Chapter 1: Choose a Side
Suffice to say, the entrance into the Blue Lions house had not been going smoothly for Caspar thus far. The mission Caspar had been hastily dispatched to had been…well, a disaster, in more than one way. In attempting to try and start making friends among the Lions, he had struck up conversation with Sylvain, of all people. The conversation had gone something like:
“Hey, Sylvain, so this is your brother’s band we’re fighting, right?”
“You…don’t care? In the slightest? Not even a little bit?”
Frustrated, Sylvain had spun around to confront the short fighter.
“Let’s see. He tried to kill me multiple times, hated me for things I couldn’t possibly control, instilled a probably lifelong paranoia centered around my crest into me, and otherwise just made my life a continued living hell. That sound like enough reason?”
The rest of the march had continued on in silence.
In comparison, Miklan transforming into a beast due to the Lance of Ruin’s power and slaughtering his own men before attempting to slaughter the Blue Lions had almost seemed like a relief from the awkward silence. At least the march back’s silence felt more appropriate, and Caspar was smart enough to keep his mouth shut this time. The following month had been its own flurry: Flayn had gone missing early in the month, and, unbeknownst to Caspar, the Blue Lions had been tasked with finding her as Caspar was helping Ashe train and get back into shape. In fact, he hadn’t even known something was amiss until he saw Manuela had been carried into the infirmary and, upon taking an axe and racing to Jeritza’s room per Dimitri’s orders, saw his housemates carrying Flayn and another girl out of the room, laughing and celebrating like a family.
Like the Black Eagles did.
Needless to say, Caspar was feeling very much left out. And that was before he heard news his father had come to visit. He had only heard the news second-hand, from Dorothea in passing. Apparently, he had business meeting with Edelgard about some political matter Caspar had no cares about, and couldn’t be bothered to see him. It normally wouldn’t bother Caspar that much: he was generally on indifferent terms with his father in terms of their relationship. But with Ashe being his only real friend in the house, he was beginning to get rather lonesome. Even the fact that he was a new member was pretty much overshadowed by Flayn’s arrival into the house, and her condition had everyone fretting. He leaned back against the wall of the Blue Lions classroom, staring up at the ceiling with a grimace. He didn’t regret his decision to join the Blue Lions, not really. In fact, he really liked everyone and really wanted to get closer to them, and therein was the problem; he didn’t feel like they wanted to be close to him. It was just an awkward situation all around and-
Caspar yelped and jumped back from his position, knocking his head against the brick wall of the classroom, which then caused him to shout again in pain and grasp his aching head.
“Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry!”
Annette knelt down over the boy and touched her hands gingerly to his head, allowing some white sparks to burst from her hand, soothing the sudden pain.
“I’m really sorry, Caspar, I just saw you looking all distant and really wanted to talk to you but I didn’t know if it would be right or wrong to touch you or anything so I just-“
Caspar held up a hand. “Annette, chill a little. It’s all right.”
Annette pursed her lips and nodded. “Right, all right.” Proceeding on, she snapped her fingers, reaching into her bag, and holding out a small letter. “This is for you, by the way.”
Caspar waited a moment for her to leave, but Annette stood still, bouncing up and down slightly, with her eyes full of anticipation. She was probably the one who wrote the letter, in all honesty. Caspar sighed and opened it up, reading carefully.
You are hereby formally invited to the Battle of the Eagle and Lion Blue Lions House Party. We seek to reunite and get to know our dear new recruits, as well as catch up among friends of old. Though your attendance is not mandatory, all members of the Blue Lions House would love to see you there and await your response, preferably given to the messenger. If you cannot make an immediate decision, please let the house leader know by the end of the week. Sincerely,”
At the bottom of the note were nine signatures denoting the original members of the Blue Lions house, as well as the Professor, Byleth. Caspar felt a goofy grin begin to feel his face.
“Aw, shucks. You really mean all this?”
Annette grinned broadly.
“Every word, Caspar. We really want to get to know you, and Flayn, and…each other!” Caspar glanced up at her suspiciously, but she didn’t seem to notice. “Things have been really hectic and tense here, and I know we haven’t really gotten a chance to know each other. But you’re part of the family now. None of us want you to feel left out.”
Caspar’s grin got wider.
“Well, who am I to refuse? I’ll be there, definitely.”
“Oh, yay!” Annette jumped up and wrapped her arms around Caspar, “I’ll go tell Dimitri right away. This is gonna be so much fun, I just know it!”
As Annette raced out of the classroom, she paid absolutely no attention to the dark figure lurking outside, who took the opportunity to slide into the classroom in her absence. Caspar, for his part, had sunk back against the wall, the clouds in his mind suddenly dissipating quite quickly. His fears had been for naught; the Blue Lions cared, wanted to grow closer, wanted to become a real family. Maybe, just maybe, there was a ray of-
A knife pressed against Caspar’s throat and he gasped, lurching back into the tall, dark figure who had snuck up behind him. Then the voice registered, and he craned his neck back to see the sneering visage of Edelgard’s right hand man. The knife released, and Caspar whirled around to see his former classmate.
“What do you want, Hubert? If you want to recruit me back, I’m a little busy.”
“Oh? I suppose that’s to be expected from someone as shortsighted as you.”
