do at all - but the fact remained that he was leaving, and she wasn’t quite ready to accept it, not yet. But then she registered those two words he’d mentioned just seconds ago: come back.  

“So you’ll come back,” she asked. Claude nodded, looking at her in surprise, as if it was obvious.

“I could never leave you, Byleth. Once everything is all sorted, I’ll be back.”

She nodded, weakly. So there was no getting around this after all. She wasn’t sure she wanted to ask, but couldn’t help it- “...so, how long will you be away?”

“Not long,” he replied, his answer just as vague as she’d feared it would be. 

“And you won’t tell me where you’re going, will you?”

“That would ruin the surprise,” he answered, and though he was grinning, his expression fell a bit when he met Byleth’s eyes. “You have to trust me. At least I won’t be gone five years.”

“Hey!” Byleth protested, “I didn’t mean to be gone for that long-”

“I’m just teasing you,” Claude laughed, stepping forward and closing the distance between them. He rested a hand on the top of her head, and Byleth simply leaned forward against him. She knew he’d been joking - of course she knew - but it was hard to find the strength to laugh at any of his jokes right now. 

“Nothing would ever stop me from coming back,” he said quietly. “You know that, right?”

She nodded into his chest, breathing in his scent and savoring his warmth. In her gut, she knew. Of course she knew. It didn’t make saying goodbye any easier. 

“I’ll miss you,” she finally said, after a bit of silence. Claude let out a light laugh again. She pushed her face further into his clothes. She’d miss the sound of him laughing, too.

“I haven’t even given you the good news yet.”

Oh, she realised, and pulled back to look up at him. Claude dropped his arms from her, reached into a little hidden chest pocket in his jacket, and held out a ring. In the violet dusk light, it shone a brilliant silver, with emerald stones at the crest that twinkled just like Claude’s eyes. It was beautiful. She barely had time to realise what he meant by it until he spoke.

“I hope… you’ll accept this,” he said, looking at her from beneath long lashes, a faint red stain just barely visible on his cheeks. Byleth took in a sharp breath. She didn't know what to say, so instead she reached into her pocket and pulled out her own ring, from Jeralt, and held it up wordlessly to Claude. His eyes focused on it and then he blinked.

“As long as you wear this and promise- promise to come back,” she stammered, choking on her words. Claude looked completely taken off guard, and then he laughed again, pulling her in again for a tight hug - but he lifted her at the same time, and spun her around once.

“Gods, you make me so happy. You know that, right?”

She laughed lightly as her feet hit the ground again, and looked up at him, feeling somewhat exhilarated and giddy. Claude bent forward to press his forehead against hers, the tips of their noses brushing together.

“I love you, Byleth.”

She met his eyes, drinking in the way he looked in that moment, as if to make sure he meant it. But in her heart, she knew he did, without a doubt. An inescapable smile spread across her lips. Hearing those words from someone she loved had seemed like such a faraway dream, the sort that people like her… didn’t get to have. But here she was, with him. A blush spread across her cheeks and chest before she could stop it. 

“I love you too,” she answered back. Claude's eyes fell shut for a moment as he smiled, as if he was relieved. But when he looked back at her, his eyes were full of intent, and Byleth's smile faded as her lips dropped open. The way he looked at her was enough to melt her away into nothing, and he must have been able to tell; he pushed forward to press his lips to hers, softly at first, but then with more passion. Byleth returned it in kind. She couldn’t help it. She didn’t want him to go. She wanted him close, wanted him with her each night and each morning, wanted all of it. Everything she had been waiting for was there, within reach, and yet she had to wait longer still.

She pulled at his bottom lip a little, eliciting a gasp from him; his tongue pushed past her lips. 

“Mm-”

One of his hands slid up to the side of her face, holding her close as he kissed her, as if he was hungry. Byleth let out a breath of laughter before she could help it. It had been a little while since they’d last had time for any fun.

“What?” Claude asked, pulling away slightly, but keeping their foreheads pressed together. 

“You really want me, don’t you?” she asked, resting her hands on his shoulders and pushing him back, slowly, towards the wall of the Goddess Tower. He obliged, taking careful steps and not moving his eyes from hers.

“Am I that easy to read?”

“You are to me,” she replied, and his back finally hit the wall. He grinned down at her, blush spread on his cheeks as she lifted up and pressed her body to his, her chest pressing against his jacket, leaning down to kiss his neck.

