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Goddess Against the Church

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Professor Byleth was still unsure what Archbishop Rhea had planned, or what she meant by a divine revelation, as her and her students filed into the Holy Tomb behind Rhea. After all, she was Sothis, and she was increasingly certain she was indeed the goddess – how could she possibly recieve a Revelation from herself? And how much did Rhea know about her? She only grew more confused as she gazed around the vast tomb and realized it was exactly the same as the realm inside her head where her two halves had conversed before they'd fused. Her memories gnawed at her – she'd clearly been here before, in the physical sense, but she just could not remember anything more than a vague sense of familiarity no matter how hard she tried.

Perhaps something of her confusion showed on her face, for Rhea interrupted her thoughts to remark "Are you surprised, Professor? This is the Holy Tomb."

Byleth was unsure how to reply, but Edelgard thankfully replied instead, voicing her surprise at the vast room. Several of the other students chattered away as well; Lindhardt and Professor Hanneman were full of curiosity, discussing something about crests as they always did. The very religious Marianne, Manuela, and Mercedes quietly expressed their awe. Alois seemed to be making bad puns about the tomb that nobody except Bernadetta laughed at. Even Caspar and Raphael seemed for once to be interested in something other than food, training, and their families, looking around the room with interest along with everyone else. Only Shamir, Felix, and oddly enough Flayn looked unimpressed; perhaps Flayn had been here before.

Rhea hushed them with her imperious gaze once they approached the throne at the focal point of the room. Her throne, one she used to sit on constantly before her two selves fused. "This is where the goddess who created this world was laid to rest, along with her children. It is said that our creator – the goddess Sothis – sat upon this very throne. Professor... Do you recognize this throne?"

How odd. The more Rhea spoke the less Byleth understood; she was quite certain she was alive, for one, yet Rhea seemed to be implying this was her tomb. But perhaps there was some truth to what she said? If only she could regain her memories somehow!! "I do," Byleth replied, her stoic half helping to hide her confusion.

Rhea seemed happy at this reply, and bid her to sit. There was nothing else to do, she supposed, as she sat in her throne, as she had done countless times before. And she continued sitting. The minutes passed, thirteen minutes to be exact. Nothing happened. The class started growing restless, Caspar and Raphael in particular having a loud conversation about what they planned to eat for dinner that was entirely inappropriate for a solemn religious affair, Sylvain even having the audacity to start hitting on Dorothea yet again. Rhea started muttering to herself, sounding disappointed, seemingly so much so that she didn't even bother to hush the students.

It had now been thirty-three minutes. Just as Byleth was about to break her silence and ask how long she must continue to sit, Edelgard's commanding voice interrupted. "Stop right there!" Her voice rang out.

An army of what appeared to be imperial soldiers rushed in beyond Edelgard and Hubert. Byleth stood up and quickly hurried over to her students as Edelgard explained: She was the Flame Emperor, and was here to seize the crest stones. Several of the students expressed surprise, drowning each other out in their clamor, a feeling Byleth shared. But before Byleth could muster a response, Rhea yelled back, dubbing Edelgard a traitor and ordering Byleth to destroy the assembled Imperials.

Edelgard spoke, her voice sorrowful but determined. "I'm sorry, my teacher. I cut this path, and now I must follow it. My friends... I ask that all of you stay back! It is not my intention to fight you."

She reiterated her order to grab the crest stones and kill anyone who resisted, and the imperial soldiers charged, and worse Byleth glimpsed two demonic beasts had just entered the Tomb as well. It was far too much for Byleth to process; overwhelmed, she stopped time to process what was happening. The world, including Byleth, froze.

Edelgard was the Flame Emperor? She had believed the Flame Emperor to be a villain, an accomplice of the group that killed her father, kidnapped Flayn, and massacred the people of Remire Village. But that could not be – Byleth had known her for nearly a year, and Edelgard was a kind-hearted if pragmatic person, devoted to making the world a better place. Could it all have been a deceit? Byleth looked over her memories, and had to admit it did make a certain sort of sense – Edelgard clearly disliked the Church and had never been present when the Flame Emperor appeared, and had always seemed to have an oddly sympathetic opinion of the Flame Emperor. But Edelgard had also helped her avenge her father's death! It had indeed been Edelgard's axe that buried itself in Solon's forehead, killing him.