Hubert’s condescending tone generally annoyed Caspar, but now he could feel himself beginning to heat up more than usual.
“What’s that supposed to mean? Just cause I found people I want to be close to, should I-“
“Your father has clarified he will disown you if you graduate in the Blue Lions house.”
The words died in Caspar’s throat.
Hubert sneered again, and Caspar realized he really hated the advisor’s face sometimes.
“It was a part of Edelgard’s meeting with him, really. The two have been discussing the future, and have decided a great many things together. Among those things, Edelgard asked him about your situation and his comfort with it. His response, as I said, was curt and direct.”
Caspar looked off to the side.
“I was never gonna get anything from him anyways. Not really. How is that supposed to change my mind?”
Hubert shrugged. “A fair answer. I can understand not caring to take on your father’s legacy or impact. But do consider this.” The young man leaned in towards Caspar, his voice now dangerous and low.
“There may come a time in the future where there is a right side of the world and a wrong side. Consider what impact you can make on this world, and what that will mean for you in the end. We live in dangerous time, Mr. Von Bergliez. Remember that.”
And just like that, the shadow was gone, and Caspar was alone once more.
The knife didn’t scare him. The assertion that his father would disown him stung, but Caspar had honestly expected it given how gung-ho his father was. But the words, echoing in Caspar’s head, were suddenly concerning him. A right side and a wrong side in the world, and a choice of which one he’d be on. He knew there was something…off… with Dimitri. A lot of people knew it, especially after the official report was released of the Graftel incident. Could Hubert be…
Caspar shook his head. He had thrown in his lot with the Blue Lions. He would continue to support them, no matter what. That was what he had decided. Standing up firmly now, he grasped the calendar, looking at the date circled in red: The Battle of Eagle and Lion. He would have to fight his friends: that much was inevitable. The Blue Lions couldn’t afford to turn down one of the more powerful students, and Caspar was definitely one of the strong ones.
“A right side and the wrong side of the world…”
Grinning, he circled the date again, adding another layer of red coloration. He could handle fighting former classmates. Of that much, he was certain. Now, he was more concerned with getting closer to his current ones.
“Guess I just gotta make sure my side wins, then.”
Chapter 2: A Lion's Celebration
Annette is excited to get to know the new members of the Blue Lions house, and after stumbling over her words a bit makes a new friend.
Annette was bouncing up and down nervously in the Blue Lions homeroom, absolutely ecstatic about the night to come. The professor had enlisted her to give out the invitations, as well as keeping privy to one particular piece of information, which correlated to her previous duty: a certain student would be entering into the classroom during the month, and Byleth would be announcing who when the party started. Annette couldn’t imagine who it was, and the mystery was eating her up inside. As for right now, the original Blue Lions had gathered in the classroom and were preparing for the night to come. Ashe, still a bit stiff around the shoulder but otherwise fully capable, was in charge of hanging banners from the ceiling. In the center was a banner depicting, predictably, a blue lion in all its glory. To the left was a small banner writing “Welcome, Flayn!” with the other on the right reading “Welcome, Caspar!” Annette was worried that whoever the new student was might feel left out by that, but Byleth had assured her when he brought the banners that it would be all right. Dedue and Mercedes were in charge of the cooking, and had provided a massive array of sweets and meats to eat. Annette shook her head. She really needed to stop rhyming in her head before she started singing and Felix snuck up on her again.
Speaking of, the swordsman was working with Sylvain and Ingrid, scowling as the other two set up chairs and tossed around gaudy amounts of glitter and confetti to give the room a festive air. Felix, for his part, had already set up his side of the room and seemed to be putting up more an act of carelessness now that he was already finished with his part. Dimitri was a bit of an issue among the group. He had offered to help sew the banners, which had led to disaster and a delay in the party as Byleth had to (kindly) kick him out and start the banners from scratch. Dedue had asked for help tasting the food, but the prince had awkwardly declined, saying he wasn’t the best suited for it. Felix had refused his help in setting up, so he was just sitting awkwardly in the middle of the room, looking for a way to make himself useful.
“Wow, the new classroom looks really great!”
Caspar walked in to the room, his eyes shining as he saw the welcome party…and, Annette suspected, especially on seeing the table of food. Dimitri shot up at the new entry, overeager to find anything to break the monotony.
“Greetings, Caspar! You’re somewhat early for the party’s start, but please, make yourself comfortable in any way.”
He guided the boy over to the chairs set out, and Annette joined to make the group a trio as the decorations began to finalize. Caspar set his hands behind his head and whistled appreciatively.
“You guys really go all out when it comes to making someone feel welcome, huh?”
“Of course!” Annette beamed. “You made all the effort to prove yourself to the professor and get into our class, and that means you had to say goodbye to some of your classmates. We know that can’t have been easy.” Caspar blushed and looked down, mumbling something, and Dimitri took the reins.
“That’s why we wanted to hold this. Even if your change is just being in a different classroom for the time being, we want to make you feel as home as you possibly can. We want to be like family to you.”
Caspar chuckled. “Family means more to some people than it does to others, ya know.” Annette grimaced. That statement was true enough and, although Caspar hadn’t meant it, the thought made her cheeks color.