“Sh-” he gasped as she dropped her hands down his clothes, slipped one up and under his jacket, past his waistband - and then stopped, barely an inch away from his cock, which she could feel the heat from.

“...or I could make you wait,” she said, her voice just a whisper in his ear. Claude let out a shaky laugh, and almost instantly slid one of his hands down the front of her shorts, his finger tips just lightly brushing against her.

“Then you’d have to wait, too.” 

“Fine,” Byleth said, pulling her hand from his waistband and smiling coyly at him. He hesitated before lifting his hand out.

“Fine,” he said back, and though he was feigning confidence, she could see the disappointment in his face.

“When you come back,” she began, planting kisses down his jaw between the words, “you can do whatever want to me.”

If she wasn’t mistaken, Claude shuddered, leaning forwards to kiss her neck in return. She was enjoying this way, way too much, and though it was tempting to let him have his way with her tonight… in a way, making him wait was just as fun.

“I guess I have to come back then,” he teased, even though Byleth shot him a stern look. He laughed again. She’d miss hearing that sound. There was something so carefree about it. It made her happy. But reality came washing down on her before she could help it.

“When are you going?”

“Tonight, I think,” Claude said with a sigh, as Byleth took a small step back. “The faster I get this all sorted, the faster I can come back.”

“You’d better write,” Byleth said, though it was more of a threat than a request. He smiled again, looking at her with the same kind expression as always - the sort that she craved anytime she felt anxious, or alone, or sad. She lifted one of her hands to rest it on the side of his face, and he leaned into it slightly, his beard tickling her fingers.

“How am I going to get by without you?”

“You’ve managed worse, Byleth.”

Chapter Text

Claude left under the moonlight, without saying goodbyes to anyone else. His wyvern let out a cry as he lifted up into the sky, under the stars, and became smaller and smaller in Byleth’s view until she couldn’t see him anymore. But she stayed on the Star Terrace until she couldn’t keep her eyes open anymore. She prayed, silently, to whoever would listen. 

“So, he left after all.”

It wasn’t the voice she was expecting to hear, but then again, she wasn’t sure who she was expecting to see. Byleth looked back over her shoulder to see Seteth walking out to meet her, his hands clasped behind his back. She looked at him expectantly. 

“I’ve had my own hunches about Claude’s lineage,” he said, noticing the look in her eyes. He looked up at the stars as he came to a stop beside her. “I have faith in him that he can achieve his ambition. Do you?”

“Yes,” Byleth replied, “of course I do.”

“Good. Congratulations, by the way.”

She looked at him in surprise, and saw his eyes flick down to the little green ring on her finger, twinkling in the starlight. He was eerily observant. She supposed that was a skill that came with supervising teenagers for years and years.

“Thank you,” she said, looking down at the ring on her fingers and fidgeting with it. “Claude said that I should be the new… leader… But what about Rhea?”

“She…” Seteth trailed off, sounding suddenly upset, “does not have much time left. It would be best to have you take over her duties, as she requested.”

Byleth frowned, trying to hold back the lump in her throat. Rhea was dying. For some reason, that fact alone wasn’t as sad as the reality of Seteth having to watch her fade away. They were closer than she probably knew.

“I’m sorry, Seteth,” she said, her voice breaking. “I want to follow in her footsteps too, but… where will you go?”

“Me?” Seteth asked, looking back at her with his eyebrows raised. “I’m not going anywhere. I will stay here, as your advisor.”

Byleth’s eyes widened, and her shoulders dropped. She let go of a tension she didn’t realise she’d been holding. 

“Really? You won’t go somewhere else, with Flayn?” 

“We have no reason to leave. The monastery is our home. ...If you’ll have us, that is.”

“Of course!” Byleth replied quickly, turning to face him. “I- thank you so much, I’m- I’ll do my best.”

“I’m certain you will,” Seteth said, smiling warmly at her. “Claude isn’t the only one who trusts you to lead this country, you know. You have more support than you realise. And not just that, but friends, too. That counts for even more.”

Byleth smiled, just a little, despite everything. It was heartwarming, really. Even if Claude was gone, Seteth was right - she still had support here. It wasn’t like she’d be all alone. She could rely on others, even if it seemed a foreign feeling to her. 

“Now, on to more pressing matters,” Seteth continued, as if it wasn’t the middle of the night. “Your coronation is tomorrow. Would it be presumptuous of me to request that I oversee it?”

“No, please do,” Byleth said, shaking her head quickly. “I trust you, Seteth.”