Byleth expanded her senses, peering at Edelgard with more than eyes. Presumably because of her divinity, Byleth seemed to have the ability to evaluate people on a deeper level, peering at their souls directly. Rhea, Flayn, and Seteth unfortunately seemed somehow inscrutable to this higher sense, but not others – notably, she had sensed a darkness in Tomas's heart long before his reveal as Solon. But when Byleth looked at Edelgard, she just saw... Edelgard. Her star pupil, and increasingly, best friend. She sensed no malice, no darkness, just a young girl who wanted to make the world a better place with all her heart. That was who she truly was, at her core.

But that girl was attempting to commit grave robbery against her tomb, and threatening to kill them all if they interfered! She was clearly no friend. And she even seemed to have some of those foul demonic beasts at her command! Sothis was outraged at the sheer audacity, such a villain must be brought to justice!

Wait. Sothis? Not Byleth? No. Something was wrong. Byleth quickly realized that her internal turmoil had gotten so severe that the fusion between her two halves, which she'd previously assumed was irreversible, was on the verge of falling apart, and she could even feel a sudden painful headache coming on to emphasize the point. That would not do! She was one person now and intended to stay herself. Time continued to stand still as Byleth forced herself to decide a course of action calmly and rationally, one that would satisfy both parts of her.

Finally, Byleth was of one mind again. Surely there was a reason for Edelgard's drastic action, and Rhea as well was clearly withholding many secrets. If only she had her memories back, perhaps she would know! But without her memories, there was only one option. She would protect her Tomb, capture Edelgard and Hubert alive. She would then demand both they and Rhea explain what was truly going on here. Ending the time stop, Byleth's uncertainty was gone, and she quickly shouted orders to her students.

The fight was fierce, particularly against Edelgard's two pet demonic beasts, but ultimately Byleth's victory was inevitable. Edelgard may have learned from the best, but the student could not defeat the master, especially not when Byleth could rewind time itself at will. Not even a single crest stone made it out of the tomb throughout the battle, and both demonic beasts were destroyed by her students' well-led batallions. Sword of the Creator in hand, Byleth blazed a bloody trail through the Imperial troops, until she finally brought a badly wounded Edelgard to her knees in defeat. Seeing their Emperor falling, the remaining Imperial troops all moved to surrender or flee. Edelgard continued to gaze at her defiantly, and the words she spoke were not ones of surrender. "So it is my teacher who stands in my way. I always knew it would come to this..."

Archbishop Rhea strode forward, clearly undisturbed by the many soldiers' corpses she stepped over, accompanied by Byleth's many students. Handing Byleth a bag, Rhea quietly whispered, "Because of your heroism, there was no damage to the tomb; I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Take these as a small token of appreciation for your efforts."

Without waiting for a reply, the Archbishop then turned to face Edelgard, her face suddenly contorted with rage, and continued her rant of condemnation from the battle.

Byleth opened her mouth to interrupt and start asking Edelgard to explain what was going on here, but Rhea silenced her with her next orders. "Professor. Kill Edelgard at once."

Shocked, Byleth began to turn around to reply. She knew Rhea was rather merciless, but surely she could not possibly believe she'd follow an order to kill her own student? Without even interrogating her, or determining a motive, or anything? It wasn't just merciless, it was downright foolish; if Edelgard really was at the heart of a vast villainous conspiracy, she was potentially a treasure trove of information about the Wicked Ones. Not to mention the fact that executing a sitting Emperor was a good way to provoke a full scale war with the Empire in which thousands would die. "No-" she began, but before the words exitted her lips she felt time itself scream. Reflexively, Byleth stopped time again.