“Well…horrible fathers aside, we all want to be close, if family isn’t the right word. Just talk around if you’re not sure. We all want to get to know you and Flayn both.” She realized, with a shock, that Dimitri and Caspar were looking at her with suspicion in their eyes.
“What do you mean-?”
“Bah!” Annette’s hands flew to her face as she realized what she said. “Absolutely nothing, Your Highness-er, Caspar- er, both of you!” She turned to Caspar. “Caspar, I’m sure your father is an absolutely wonderful man, and Dimitri” she turned to the prince, “I didn’t mean to bring up anything bad! I just was thinking about my own situation, and my words slipped, and, and-“
“Calm yourself, Annette.” Dimitri had placed a hand on her shoulder, and she realized she had been crying a little bit as she tried to explain herself. Caspar was looking with worry in his eyes, and all of a sudden she felt really stupid. “I didn’t take any offense from what you said, and as far as I know, Caspar is on good relations with his father, correct?” He motioned to Caspar, who flushed bright red for an instant, then nodded a little too quickly. “Uh, yeah! Right. Uh…definitely.”
Now it was Annette’s turn to be suspicious.
“As for your own situation.” Dimitri shook his head, his eyes full of sorrow. “I…have tried reaching out to your father. About your relationship. He’s never responded to me, not really. But please, don’t blame him too much…much weighs heavy on his heart, after all.”
Much weighs on his heart. That had been her uncle’s excuse. That had been her mother’s excuse as she waited. The one time she had been able to speak with him at the monastery, that had been his excuse. She shook her head.
“That doesn’t change the fact that he abandoned us of his own will. I’m not angry about that anymore…I stopped a long time ago. I just want to be able to talk with him again like normal, make things like they used to be.”
The conversation was interrupted as Flayn made her way into the homeroom, eyes sparkling at the decoration. A wide grin split her lips as she beheld her classmates putting on the finishing touches.
“Well done, everyone. This is most certainly a fascinating display, I must say! Now, where are the treats?”
She walked over to talk with Mercedes and Dedue, while the other members of the Lions settled around. Ingrid and Felix made their way over to Annette’s side of the room, while Ashe and Sylvain walked over to the other side, chatting with Flayn. Ingrid turned over, trying to start a conversation.
“So, Caspar, what do you intend to do once you’ve exited the officer’s academy?’
Caspar seemed a bit lost in his thoughts, staring off into Flayn’s corner of the room.
“Huh?! Whazzat?” He whirled around to face Ingrid, shock on his face. The girl smiled painfully.
“I was wondering what you wanted to do once you graduated from the Academy.”
Caspar seemed to sink into his thoughts again, and a shadow passed over his eyes.
“When I exit the Academy, huh…”
This time, Annette couldn’t keep quiet.
“Caspar, is something going on with you?” Caspar looked up sharply, and the look of suspicion on his face confirmed her thoughts.
“What do you mean? I’m absolutely normal. Nothing wrong with me at all! Heheheh…” His laugh trailed off unconvincingly, and now the entire group was looking at him with concern.
“Caspar, we do care about you, you know.” This from Dimitri, placing a hand on the smaller boy’s shoulder. “If something is troubling you, please, let us help bear the burden. Nobody needs to go through trouble alone.”
Caspar sighed. “All right, here’s the gist of it. Basically, my father pretty much disowned me if I don’t graduate with the Black Eagles, and Hubert made some weird vague threats about me being an enemy if I didn’t stay with my house. I don’t know why. My father and I were never close, but I didn’t think anything would lead to…this. I just don’t get it.”
“What a terrible excuse for a father.” Felix scoffed. “Don’t tell me he was willing to toss out his own son just because of some petty house alliance.” Caspar shook his head.
“I’m not exactly his only son. My older brother was going to get all the titles and glory and all that anyways, so it’s not like I was losing a ton.”
“That’s even more stupid.” Felix shook his head, his scowl deepening. “A father caring more about one child than the other is what led to half the Kingdom’s issues to begin with. My response? You’re probably better not giving a damn about your father or the class either way.”
Caspar blushed a bit deeper, and Annette felt the need to say something.
“If it means anything, Caspar…I’m sure you guessed I know how it feels to be abandoned by your father.” Dimitri turned away now, and Caspar blushed deeper. “If this just happened, give it some time to settle. But if you ever want to talk about it…” She reached out and bumped the boy’s shoulder with her fist. “You and me, we can be a part of the bad dads club. I’m here to talk if you want to vent.”
Caspar smiled, about to say something, before Byleth swept into the room, smiling broadly.
“Attention, ladies and gentlemen of the Blue Lions.”
Everybody looked at the professor, still somewhat mystified by the professor’s odd semi-emotional growth. It was a relief to see him smile and joke around, but he was still so formal and slightly intimidating it still didn’t work, really.
“As you know, this is a meeting-er, party, to celebrate our newest recruits, Caspar and Flayn. However, I wanted to bring to your attention another recruit. However, I do want to warn you guys, she’s…not great with company.”
Bernadetta, Annette decided. That had to be it. There was no other person, no other way to-
“I’d like to introduce your new member, Marianne!”
Byleth moved aside to reveal a blushing, blue haired young girl that Annette suddenly remembered she had seen all around the stables and cathedral throughout their time at the monastery. She had just never identified her as an actual student. The classroom froze for a moment, not entirely sure how to receive the girl. Slowly, Dimitri made his way forward. His voice was soft as he spoke.