“As you should. Now get some rest, and I’ll meet you in the audience chamber at dawn. I’m sure there’ll be a crowd at Garreg Mach by sunrise tomorrow. It will be difficult getting everything together, but I believe I can manage.”

Even though it sounded like a complaint, Byleth had the distinct feeling that he would have plenty of fun holding a last-minute coronation. She smiled, then yawned. Sleep was calling her. She could already tell that the following weeks would keep her busy; at least it could help the time pass quickly while Claude was away.


The coronation ceremony was hailed, indeed, as the New Dawn of Fodlan. Byleth was appointed the new archbishop. She made it clear in her first address that Fodlan was to be an open continent, and friendly to its neighbors; to Brigid, to Dagda, to Almyra, and also to Duscur. Rhea attended the ceremony, but only several days later, passed away in her sleep. A massive rebuilding effort was put into place, to make up for all of the destruction of the war. Although houses and a basic nobility system stayed in place, Byleth supported the ideals of many to not place so much importance into crests. And, only weeks after the coronation, the Officer’s Academy re-opened, with Hanneman, Manuela, and Alois as the instructors.

Life was peaceful then, until Byleth received reports of a return of those-who-slither-in-the-dark. She’d decided to simply call them snakes, though she admitted that actual snakes would have been far more preferable. Their reconnaissance hadn’t revealed anything threatening until about a few months after New Fodlan was formed. There were mysterious mages and soldiers gathering, making their way from all across the continent towards Garreg Mach. Towards her.

“Rumors of your… lineage… have spread,” Seteth informed her, choosing his words carefully as they sat at a long table in the audience chamber. It was the first war council Byleth had held in months, and realisation struck her. She hadn’t heard anything from Claude in weeks. It had been almost three months since he’d left, and though she asked Shamir to send out spies to see where he was, he had eluded all of them. She should have known.

Byleth rested her elbow on the table, and her chin in her hand. Her soft green hair, quickly growing since she’d opted to stop cutting it, fell past her shoulder.

“Are they remnants of the original cult?”

“Not from the looks of it,” Shamir interjected, shaking her head. “More like a new group, inspired by the original work of Thales and Solon.”

“Wannabes,” Byleth surmised after a pause. From next to Shamir, Catherine laughed.

“It’s no laughing matter,” Seteth snapped, glaring daggers at the knight. “They apparently have been using dark magic to raise armies from the dead to march upon Garreg Mach in endless numbers.”

Sounds like any usual monthly mission from my time at the Golden Deer, Byleth caught herself thinking, but she let out a long sigh and straightened up instead. It was obvious that whoever these people were, they had to be treated with due caution. The monastery couldn’t fall. It wasn’t quite the same religious head that it used to be, but it was still the centre of Fodlan, and her home as archbishop of the continent.

“Who can we call on for support?”

“Petra has already sent warriors this way,” Shamir said, “and we’ve recruited militia forces from around the continent.”

“What about the Almyrans?” Byleth asked, looking pointedly sideways to Judith on the other side of the table. She shrugged, lifting her hands in a mock show of surrender.

“Don’t look at me. I haven’t seen Nader since the Fort Merceus business. We haven’t heard anything from the Almyrans lately; if anything, we owe them, so I can’t say I’m keen on asking for help.”

“At some point, I want to talk to their King,” Byleth replied with a frown. “He’s been quiet long enough. The goal was always to open our borders. We need to come to some sort of agreement so the alliance lords can stop breathing down my neck.”

“According to our reports, they’ve just gotten a new one,” Shamir said, folding her arms. “Perhaps he’ll be more willing to talk.”

“Send an envoy through Fodlan’s locket, then, and tell them to get Lord Holst’s blessing.” 

“I doubt they’ll arrive in time,” Shamir replied, shaking her head, “but I will.”

“Make sure word is out that Garreg Mach needs help. Everyone else, start bolstering defenses. It’s all we can do.”


It was only a matter of a week or so before the mages and army of the dead began marching upon Garreg Mach. Byleth waited atop the star terrace as they passed through the town, which had been evacuated. Her calls for assistance had mostly been answered; Felix, well, Lord Felix - though he never let her call him that - was there with soldiers from his region, along with Sylvain, who was helping to rebuild Gautier territory. Leonie, already building up renown as a mercenary, had arrived on horseback. Hilda and Marianne came on wyvern and horseback, and with them, Nader and Judith. Lorenz had sent soldiers, but stayed back to protect the bridge of Myrddin in case any of their forces tried moving north. Raphael had arrived, excited for a fight, but Ignatz stayed behind - he and his wife, Raphael’s sister, were expecting their first child any day now. 