She had intended to simply refuse to kill Edelgard and politely explain she should be taken alive, but somehow she could tell it would not be that simple. She could sense somehow that whatever she did here, whether she obeyed Rhea's order or not, would somehow have drastic consequences on the timeline of Fodlan. The choice she made would impact the lives of millions, perhaps all of Fodlan. All her divine senses were screaming at her to decide carefully. But the worst part was she had no idea why.

She didn't know what Rhea or Edelgard were planning, or why Edelgard had robbed the tomb. She could not percieve what lay inside Rhea's soul no matter how hard she tried, and Edelgard's soul seemed to contradict her actions. Nothing about this situation made sense, at least not with her memories gone; she felt somehow sure she'd met Rhea before coming to the monastery, somewhere in her lost memories, but could not remember. Byleth tried again to jog her divine half's memories, trying to remember anything that would help her decide what to do, something about Rhea or the Church of Seiros or the Adrestian Empire but as they had the last hundred times, the efforts came to naught. It was so frustrating!

Byleth spent a long time, or in a sense no time at all, agonizing over the decision and complaining to herself about her amnesia, and getting nowhere. Ultimately, she decided to try to analyze her memories of Rhea and Edelgard with this new information in mind.

She remembered Jeralt's reluctance to return to the monastery. She remembered her outrage at Rhea repeatedly sending mere children to fight the Church's battles. She remembered the Church's report on information gleaned from interrogating Kostas's arrested subordinates, implicating the Flame Emperor as the one who hired them, perhaps to assassinate Edelgard, Dimitri, and Claude; had Edelgard sent assassins after herself? She remembered Lonato, desperately trying to avenge his son whom the Church allegedly killed unjustly, while Edelgard subtly implied she agreed with Lonato. She remembered the Western Church declaring Rhea a heretic and Rhea ordering them slaughtered mercilessly in retaliation, with Byleth and Edelgard helping to carry out that massacre. She remembered what happened to Miklan, how Sylvain had been forced to kill his own brother and he then turned into a Demonic Beast, and how Edelgard expressed sorrow over the whole situation. She remembered Edelgard revealing her childhood and the massacre of her entire family in vile experiments ordered by Duke Aegir, to instill the Crest of Flames. She remembered how Edelgard seemingly played both sides and helped kidnap and rescue Flayn. She remembered Jeralt's death, and how Edelgard and Hubert had been rude to Byleth in her mourning but also helped avenge Jeralt. She remembered Jeralt's diary, detailing how he fled the monastery out of fear for what Rhea had done to Byleth. She remembered the Flame Emperor promising that she opposed what Solon did in Remire, and again recalled Edelgard's axe burying itself in Solon's body. She remembered Edelgard telling her friends that she did not intend to harm any of them, but also telling her troops to kill them all if they got in the way.

Ultimately, after going over all the facts, Byleth decided – there was no clear, logical answer here. The politics here were clearly complicated, and there was too much Byleth did not know, too much contradictory information. Rhea and Edelgard had both been hiding far too much from her. Ultimately, all Byleth knew was that she could not follow a sudden order to kill her own student and friend without even understanding what was going on. It was not only foolish, it was morally wrong. Resolute in her decision, she resumed the flow of time.

"No, I will not kill my own student," Byleth said, turning to face Rhea. "We should - "

"YOU.. HOW DARE YOU!" Rhea interrupted, with pure venom in her booming voice, stunning Byleth into silence. Gone was the matronly Archbishop – Rhea's face looked like that of a crazed killer. For perhaps the first time in her entire life, Byleth felt true fear – something in Rhea's face and tone of voice made Byleth feel like Rhea had killed millions, and that Byleth was next. Bernadetta, watching from among the students, gave a screech of terror. Edelgard and Hubert (who had seemingly just Warped in, even though Byleth distinctly remembered Hubert saying he had no skill with teleportation magic; another lie Byleth supposed) spoke something that sounded like thanks behind her, but Byleth was a bit distracted, and Rhea soon interrupted them anyway. "So this is the choice you have made. YOU ARE JUST ANOTHER FAILURE. Your presence soils this Holy Tomb and disgraces my brethren. I will not allow one who would lend our enemies strength to wield the power of the goddess Sothis."