“Marianne, is it? I am Dimitri. I am pleased as anyone to make your acquaintance. I am Dimitri, the house leader here. I’ll do whatever I can to make your stay here peaceful and comfortable.”
Annette was instantly jealous at how smooth and personable the prince had been able to become in an instant; whenever she tried to be as personable, she just fumbled her words or tripped over a barrel. Marianne merely blushed a mumbled words of apology, but they were washed away by words of support and greeting as the members of the Blue Lions came to see her. After initial greetings had been made, the groups separated again, this time a more casual dispersion. Sylvain traded some words with Marianne, pulling his fingers to the corners of his mouth to resemble a grimace or smile before Ingrid slapped his hands, apologizing to Marianne before dragging him off. Ashe, Caspar, and Mercedes were all huddled around the food, apparently enjoying things quite heftily. Flayn laughed as Felix and Dimitri argued over some trivial affair or another, Dedue watching from behind with caution.
“You did a marvelous job helping put this together.” Byleth walked up behind Annette, thankfully not scaring her this time. Instead, she simply blushed.
“I didn’t do much professor. I just passed out cards and kept a secret.”
Byleth shook his head. “I watched you guys for a while before I went to get Marianne. You helped Caspar a lot there. I’m sure he’s grateful for that, and I know I am. Keep being you, all right?”
After a quick pat on the back, Byleth left to join the festivities.
“Keep being myself, huh?”
Looking around the room, Annette beamed as she saw her fellow lions joyfully partake in the festivities. The class was full of joy, full of happiness, full of family. She thought back to her own father for a moment. It was true, him leaving had hurt. She had spent her whole life after trying to find him. That was why she was at the monastery now. And coming that way had led her to a new family, one that stuck together, no matter what. Something about that was comforting to her.
Annette sucked a deep breath in, then let it out slowly. Now wasn’t the time to get emotional or lost in thoughts, though. For now, she could satisfy herself with laughing and talking the night away with her new family.
Chapter 3: The Battle of the Eagle and Lion
Caspar helps lead battle alongside his fellow Lions, and faces some unpleasant feelings along the way.
“Everyone, gather round! The mock battle is about to begin!”
Caspar joined up with the members of the Blue Lions prepared for battle. Given Manuela and Hanneman’s polite refusal to join in the battle, Byleth had opted to refrain from joining his students on the battlefield as well. This left ten members of the Blue Lions to take to the field, and Byleth had selected Dimitri, Sylvain, Mercedes, Dedue, Annette, Felix, Ingrid, Ashe, Flayn, and Caspar to take to the field. Marianne, as the newest student and an only recent departed member of the Golden Deer, had opted to sit back and watch the battle to analyze the Lions’ movements alongside her professor and gain better knowledge prowess. Caspar was leading the pack towards the Black Eagles, with Dimitri and Dedue close behind and Ashe and Mercedes hanging back to cover the flank. Meanwhile, Sylvain led Ingrid, Flayn, Annette, and Felix to the Golden Deer as well as covering some coverage to their side. Caspar tensed, ready for the sounding horn.
“Are you ready, Caspar?”
Dimitri sidled up to him, looking nice and comfortable on his steed. The prince’s riding prowess was one of the many reasons Caspar was confident in the fight: he practically rode over the enemy as much as he actually fought them. Dedue, as always, was right behind him, wearing his armor proudly as he scanned the battlefield.
“You were correct in your assumption that this would not be an easy battle, your highness.” The retainer grumbled. “The enemy seems ready and more than capable.”
Caspar gripped his axe, feeling his blood begin to rush with excitement.
“That just means we got good competition! Let’s get out there and show them what the Blue Lions are made of!”
Dimitri laughed alongside Caspar, twirling his lance expertly. “Indeed, indeed. Let’s make this battle well worth remembering.”
As if on cue, the horn blared from the top of the mountains behind the Lions, signaling the beginning of the battle. The armies seemed to move as one: Caspar ducked to the side as a training arrow whistled by his ear, signaling the appearance of Bernadetta. The girl dashed to the fort at the top of the hill, taking control of the ballista that dominated the battlefield. Dimitri chuckled.
“That must have been Edelgard’s plan from the beginning: she probably emplored Bernadetta to make an immediate break for the ballista when the horns sounded. She may have even been laying in wait for such an occasion.” Caspar nodded. If anyone was good at finding a secluded place to hide, it’d be Bernadetta.
“I’ll take care of it, Your Highness. We’ll want that ballista if we want control of the battlefield!”
Dimitri turned sharply, his eyes wide with shock.
“Ah, Caspar, wait!” But his words were lost as the smaller boy raced up the hill…straight into a trio of cavaliers, surrounding him with lances ready. Thankfully, they were waylaid by a series of arrows and magic assaulting them as Ashe and Mercedes ran up from behind.
“Caspar, please, do be careful.” Ashe pleaded. “That could have taken you out of the battlefield if we weren’t here.”
“I’m not sure I could have kept you on your feet if you had taken all three of those lances,” Mercedes considered. “Make sure you take on one opponent at a time if we’re in these conditions.” Caspar blushed.