It was strange, how fast they had all grown up. But with the war over, it made sense. They’d already had so much time taken out of their lives. It was time to play catch up. 

“It’s weird being here without Claude,” Hilda observed from beside Byleth, hands clasped behind her back and holding her axe as they watched the soldiers of the dead march in. “Did he not get the memo, or something?” 

“He’ll be here,” Byleth said, though she wasn’t sure what had compelled her to say it. Part of her believed he would be. At first, she wasn’t sure, but now - seeing the sheer numbers of them marching uphill towards the monastery - she knew. They would need more than what they had to win this one. They needed Claude, and whatever help he could bring with him.

Byleth looked sideways to Hilda, who looked unconvinced. The wyvern behind her let out a gruff breath. 

“Well, here’s hoping,” she offered regardless. “I hope I’m not bringing up anything uncomfortable, but weren’t you two gonna get married, or something?”

“We are,” Byleth replied, smiling. “Claude just had some dreams to chase first.”

“You really have trust in him, don’t you?” Hilda asked, tilting her head and looking at Byleth curiously. “Well, I hope he comes back soon. I never thought I’d say this, but I kind of miss his antics.”

There was silence then, for only a few moments. The army was getting closer. Byleth rested her hand on the hilt of her sword, and then pulled it out, prompting Hilda to bring her axe forward.

“Time to go?”

“Give me a lift down?” Byleth asked, and Hilda smiled.

“You got it.” 

Atop Hilda’s wyvern, they made their way down to the fields where the army was approaching. Others defending Garreg Mach were already joining the fray, their armies clashing. The soldiers of the dead were just that; corpses strewn together with magic. They had no real arms to speak of, nor armor, though some were holding crude swords or old weapons that they had likely been buried with. Their only advantage was numbers. It would be a dangerous game, fighting without being overtaken by the hoards.

There was something strangely fun about being in battle again, although maybe ‘fun’ wasn’t the word for it; swinging her sword around was simply something Byleth was far more comfortable with, compared to sitting in the audience chamber and problem-solving for an entire continent all day. It was mentally exhausting. She’d much rather spend her time doing the physical work. It was easier, simpler. Although, seeing all of the faces of the corpses she was striking down… most of them being peasants, and some of them in alliance or kingdom army uniforms… nothing was particularly simple or easy about that.

They’re already dead, she kept telling herself, striking them down one by one and keeping her distance, backing up slowly as more and more of them began to flood the fields. It was a herculean effort, keeping them as far back as possible from the walls of Garreg Mach. And she could see, at the back of the hoards, one of the mages that was controlling them. Maybe if she took them out, the dead would fall.

She steeled herself, and pushed forward through their ranks, her sword whipping out around her as she went. Some of the others must have noticed what her plan was, because they helped clear a path through the endless ranks of the dead in order to better assist her. As she broke through the back of the enemy lines, the mage caught sight of her, and immediately broke into a run back for the empty castle town. Sword at the ready, she ran after him. 

When she got into the town, however, he was nowhere to be found. She walked slowly down the main cobblestone road, peering into dark alleyways and side streets as she went. The sound of battle was faraway by the time she reached the central square, and it was there that she found the mage, standing, waiting for her. He was wearing some sort of crow mask, similar to the ones the Shambhala mages used to wear, but thinner and darker in colour. It was obviously crafted as homage to them. 

She took hold of her sword with both hands and waited. He dipped his head, black eyes staring at her down the beak of his mask.

“They said you would follow me if I led you in here.”

His voice was younger than she’d expected. Byleth frowned, clutching her sword tighter. They. It shouldn’t have been so surprising to her that her tactics, her tendencies, had been observed and reported over the years. She couldn’t help wanting to finish things on her own, not wanting to involve anyone else. 

“Shouldn’t you have learned by now?” he pushed. 

“It always worked out for me,” Byleth countered. “So ask yourself instead why you decided to face me alone.”

“I’m not alone,” the mage replied, and out from all angles around the square, purple magic shot out. It reminded her of the same spell Solon had cast on her, back in the Sealed Forest; tendrils of it took hold of her wrists and ankles, holding her in place. She forced herself to stay calm. She’d cut through it before. She could do it again.

