It was not really surprising when it was revealed to her that when she was born, she had no heartbeat. Some part of her always knew. It made sense. Growing up as a mercenary’s daughter was already an unconventional way to raise a child. When she was younger Jeralt left her with other mercenaries that he trusted to watch her. And they were never kind.
“She just stares…”
“Like a corpse.”
“Never a single emotion.”
“What a freak.”
“If she wasn’t Jeralt’s kid…”
“I know what you mean. I love Jeralt, but she is too weird.”
Once she was a bit older, and stronger, she helped out more and trained even harder. She still heard their comments. The face of a corpse. Empty. When she brought home her first stag for dinner Jeralt was proud and happily showed her how to prepare it. She was still young at the time, and instead of being impressed with her kill the other members of their group became even more wary.
“She’s like six or seven years old right? How can she not care that she just killed something for the first time?”
“Did you see how empty her eyes were when she gutted that stag?”
“I mean – they were the same as always.”
“The usual corpse expression…”
“Honestly? I’ve seen corpse look more alive than her sometimes.”
Only once did Jeralt ever over hear their talks about her. He challenged all of them to a duel. All twelve of them against him, if he won, they had to shut up. Of course, he won. So, the talking stopped. But the looks never went away.
Then one of their men died in an ambush gone wrong. The man’s wife was distraught understandably. But she chose Byleth to take her anger out on while Jeralt and a few others cleaned up what was left of the battle.
“You! You should have died! You’re basically dead anyway! How could someone as inhumanas you survive while he had to die?!” The woman slapped her face hard enough to leave a bruise, but Byleth just muttered her condolences and took her leave.
Jeralt told her that people would always hate what they don’t understand.
That the fact that she didn’t emote wasn’t anything to be ashamed of. How she chose to express herself was up to her and he would love her no matter what.
She loved Jeralt. She did. And even though she reciprocated his kind words every evening, “Good night, love you.” She felt that sometimes he didn’t believe her. Every once in a while, she would catch him watching her, during a sunrise, or the first time she saw the ocean, waiting for some sort of reaction. And when she offered none? He always looked disappointed, only for the briefest of moments, before make some small joke and moving on.
“The sun pretty much rises the same way every day anyway, right?”
“Water is water. The ocean is just undrinkable, more of an inconvenience then anything.”
She loved that he did that for her. Gave her an out. Gave her a chance to just nod and go along with it. She loved that he didn’t try to force anything from her.
But. Sometimes. She wished he did.
What was wrong with her?
Why couldn’t she smile for him?
Why couldn’t she shed tears for the woman who lost her husband?
Why couldn’t she get angry at those who bullied her as a child?
Why… was she dead inside?
And that’s when she realized… she did have a moment when she felt alive. When the blood seemed to pump through her veins despite her apparently dead heart. In battle. Trading blows with an opponent, not knowing which breath could be her last, it was exhilarating. And short lived. She had been training hard from a young age and had become known as the Ashen Demon. It was the best feeling in the world.
And one of her only ones.
Jeralt was proud of her. The other mercenaries finally respected her.
And then she met the house leaders.
Dimitri, Claude, and Edelgard.
Those three came crashing into her life literally and changed it drastically.
Then they made her a professor.
And she had to teach students who were practically her age how to fight. Some seemed ready, others were doing their best, and some seemed so innocent she didn’t want them anywhere near the violence of battle.
But into battles they went.
She did her best to lead them, and if she ever thought one of her students would be injured, she was quick to jump into the fray and defend them. No one would hurt someone that was under her care.
For the most part she likedher life as the new professor. But she still felt empty. And her students noticed it. Dimitri and Claude both had made comments about how she never smiled. And while neither meant it maliciously by any means, she found it bothering her.
She had grown to care for her students in a way that was similar to how she imagined Jeralt felt for her. A certain few, well, she felt as close to them as she did with Jeralt.
However, she still felt that some part of her was still that small child that had the face of a corpse.
Empty. Emotionless. Dead.
So, she did the one thing that made her feel alive.
She went to fight.
Felix was always up for training, and he was talented and determined. Both great qualities in a dueling partner. And while he left bruises, he managed to refrain from actually cutting her. And somehow, along the way, that had become important to her.
The blood flow is what proved that she was alive. Bruises healing also meant this, but the blood was a more immediate tell and it’s what she had come to prefer from a battle. The one time Felix accidentally sliced into her arm she tried to shrug off his comment that she should get it tended. But in true Felix fashion, he wouldn’t have any of her crap. Or so he said.