“Was it really that bad?” The look on his classmates’ faces spelled the answer out easily enough.“yeah, okay, sorry. Next time, I’ll-“
Ashe quickly shoved Caspar aside as a shot from the ballista (how did the ballista fire non-lethal shots?) soared through the air and landed right in the middle of the group, rolling off into the creek.
“Ah….any chance you’ll all pretend that hit you? Please?” Caspar turned to see Bernadetta, furiously attempting to reload the ballista as she swiveled it out towards the prince, who was running with Dedue off to the side to confront Edelgard directly.
“Sorry, Bernie.” Caspar lunged forward, grabbing Bernadetta by the waist and tackling her to the ground.
“Ah! Stop! Let me Goooooooooooooo!” Bernie shouted as Caspar pinned her down.
“I’ll let you down if you surrender, all right? I’ll take your bow and stuff and give it back when the battle’s over.”
“Fine! Fine! I don’t care about winning right now! Just GET OFF ME!”
Caspar relented as Ashe and Mercedes relieved Bernadetta of her weapons and watched as she fled off the battlefield. The two turned to him, completely bewildered as he shrugged his shoulders. “What? I know what makes her tick.”
Ashe took use of the ballista now, scoping the battlefield as the battle raged on. To Caspar’s left, Sylvain’s group had managed to take Lorenz down and was working their way towards Claude. To his right, Dimitri and Dedue had already made short work of Ferdinand, though Caspar noticed Petra was making her way to the pair as well. Straight ahead, Leonie was battling atop her horse with Dorothea and Hubert. Ashe aimed a shot at the group, wincing as the small shots showered the fighers. Mercedes and Caspar took the opportunity to move in: Caspar leapt up, striking the blunt of his training axe against Leonie’s armor, knocking her clean off of her horse with a cry.
“Damn it, Caspar! That was a low move.” Caspar flashed a grin.
“Don’t tell me you wouldn’t have thought of doing something. Or that Captain Jeralt wouldn’t have done that. That kinda stuff is exactly after your style, you know.” He reached a hand over to the girl, and she begrudgingly accepted as he hoisted her to her feet.
“Yeah…I guess you’re right. But don’t think that means I’m gonna forget it. You’ll get payback in training.”
Caspar winced as she left, mostly because he knew she was right. Them he whirled as he heard two girls cry out at once. Dorothea and Mercedes fell back from each other; Caspar noticed Mercedes’ hands seemed to be shivering and jolting, while Dorothea’s robes were smoking. Then he rushed forward as he saw Hubert lunge towards Mercedes, his eyes eager as he saw the opportunity to take a Blue Lion down. The young fighter barely managed to pull the healer’s robes back as a dark ball of magic barely grazed her, and she merely grunted in response. Then he whirled around to Hubert, who was carefully pacing around him as if trying to figure out how best to slit his throat.
“Well, well, if it isn’t our dear friend Caspar. I don’t suppose you rushed over here to rejoin your classroom? You haven’t seen the errors of your ways? Don’t take what I’ve said to you too lightly.” Caspar glowered at the young man.
“Fat chance. I chose the Blue Lions because I trust them, and they welcomed me. They’re more of a family to me than my own. I’m willing to take what comes with that, if I need to.” He swallowed as Hubert’s eyes glinted dangerously.
“Are you, now.”
And suddenly Caspar was bent over, gasping in pain as dark magic enveloped him, numbing his senses and making his mind go dark as he fell to the ground. Dimly, he could hear two girls screaming over the deafening roar of magic as it whirled around him.
“Caspar, hang in there! Oh, Goddess…”
Oh, Goddess? It was just a mock battle. All he had to do was tap out, and Hubert would stop, and-
Suddenly, Caspar’s heart jumped in his chest. Oh, Goddess was right. He couldn’t tap out, he couldn’t even move. His body felt frozen, and Hubert wasn’t stopping.
“That’s…e…nough!” He heard a grunt, and suddenly, he could rise shakily to his feet. The sight he beheld once his head cleared was…something else. Mercedes and Dorothea had teamed up now, holding Hubert’s arms above his head and directing the Black Magic away from Caspar. The boy unsteadily took steps forward, closing the gap between himself and the mage.
“Oh, thank goodness. Are you oka-“
The words didn’t quite exit Mercedes’ mouth before Caspar’s fist went flying, slamming straight into Hubert’s face and knocking him senseless onto the ground. He tried to think of something clever to say, but honestly he felt so drained he was just happy he could muster enough energy to knock the other student down. The girls just stopped and stared, not quite seeming to be able to grasp what just happened. Finally, Dorothea tilted her head, bringing a hand up to her chin.
“Well, I can’t say that was totally undeserved.” She shook her head, and bowed slightly to Mercedes and Caspar. “I think it’s safe to say I’m not up for much more of this. That’s enough excitement for one mock battle, at any rate. Take care, you two.”
And with that, the songstress was gone. Mercedes turned to Caspar, checking him up and down as white light streamed from her hands, reinvigorating him.
“Are you all right, Caspar?”
Caspar nodded his head, probably far more times than necessary. “Yeah, yeah, of course. Now come on, we need to get to Edelgard before the battle’s done.”