Before it had a chance to wash over her completely, her sword glowed, and she spun the sword in her grasp to free her arms, then her legs, from the dark magic. Other spells were cast at her from afar, and though it burned and singed at her skin, she pushed through to run at the mage in the center. He was building up another attack - she wanted to make it to him before he got a chance to cast it, but he let it loose just as she approached, and there was no time to dodge. She tried to fall to the side anyways, but it was no use; it caught the side of her and sent her sideways and down onto the ground. 

“Shit,” she breathed, propping herself up by her elbows. Before she could stand, another attack flew into her, sending her rolling sideways. It was endless. Regardless, as one of the mages from the shadows approached, she shot out with her sword and struck them down. 

“Be careful!” the crow mage hissed. “We can take her out from afar. She’s still dangerous.”

“You- can’t- take- me- out,” Byleth said through gritted teeth, slowly bringing herself to her feet. She stomped out a bit of fire that was burning at the end of her cape, and it tore, dropping to the ground behind her. She’d always found the enlightened one outfit quite cumbersome, now that she thought of it. She reached behind her, grasping a nosferatu tome, and sent the magic flying at the closest enemy she could find. They let out a yell, fell to their knees, and she felt some of her energy return.

More magic came flying at her, and she ducked and dodged, running at the crow mage in the center. Byleth sent her sword flying at him, but he jumped, firing off some dark magic at her in return. She hit the ground in her effort to avoid it, but a brutal thunder attack hit her as she did so, locking her in place and crackling around her body. She struggled through it, the sword glowing only weakly as she tried to draw on her crest for extra strength. Curling over, she waited for the magic to wear off somewhat, but instead another attack came thundering at her.

She was too weak to scream as the magic overtook her. Too weak to do anything but think. If she was to ask herself why she’d come alone again, like she always did, she wouldn’t have an answer except that she didn’t want anyone else to get hurt. It wasn’t worth it. She didn’t want to die. She just wanted to be able to fix everything herself; but obviously, she’d been asking too much. 

“The vassal of the progenitor god… reduced to this, ” the crow mage said quietly. Byleth peered up to see him standing above her; he pushed her over with her boot, and crouched down above her, pressing one hand to her neck and holding her down.

“Do you still think it always works out for you?” 

The sword clinked against the ground as he stood over her, pressing harder and harder into her neck. Her vision blurred. Part of her, strangely calm despite her circumstances, was simply curious as to whether or not she could be killed. But judging by the way the sun was suddenly blotted out - judging by the all-too-familiar call of a moon-white wyvern - she wouldn’t find out today.

Her heart soared. The mage looked up behind him in surprise, only for a crackling red arrow to come plunging through his face. Byleth lifted an arm weakly to push his limp body off of her, then looked to her side to see Claude sliding off the back of his wyvern and breaking into a run towards her. He lifted her lightly into her arms.

“Hey, hey. I’m here.”

“Hey,” she greeted him weakly, in far too casual a tone for the circumstances.

“You know, you have this cool thing that lets you move back time ,” Claude said to her, lifting her up with one arm under her neck and another under the crook of her legs. “Why didn’t you use it?”

“Oh,” Byleth said simply, “I guess I forgot.”

It was the truth, after all. Claude looked down at her, somewhat dumbfounded, and then laughed. She smiled tiredly up at him. She’d missed that sound so much. And he looked a little different; his outfit was more regal than before. The crest of Riegan was still there, but it was joined by more lapels and a new, golden sash tied around his hair, which was slightly longer now, too.

“Nice outfit,” Byleth complimented him as he carried her back to the wyvern. “Did you do everything you needed to do?”

“Just about,” he replied, holding tight to her as he settled into the saddle on his mount. “There’s a battle to be won, first.”

“Oh gods,” Byleth sighed, “I don’t want to fight anymore.”

“You won’t have to,” Claude replied confidently. He took hold of the reigns in front of her with one hand, the other wrapped around her stomach. He pulled back and they lifted up; she held tight to him in return, and as the dragon found its way up and over the buildings of town, she saw that the numbers on the battlefield had shifted massively. There was a new army jumping into the fray, and something about them looked strangely familiar… 

“The Almyrans,” Byleth realised aloud, watching as they quickly overtook the armies of the dead and the mages still controlling them. 

“Welcome to the new dawn,” Claude replied with a grin. Byleth looked up at him quickly, her eyes wide.

“So- their new king-”

“King Claude,” he said in a mocking voice. “Sounds kinda stupid, doesn’t it?”