"I-" Byleth began, trying desperately to explain, but Rhea interrupted immediately, her voice growing louder with every word as her body itself began to change shape.

"I HAVE PASSED JUDGEMENT, AND NOW I SHALL RIP YOUR CHEST OPEN AND TAKE BACK YOUR HEART MYSELF!"

What followed was chaos. Rhea was suddenly a dragon and was breathing fire at them. Hubert and Edelgard were shouting something about an "Immaculate One" and Rhea being a monster. Bernadetta was screaming, clearly having a panic attack, only for Caspar to pick her up bodily and run for the Holy Tomb's exit, presumably too confused by the situation to determine who to punch; and Raphael promptly did the same with a similarily panicking Ignatz. Byleth reflexively wielded the Sword of the Creator to deflect the dragon's fire breath, but much of it still got through, and Byleth was only saved from immolation by Alois knocking her to the ground at the last second. Alois shouted at the Archbishop a request to please calm down as he did so, but Rhea clearly wasn't listening.

To their credit, several of the students took the madness in stride and charged into the fight; but they quickly found themselves in over their heads. Leonie, reacting without hesitation upon seeing her mentor's daughter endangered, galloped towards Rhea in a fearless charge, her batallion following. She shouted some battle cry about how Jeralt warned her about Rhea, and looked incredibly gallant for a few seconds, but was swiftly thrown off her horse with incredible force as Flayn unleashed an Excalibur spell at her and scored a direct hit, which also sent most of her batallion flying. Lysithea and Hubert counterattacked, sending Miasma spells flying at Flayn, and the air lit up with magical explosions as their magical duel escalated. Flayn demonstrated a level of magical skill that far exceeded anything she'd ever revealed in the classroom, enough to nearly overpower even a Thyrsus-wielding prodigy like Lysithea; Byleth quietly noted that her suspicions that Flayn was older than she looked had probably been correct. Petra dived down from the air on her wyvern at Rhea, but her axe merely bounced off Rhea's thick scales; Rhea countered with her claws and sent Petra and her wyvern crashing to the ground, the wyvern screaming as it entered its death throes, while most of her batallion sacrificed themselves to protect Petra from a follow-up attack as the injured Brigid princess rolled away. The flash of several healing spells could be seen as Linhardt, Dorothea, and Mercedes desperately tried to keep people alive without knowing who was friend or foe, Mercedes notably healing both Flayn and Leonie. Rhea let loose another breath attack at a wide-eyed Mercedes, who was saved at the last second by Felix jumping in front of her with his Aegis Shield relic; most of her accompanying batallion was far less lucky, screaming as they burned alive. Annette, outraged to see her best friend endangered, cast Sagittae, sending a hailstorm of magical arrows flying at Rhea, and by some miracle actually caused the Archbishop to flinch for a moment; but still left no visible injuries.

All that, in the few seconds it took Byleth to pick herself up off the ground and quickly heal a mildly burned Alois so he could do the same. Many of the students, such as Ingrid, Ashe, Marianne, Ferdinand, Lorenz, and Sylvain, were too confused and shocked to even react, merely looking around dumbfounded as their former allies started trying to kill each other. They were clearly too disorganized and unprepared to defeat a foe this strong, and Byleth was pretty sure Rhea wasn't interested in calming down to talk, not least because Alois's continued pleas for calm were falling on deaf ears. "We need to escape!" shouted Hubert, but he was barely heard in the chaos, especially with all the very loud blasts of wind magic that Flayn was throwing at him.

Someone had to take command. As one, Byleth and Edelgard shouted out "BLACK EAGLES, RETREAT!", cutting through the din even as Rhea let loose yet another breath of fire that left Hubert's batallion almost entirely slaughtered and the man himself covered in serious burns. Shamir, Hanneman, and Manuela looked around at each other and their surroundings, clearly just as dumbfounded by Rhea's transformation as everyone else despite being faculty, before promptly all running for the exit along with the students, with Manuela helping the badly injured Hubert to his feet and mostly carrying him out. Felix and Byleth used their relics' powers to act as a hurried rear guard to hold off Flayn and Rhea while the rest escaped. The surrendered Imperial soldiers, however, were left behind to Rhea's likely nonexistent mercy – there simply was no time to save everyone who was injured, and the Black Eagles all prioritized their friends over the soldiers who had been enemies mere minutes ago.