The pair raced to the base of the Black Eagle’s army, where Dimitri and Dedue were finally wrapping around. Dimitri was clashing with Edelgard, their weapons ringing out against each other. Caspar’s heart beat faster, as much with excitement as with exertion. Were they really this close to winning? Then he noticed a stray fireball nearly slam into Dimitri, from some completely unknown source. Someone proficient in magic, thinking enough to know to hide back, but not motivated enough to engage in early battle.
Without a moment’s thought, Caspar raced around the battlefield, bypassing Edelgard and Dimitri’s duel.
“Caspar! Where are you-“
Caspar rounded the corner, to find his suspicions completely confirmed.
“Hello, Caspar,” Linhardt yawned. “You’re later than I expected you to be.” Caspar shrugged.
“I got laywaid by a couple of brawls and Hubert nearly killing me. You know, all the stuff we talked about.”
Linhardt smiled sleepily, nodding his assent. “I told you these nobles wouldn’t let you go that easily. Your father’s a pretty influential figure in the Empire. Regardless of whether you’re an inheriting member of the family, you leaving the Empire’s house doesn’t reflect well on the Empire.”
“Yeah, well, I told you I’m more bullheaded than all those nobles put together. I got this.”
“If you insist.” Caspar could sense the magic coming this time, and leapt to the side just in time to avoid a burst of wind. Without a second thought, he lunged forward, slamming a fist into Linhardt’s stomach, causing him to keel over, gasping for breath.
“Goddess…you really don’t… hold anything back,” Linhardt gasped between breaths. “Was a simple spell like that worth a beating?” Caspar laughed clearly, throwing his head back.
“Yeah, maybe it was a little much. Hubert didn’t condition me very well.”
The laughing was cut short as he felt himself being pushed back, surprisingly forcefully, as an arrow whistled by between him and Linhardt. Linhardt turned, grabbing the arrow from the fortress wall it was embedded in, to face the archer that had shot it.
“That was hardly necessary,” Linhardt said, almost sounding bored. “The battle’s already over, if you hadn’t been able to tell already.”
Caspar turned, and saw that Linhardt was right. Dimitri was standing over Edelgard, who had rested back against her own fort’s wall looking much worse for wear. The fortress across the field was already waving flags with a Blue Lion banner, signifying that Sylvain’s team had done the work it set out to do. His heart raced with joy and pride as he saw the banners waving in the air. His team had won! And, as far as he could tell, with hardly any losses. As the smoke cleared, and the victors’ name was called, the Blue Lions gathered together on the central fort on the hill, gathering together into a group hug.
“Friends!” Dimitri’s voice rang out over the small crowd of students that gathered. “We won this victory today not through pure strength and grit, nor from pride and chivalry. We won this victory through working together, as a family. And as a family, we will journey on. We will continue to support each other as this year goes on. Let us not forget this moment, not for the rest of our lives.”
Caspar cheered alongside with the rest of the group, and briefly turned over to see the other houses. Though they all seemed fairly put together, he couldn’t help but see the pain of defeat in them; shame in Bernadetta’s eyes, sadness and regret in Leonie’s, Linhardt clutching his stomach rather queasily.
And briefly, just for a moment, he wasn’t looking at students losing a mock battle, or nobles slightly annoyed at their efforts going to waste. He was transported back to walking alongside his father surveying survivors of war and slaughter in Dagda, in Brigid. The same shame and regret towards abandoning lost allies. The same pain, clutching wounds that refused to close.
He hadn’t noticed that he had dropped to his knees, clutching his own chest as he flashed back. Mercedes was bending over him, checking his forehead.
“He isn’t running a fever, so it’s not sickness. Maybe an aftereffect of Hubert’s spell?”
Caspar brushed her hand aside, shaking his head.
“I’m fine, sorry. Just…bad memories.”His eyes flickered against his will towards Petra, who met them knowingly and, just as quickly, glanced away. He shook his head, mustering up his bravado. “No need to fret, guys, really. I’m just tired, and really hungry.” At the word hungry, his classmates’ eyes glazed over as they thought about the food to come at the dining hall.
“If that’s the case, then I’m sure the monastery has the exact things you need!” Dimitri laughed. Cheering, the Blue Lions started off towards the monastery, reveling in their victory. Caspar hung back a moment, and found that Dimitri had hung back as well. The moment alone between the two was unprecedented, and Caspar suddenly felt very awkward.
“You see them too, don’t you.” The words were dark and uncomfortable, and Caspar shivered at the sound. “The shadows of war in the past.”
Caspar looked down, unable to meet the prince’s eyes. “My dad was responsible for…a lot of death. A lot of people in far off lands curse his name to this very day. Sometimes…sometimes it all comes back to me, all in an instant. Knowing my family is in conflict with so many people here.”
Dimitri shook his head. “You mustn’t take responsibility for your father so. You were never there. You never had a chance to help. And you can’t bring them back, no matter how you may try.” Pain entered the prince’s eyes, and he looked away. “No matter how much that fact hurts, we simply can’t change it.”
Caspar nodded. “Not take responsibility…I wish it was as easy as that. Can’t say it isn’t difficult.”
“That it isn’t,” Dimitri chuckled bitterly. “But…let’s put away such thoughts for now.” He wrapped his arm around Caspar’s shoulder, practically dragging him along back to the monastery. “A feast awaits us, after all.”