“No,” Byleth replied immediately, though she was lying. It did sound strange. “Just don’t tell me you’re leaving again.”

“Are you kidding?” Claude asked, as they soared low over the armies clashing below them. “I told you nothing would stop me from coming back. I’ve got it all sorted out now. Almyra and Fodlan are going to become a unified nation, with you and I at the helm. But mostly you.”

He winked at her, then pulled harder on the reigns and lifted them back towards the monastery. It was quiet for a bit as the wind flew past them and the sound of battle faded away. She let her eyes fall shut.

“I really missed you, Byleth.” 

Even his voice was sounding far away. She smiled a little to herself, squeezing his arm as she held tight to him and they flew towards Garreg Mach. Everything was okay. She could rest.




She woke to the sight of Mercedes smiling down at her. Deep orange light was washing into the infirmary through the stained glass windows above, and she had to squint as the light hit her eyes. How long did I sleep?  

“Hello Byleth,” Mercedes greeted her in her usual singsong voice. “How are you feeling?”

Byleth took a moment to think about it. Her body wasn’t screaming in pain, which was definitely an improvement. Her fingers and toes twitched. She could move. She let out a long breath.

“Better,” she said finally, smiling back at Mercedes, who seemed pleased. She folded a cloth in front of her and then pulled away.

“I’m glad to hear that! I’ll leave you two to it, then.”

Two? Byleth thought, confused. Mercedes only looked pointedly down to the side; Byleth’s gaze fell sideways and there, sitting beside the bed and with his head and arms resting on the sheets next to her, was Claude. He was fast asleep, some of his hair covering his face, his lips dropped open and his cheek pushed against one of his arms. 

Mercedes left the room, the door shutting quietly behind her. Byleth turned carefully in the sheets so she was facing Claude, and lifted a hand to gently push his hair out of his face. He sniffed, and his eyes slowly lifted open, that same green she never tired of.

“There you are,” he said softly to her, smiling. “Feeling better?”

“In more ways than one,” she answered, sweeping her thumb over his cheek. He sighed, leaning slightly into her hand. 

“I’m sorry I didn’t get to you earlier.”

“What?”

“You’re okay, so I’m trying not to be too angry at myself, but if anything had happened-” He cut himself off, taking a heavy breath. “It’s fine. Just, next time, don’t forget that you have a way of fixing things every time you throw yourself into danger. For me.”

Byleth watched him evenly. “For me,” he said. It was definitely better motivation than thinking about herself for selfish reasons. If that’s what it took to stop her from rushing into danger… the thought of Claude losing her, which was, she assumed, as horrifying as it would be for her to lose him , then… that’s what she would think of. Hopefully, there wouldn’t be any reason to throw herself into danger anytime soon anyways. But the words Rhea spoke once before were still echoing in her mind - something about there always being those that oppose the peace. It seemed that was a recurring theme in Byleth’s life. 

“Enough about that,” Claude said with a light laugh, interrupting her thoughts. “We should get to your room. Don’t tell me you’re still in the dormitories?”

“No,” Byleth said, laughing before she could help it. She’d moved into Jeralt’s old quarters, finally. “Why the hurry?”

“A few months ago, you said something about me doing whatever I wanted with you,” Claude replied, his voice quiet as he looked at her intently. “I can’t say I haven’t been impatient.”

“Oh,” Byleth said, having pretty well forgotten about it. Still, she had missed him too - in more ways than one - and seeing the way he looked at her, that same look of deep desire as before…. suffice to say it was more than enough to awaken the same desire for him within her. She swallowed. “Then what do you want to do?”

Claude paused, and then a coy grin turned up the corner of his lips. 

“You’ll see.”



As soon as they reached her bedroom, he was all over her, and her chest ignited. She hadn’t expected him to be that quick, but something about his sudden aggressiveness was extremely hot. And though she was tired, it was fun simply allowing Claude to do as he pleased with her; taking off her clothes piece by piece, lowering her onto the bed, pushing his tongue into her mouth and gripping her chest, her waist, her thighs. It felt like her body was slowly warming, slowly waking, with every stroke of his hand and touch of his lips. A fire sparked between her legs. When Claude pulled his glove off with his teeth and then slipped his fingers down, he let out a surprised, light laugh.

“Already this wet?” he asked, smiling as he pulled away and reached his arms up above her. 