They ran, rode, carried the injured, teleported, and flew. The Knights of Seiros guarding the gates reacted with confusion but made no move to stop them, thinking them allies, with Byleth and Alois shouting vague excuses about urgent business. They also passed Claude and Dimitri on the way out; Dimitri looked on in confusion, Claude asked where they were going, but neither made any attempt to follow or stop them. Rhea, thankfully, was seemingly too big to exit the Holy Tomb in her draconic form, and Flayn hadn't made any move to give chase, so they had at least a little time, though unfortunately not enough time to grab their belongings. It was lucky Byleth had most of the Black Eagles' equipment stored in an extradimensional "Convoy" only she could access.

They slowed to a more reasonable pace once they were clear of the Monastery, but continued fleeing until well into the night, following Edelgard. Byleth was still unsure what to make of Edelgard and her motives, but considering that Rhea was probably busy giving orders to her knights at this very moment to hunt Byleth down and kill her, she didn't have much choice but to trust her friend and student and hope they'd have safe haven in the Empire. She was surprised though that every last one of her students except Flayn, and even her fellow Professors and Shamir, had followed. Perhaps seeing the Archbishop go completely berserk had made them reconsider their loyalties.

The group was mostly silent as they marched other than the occasional scream from Bernadetta, who was still in shock and being carried by Caspar; and Alois, who either couldn't read the mood or didn't care and continued trying to make jokes that nobody laughed at. But nobody told him to be quiet either, not even the largely humorless Edelgard; perhaps on some level they all appreciated the attempt at levity after... Whatever that battle had been.

Finally, they saw Imperial flags in the distance, and Edelgard soon announced they'd reached their destination. After being saluted by her troops, apparently led by a pair named Randolph and Ladislava, Edelgard directed the exhausted students and professors to some appropriate tents, and told them they could talk in the morning, once everyone had slept and the many injured, Hubert included, regained consciousness.

Byleth was rather impatient for an explanation for what had just happened, but instead she followed Manuela to help treat the injured with her own healing magic; she supposed it made sense to wait until the morning, once everyone had rested.

For now, she could only think in silence of what she had witnessed. Was that really Rhea's true nature? A murderous "monster," as Edelgard had called her? And what of Flayn, who had seemingly been completely unsurprised and leapt to Rhea's defense, demonstrating an almost mythical level of magical skill despite her likely false youth? Were Flayn and Seteth also dragons, perhaps? What was their relationship with Byleth, or rather, with Sothis? If they truly viewed Byleth as their god, why would Rhea try to kill her so suddenly? And if Flayn was older than she looked, perhaps the same was true of Rhea? Byleth remembered how eerily similar to Rhea the Seiros in Byleth's dreams had looked; previously Byleth had dismissed it as merely a coincidence or family resemblance, as no human could have lived that long. But now she was less sure; perhaps dragons did live that long and Rhea really was Seiros herself.

Byleth desperately hoped Edelgard would have some answers for her in the morning. But on some level she feared that only Rhea truly knew about the truth of her forgotten past as Sothis, if anyone alive did, and somehow Byleth doubted that Rhea would be forthcoming with that information. No part of her regretted the decision she had made, however; Rhea's berserker rampage at the mere suggestion of mercy had amplified her concerns about Rhea's cruel and secretive behavior quite considerably, suffice it to say.

After about a half hour of work, Manuela turned to Byleth. "You should get some sleep, you've used up the last of your healing magic anyway. Thanks for all the help. And Professor?"

"Yes?" replied Byleth.

"Let me know if you find out where the Imperial Army is keeping its alcohol, and I don't mean the medical kind. I think I'm going to need a drink after today."