And so the two walked on, alone in silence. Caspar looked up at Dimitri’s face, still calm in spite of the subject matter they had just been discussing. He sighed and closed his eyes. More and more, it seemed, the Blue Lions seemed to be reaching out to him, drawing him into their backgrounds, their history, their fears and failures. He had initially joined on a whim, but each day was bringing them closer and closer together.
Maybe there was a future in separating himself from his father’s legacy after all.
Chapter 4: A Night of Merriment
At the Celebration of the Battle of the Eagle and Lion, Claude whips up a surprise game for the classes to participate in, with an unexpected outcome.
That night, the Dining Hall rang out with shouts and laughs of jubilation as the three houses celebrated the end of the Battle of the Eagle and Lion. Of course, the Blue Lions House was celebrating the loudest by far, but the other houses were all joining in on the fun for their own part. The only member Annette noticed not particularly involved in festivities was Hubert, still sulking in the back while holding an ice pack to his face and glaring at Caspar. The two met eyes for a brief moment, glaring at each other in a deathly stare before breaking the contact and staring down at their own meals.
Once the mock battle had finished, Dorothea and Mercedes had given a full report of the incident between the two, and both had received strict punishment from their houses: neither was to be attending the Heron Ball in a couple of month’s time, and both were tasked with extra shares of their respective houses’ chores for the month. For being the instigator, Hubert had the extra assignment of assisting Maneula daily in the infirmary, which Annette thought was a particularly cruel punishment given their respective personalities.
“Caspar, please slow down at least a little. You’ll get yourself sick if you eat so quickly.”
Ashe had sat down next to the blue-haired boy, who was shoveling food into his stomach at a nauseating pace. In response to Ashe’s plea, Caspar merely grunted with annoyance before renewing his efforts, disposing of his food at an even faster rate. The grey-haired commoner shook his head with resignation.
“I don’t know why I even try…”
“Heyo, listen up, everyone!”
Claude had stood up in the middle of the hall on one of the tables, and Annette looked around worriedly. The professors usually forbade acts like that after Raphael had broken a bench performing a similar stunt, but…huh?
“Ol’ Teach finally had his fill of the Dining Hall, and His Highness is escorting him back to his room. When Dimitri comes back, the Golden Deer have a special post-battle game for us to play.”
A cheer erupted from the Golden Deer, and Marianne looked down at her plate across from Annette. Sylvain lay a comforting hand on her shoulder.
“Aw, come on, Marianne, it’s all right. I’m sure it’ll be fun for everyone, not just the Deer.”
“No…it’s not that. I’m just…not good at playing games…”
Annette did her best to present a winning smile.
“Aw, that’s no issue. Games are all about teamwork, really. If you struggle with something, we’re more than happy to help out.”
Marianne opened her mouth to reply, but at that moment Dimitri chose to waltz into the Hall, flashing a smile at Claude. The withdrawn noble blushed and turned away, leaving Annette to wonder what was going on between Dimitri and the members of the Golden Deer.
“We’re all set, Claude. What have you in store for us tonight?” Claude smiled easily.
“Well…this and that. Hilda?” Annette watched, dumbfounded, as the lazy noble, assisted by Raphael and Leonie, rolled in a huge covered cart from the courtyard.
“Goddess, you will not believe how hard it was to keep that thing hidden this whole time.” Claude waved her complaints aside. Reaching down to undo the cover, he announced.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the Black Eagles and Blue Lions, I present…” He threw the cover off, revealing a mound of caskets piled up on top of the cart, leaking a strong-smelling liquid. “…The Alliance’s finest alcoholic beverages!”
The shout emitting from the Dining Hall was deafening, but Annette felt her heart plunge in horror. Oh, Goddess, if the professors found put she as much as existed in the same room as a casket of alcohol…
But the deed was already done. The Golden Deer were passing out mugs to all the students, and Claude was rolling the first casket out from the cart, leaning over to sit on top of it.
“All right, house rules. Everyone who wants to play drinks, and anyone who doesn’t is labeled a loser for the rest of the year…or the most sensible, depending on how things turn out. Everyone drinks a mug together, and we wait and talk between mugs. Last person to drop cold drunk wins. Leonie’s already volunteered as the sober, on account of the fact that she knows she can drink us all under the table any day.”
A mug was pressed into Annette’s hands, and she looked around to see…nobody really in disagreement. Mercedes, of course, had long been old enough to drink, and seemed to behold the prospect with something nearing amusement. The only Blue Lions member with some amount of consternation was Ashe, but he didn’t seem to be putting the mug away. Across the hall, the Golden Deer were already laughing and joking with anticipation, nothing really seeming amiss among them. Marianne looked at them with an unreadable emotion on her face, then glanced down at her mug.
“I’m not sure…”
“Oh, come now, Marianne.” Dimitri sat down beside the girl, and Annette saw her cheeks go slightly rosy once more. “Letting yourself go every now and then is hardly a bad thing…I promise, nobody will speak of anything that transpires here from now on. I doubt most of us will remember much.”
Marianne nodded, a faint smile tracing her lips. “Yes…you’re right…”
The first round of alcohol was passed around. Annette took a sip, and her lips turned in immediately. She was decidedly not a fan of the taste of alcohol. She generally liked things…infinitely sweeter than this.