“It’s your fault,” Byleth countered, blushing as she watched him begin finicking with something. “What are you doi-”

Before she could finish her sentence, he lifted her left arm and slipped a coil of rope around her wrist. Her eyes widened as he secured it to the bed with one smooth movement. He tilted his head as she instinctively tugged at it; it didn’t have much give, but a little bit. She turned her attention back to Claude, and he only grinned and then lifted her other arm to do the same to her right wrist.

“S- so, this is what you’re into?”

“Are you not?”

He asked like it was a rhetorical question. Like he knew she was. She’d never experimented with it before, obviously; never had the chance; but something about being entirely in his hands was inescapably enticing. The rope definitely added to it. The blush on her cheeks deepened, and Claude did a double take when he finished securing the rope and sat back up on his knees, straddling her. She lifted her gaze to him and saw his mouth drop open.

“...what?” she asked, embarrassed. She felt distinctly vulnerable with his eyes on her like that. He looked over her once, twice, and then pushed some of his hair back as he let out a breath.

“You’re just- you’re sexy beyond belief,” he answered honestly, eliciting a light laugh from her. \

“So are you, but you’re still wearing all your clothes. This isn’t fair.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Claude said, standing up straight and removing his clothes, piece by piece. If it was even possible, there was more to his outfit now, and Byleth couldn’t help watching with an amused smile as he left each piece hanging over the back of her desk chair.

“How do you handle having all those pieces?”

“Comes with the territory,” he answered with a sigh, finally pulling off the gold silken sash that had been tied around his forehead, hidden by a few wavy locks of his hair. Byleth sucked her lips in, savoring the sight of him as he fixed his hair once more. It was longer. She desperately wanted to run her fingers through it, but her hands were tied. Literally.

Claude didn’t waste any time, and leaned down to plant light kisses up the inside of her thigh- one, then the other. She tensed, feeling his hot breath fill the space between her legs, feeling him lifting closer and closer to her. His tongue slipped over her once, gently, and she dropped her leg open, pleading in the only way she could think of at the moment for him to do more. A breath of laughter washed over her, and she let out a frustrated breath.

“I love seeing you like this.”

“I’m sure you do,” she said back, her breathing short as she met Claude’s eyes as his head slowly sank lower once more. He really was taking every moment to drink this in, and seeing so gave her pleasure but also made her more and more frustrated. It would only be cute for so long. But Claude seemed to know this, and he planted a kiss on her finally, pushed his tongue against her finally, began sucking and licking and I can’t even tell what’s happening anymore, what does it matter-

Byleth let her head fall back against the sheets, her hips lifting ever so slightly to meet Claude’s mouth, to press against him, to urge him on. His hands clutched her thighs, fingers digging in just enough to sort of hurt, but not enough to bother mentioning. She was too distracted. This was nothing like the pleasure she had ever given herself. All she wanted was more of it. But Claude, knowing her maybe better than she knew herself, seemed to tell. He pulled away, and moved up, up, until he pressed his lips against hers. She let out a surprised sound as he did so; she’d never tasted herself before, and it was saltier than she’d expected, nevermind a little unsettling. But there was no time to think of it, since Claude reached down to push two fingers inside of her.

She gasped against his mouth, her wrists pulling at the rope as he pushed in and out. Heat spread onto her cheeks and chest. Her other leg dropped open, and before long, the motion of Claude’s fingers in her was creating a messy, sloppy sound. He pushed a third finger in - kissed her neck, bit gently at her collarbone - and Byleth moaned. She fell weak against the restraints. 

“Claude-”

He pressed his free hand to her mouth, and then, keeping it there, moved back down to kiss and lick and suck again, his other hand still moving, still sending ecstasy shooting through her body with each push.

Mm-!

With a rhythm established, Claude kept up the pace and didn’t stop. Byleth was content to let him do with her as he pleased, and it was intensely satisfying, but as he continued she felt herself getting more and more tense, felt a familiar pressure building, like an itch that had to be scratched. Her arms pulled against the restraints before she could help it, her thighs twitched and pressed against either side of him, her hips lifted. 

She couldn’t say any of the embarrassing things she wanted to blurt out thanks to his hand over her mouth, which was probably for the best, nevermind that having it pressed there was only making it all the hotter; all she could do was spill scattered moans through his fingers as he brought her to climax. In the midst of it, her right arm was freed. Byleth reached her hand down for Claude’s hair, clutching a fistful of it, to his surprise. He tensed as she held him in place and his tongue slowed, his fingers stayed in place, helping her to slowly ride out the rest. And then, suddenly, it was all too much, like fire; Byleth’s hips jerked backwards, away from Claude’s eager mouth. 