“Don’t be an idiot.” He snapped. “Something like that could get infected and then what? You’re useless in a fight.”
She raised an eyebrow at him.
“Well maybe not useless,” He amended. “But you wouldn’t be at your best. And that makes you more of a risk then an asset.”
His logic was as sound as always to her. With a nod she went to her private quarters and wrapped it herself. The blood seeping through was an odd comfort to her, and better than nothing.
Felix never turned down an offer to spar, but she noticed that he was far more careful from then on.
It was after the battle against Miklan. Sylvain had hesitated in the battle and it would have costed him greatly had she not stepped in to block the attack from the beast. With everything that had happened after the battle she really had just forgotten to check her own injuries. But suddenly her head felt light, and she nearly fell in a sudden bout of dizziness. Two arms were quick to wrap themselves around her to keep her from falling however.
“Whoa Teach. Try to stay on your feet alright?” Of course, it was Claude. His reflexes as swift as ever.
She patted his arm in a thanks, and in hopes that he would let go, but instead he grabbed her arm tightly when she tried to walk away.
“Hold on, these wounds are bad. Why didn’t you say anything?” He frowned calling over Marianne and Mercedes.
The girls were followed by Dimitri, curious as to why their two best healers were suddenly needed.
“Professor!” He gasped noticing the blood covering her attire.
The two healers were quick to mend the injuries.
“I’m afraid she’s lost too much blood already…” Mercedes started to say, Marianne nodding at her shoulder.
Byleth was about to tell them she was fine and they needed to keep moving when the dizziness took over again, instinctively she reached for a handhold and managed to grab at Claude and Dimitri, each boy at one side.
“Excuse my forwardness Professor,” Dimitri said before lifting her into his arms as if she weighed nothing. “But I think its best if we get you back to the monastery as quickly as possible.”
She blacked out before she could respond.
When she woke up, it was to a heavy weight on her arm. Looking over she saw that it was none other than Jeralt. Her father was sleeping soundly in a chair next to her bed, his head resting on her arm. At her slight movement from waking he jolted awake.
“You sure scared me there, kid.” He grabbed her hand. “Thought I’d lost you when the Prince came running into my office with you in his arms.”
Dimitri had gone to Jeralt? Why not Manuela? The person in charge of the infirmary?
“He was checking to see if you had any allergies before Manuela tended to you.”
Once again, her father knew what she wanted to ask without her saying it.
She shook her head at the silliness of her student. That sounded just like the Prince, always thinking of everything.
“That Golden Deer kid had to come in and remind him to set you down first.”
That would likely be Claude.
“Those kids really care about you.” Jeralt was smiling now.
She smiled and nodded. Yeah. They really did. It was… nice. And new.
“I’m glad you finally made some friends.”
Quietly she whispered her agreement.
Another battle had come and gone. No casualties on their side. It was a victory by all means. The students were having a celebratory meal that had become a staple after the battle of Eagle and Lion. She loved seeing them all smiling and enjoying themselves, especially after a hard-earned victory. But after a few comments along the lines of, “Smile Professor! We won after all!” She took her leave to walk around the monastery.
Even now when she had gained so much, she couldn’t find it in herself to smile for them. She thought back to Claude’s comment a while back. How he had considered she was maybe not human. He and Dimitri had both made comments along the lines of how nice it was when she actually proved she could smile.
Jeralt was even surprised by her smile.
She wanted to smile even more – just for him.
But instead the dead expression returned.
What was it about her?
Maybe it was like Claude had said. Maybe she wasn’t human…
He wasn’t the first to say it, and wouldn’t likely be the last.
She was the Ashen Demon.
She was the corpse faced child.
She… had no heartbeat.
That woman’s voice from years ago rang through her head. “You’re basically dead anyway!”
Basically, dead anyway.
Standing on one of the outlooks with a view of the fields beyond the monastery Byleth pulled her dagger and dragged the tip along her forearm. Blood sprouted along the line instantly.
A dead person didn’t have blood flow like that.
Digging just a bit deeper with her blade she watched as the crimson liquid dripped into the greenery at the base of the wall far beneath her.
This was what she needed. This proof. This evidence was what proved she was alive.
Suddenly the dagger was ripped from her hand. Turning toward the newcomer she widened her eyes in surprise. Usually nobody could sneak up on her.