“S-stop,” she breathed out, as he lifted his hand from her mouth tentatively. She took her fingers out of his hair and dropped her arm back onto the bed, slowly calming her breath. Claude lifted himself from between her legs, wiped his mouth with his one hand, and pulled his fingers out from her. She felt absolutely soaked, but she didn’t want to move to do anything about it. 

Claude’s laugh brought her back down to earth. She slowly opened her eyes, looking at him curiously.

“I can’t believe you got out of that,” he said, looking at her right arm. “How’d you do it?”

She tilted her head back to try to see the rope. The coil was still there, the hole where her wrist had been. She must have pulled right out of it, somehow.

“I guess your knot wasn’t secure enough,” she teased, looking back at him with a breathless smile. Claude quirked an eyebrow at her.

“I’ll make sure it’s tighter next time, then,” he said, climbing on top of her, his cock brushing against her thigh as he did so. “Or I’ll just hold you down myself.”

Byleth laughed lightly in response, though it didn’t seem like Claude was joking. He took hold of her hip and flipped her over on the bed, her one left wrist still tied up above her. His other hand took her hips and urged them up so she was half on her knees, and then he held her right wrist down alongside her left, and thrust into her.

She gasped. It was an altogether different sensation than the last time they’d done it; the angle was different, in a good way. It was certainly more primal, and thanks to his earlier efforts, it didn’t take any adjusting to get him fully inside her. Claude let out a breathy groan, gripping her shoulder and her wrists tight as he moved. She was still reeling from the orgasm, so she gave herself entirely to him, drinking in every bit of pleasure he pushed inside of her and savoring the feeling of him above her, holding her, wanting her, fucking her. Sweat dripped down the back of her thighs, her arms, her back. 

It didn’t take long. In fact, it took a lot less time than Byleth had hoped it would, for Claude to come. His breath caught, his hands left her wrist and shoulder and moved to her hips instead, pulling her close, harder, with each of his final thrusts. She covered her mouth with her right hand, muffling her moans as he reached deeper within her, and finally began to slow. She could feel him twitching inside her, but a moment later, he pulled out, and then collapsed onto the bed next to her, chest heaving.

The room was suffocating, so Byleth got up shakily from the bed a second later, finding her footing like some clumsy newborn fawn, and stumbled to the window. She propped it open and immediately savored the cool night air washing over her, drawing attention to all of the places where she was wet, whether from sweat or- well, a variety of other things.

Claude let out a satisfied breath from the bed behind her as the air reached him. She turned to see him prop his cheek up on his elbow to look at her with a satisfied smile. 

“I guess my knots really do need some work.”

Byleth looked down at her left wrist in surprise. She hadn’t even thought of it. Sure enough, the coil was on the bed, still intact. She crawled back into bed with him, and he lifted the sheet up above her as she rested against his chest, letting out a happy sigh. It had been a horribly long day, with the best possible ending. 

“Tomorrow, everything is going to change,” Claude said quietly, stroking her shoulder with his thumb. “I hope you’re ready for it.”

“I’m always ready,” Byleth replied tiredly. “As long as you’re here.”

Sleep overtook them before long, though her mind seemed to stay racing. The wedding would have to be organized soon. There’d be an address to the continent, and to Almyra. Opinions, prejudices, everything would have to start changing. Knowing that she had reliable allies all throughout Fodlan was comforting beyond belief. But the most reassuring thing was having Claude back. She knew, no matter what, that it would be okay. 



By sunrise the next day, a crowd had gathered at the monastery, waiting to hear from the Byleth, nevermind Claude, former Alliance leader turned  Almyran King. It was a surreal moment, following him out onto the Star Terrace in the morning light. Silhouetted by the sun, hanging just over the edge of the horizon, he turned to her and reached out. She clasped her hand in his, and they walked to the edge together to the sound of cheers from the people below. Soldiers and citizens alike were gathered, lifting their hands and weapons and flags and banners in a show of support. It was even more celebratory than it had been when the Empire fell. Byleth had the feeling that they knew, too, that this was truly the beginning of a new era. One of tolerance, and peace, and happiness.


As she looked down at them, people from all over - people who used to be enemies - all standing together and ready to welcome in a new age, her heart was filled with hope. Garreg Mach had changed everything. The students, her friends, Claude; all of them had changed her life, and better still, changed her. She used to believe that the world wasn’t made for her, and even if that was true, she knew something better: she was made for the world.