“You can mix sugar in,” Mercedes commented lightly as she beheld her friend’s face. “If it’s too strong, that is. A little sugar works wonders on anything, you know.”
Annette nodded and, after adding in an unhealthy amount of sugar, tried again and downed the rest, the flavor suddenly much more palatable. Looking around, she saw that everybody seemed to be handling their alcohol fairly well. A few of the lighter members of each house were a little rosy after a full mug, but nobody seemed slurring or out of focus, and most were simply holding pleasant conversation.
“All right, round two!”
Lysithea dropped out in the middle of the third round. The girl had begun walking around in a circle trying to reach Leonie, who sat her down and talked her somewhat into her senses before taking her back to her room. Next had been Bernadetta, a round later, who seemed to be wanting to go back to her room more than she was inebriated. Annette had expected herself to be exiting early, but for some reason she seemed to be holding up just find. Mercedes, next to her, seemed equally unperturbed, and the rounds continued until Ashe and Ignatz almost simultaneously tapped out, with Linhardt and Caspar close behind.
From there, the tapouts seemed to come in a constant stream. Lorenz tried to hold par with Hilda, but the girl seemed defiantly opposed to him until he dropped. Next was Ingrid, who simply shook her head and commented that her grogginess was getting the better of her. Dorothea followed quickly after, and then Hilda admitted defeat alongside Marianne, and the two hobbled off to bed together. From there, the competition seemed to grow more and more fierce. Ferdinand looked Edelgard directly in the eyes as he, flushed with drunken confidence, continued downing his drinks. Raphael and Claude laughed and bellowed alongside each other as they continued their own house competition, and Felix and Sylvain’s eternal rivalry seemed to be getting the better of them both. Meanwhile, Annette continued drinking, still wondering why her mind felt so clear.
“And there’s Felix and Sylvain!” Leonie shouted, motioning the two away as they continued grasping for refills.
“I refuse to… *hic*…end this in a draw…*hic*”
“Nah, Felix, you *hic*…you look like you’ve been beat, fair and square.”
“Okay you two, that’s nice,” Leonie said impatiently, “but it’s time for you to go beddie bye now, kay?”
This left Dimitri staring, dumbfounded, at the remaining Mercedes and Annette.
Ferdinand was the next two drop, reluctantly followed by Hubert and then, in a surprising twist, both Raphael and Petra at once. This left the house leaders, alongside the still bewildered Annette and Mercedes.
“Well, this is…actually, unexpected.” Claude frowned at Annette. “How on earth did miss under-five-feet make it to the finale?”
“Height doesn’t mean anything in this circumstance, Claude.” Edelgard replied heatedly. “Let’s just finish this.”
The drinks came, one after another. All opponents looked at each other, unwaveringly gazing into each other’s eyes and…there!
Annette felt it now, just the tiniest little flicker. The buzz of alcohol coming over her mind, then a flush, as if something was sweeping it all away. She felt Mercedes’ hand leave her shoulder, and looked to see a small trail of white light leaving her fingers. She felt a flush reach her face as laughter almost overcame her. Mercedes really was too sly.
Of course, the house leaders were no problem after that. Claude admitted defeat first, retiring back to his place and letting the nobles duke it out. The two fairly remaining contestants sat across from each other, staring the other down as they took off. One beverage after another, Annette and Mercedes hurriedly following suit, until finally, suddenly-
“Both of you, quit it!” Leonie slapped the mugs out of the nobles’ hands, spilling alcohol onto the floor. “Neither of you are in any shape to continue!”
She was right, alcohol had been sloshing lazily from their mugs as they struggled to hold them upright. As she said this, both nobles nearly toppled from their chairs, completely wasted from the drink. Leonie turned to Mercedes and Annette, now fully suspicious.
“Okay, spill. I can barely drink as much as these two did, and I know at the least Annette’s a first timer.”
Mercedes smiled and lifted her hand, white magic dancing across the fingers.
“I learned the restore spell last month. I learned…extracurricularly, of course, that the spell can apply to inebriation. And I just need someone else to practice it on to help me through.”
Leonie considered that.
“That’s…actually kinda useful. I’ll remember that when I have to go through a drinking contest. Let’s just call your punishment for cheating having to carry the royal Highnesses back to their rooms."
With that, Leonie turned tail and began pushing the now much emptier cart back out, presumably from the monastery.
“That was really fun, wasn’t it, Annie?”
“Yeah, well, we did win, and I really like that. But I was kinda hoping to know what it felt like to be…you know…”
Mercedes giggled. “Oh, trust me. It’s not that grand of a feeling. It’s pretty tiresome, actually. Especially when we wake up the morning after. Speaking of which” she motioned over to the prone forms of the two heirs. “We should probably get them to their rooms before a professor finds out.”
The following morning, all three professors were astounded to find their students completely exhausted, seemingly sleep deprived, and down with some manner of illness. After being taken to the infirmary, Manuela had diagnosed them with “being kids”, which confounded Byleth and Hanneman to no end, though Jeralt found the response funny, for some reason. In fact, the only students not affected were Leonie, Mercedes, and Annette, which had led to complaints from Sylvain about how “the world wasn’t fair”, which only confused Byleth more. It seemed the game went smoothly, without any of the professors noticing, or at least notifying the church about their actions. Annette smiled as she saw Felix numbly swing a sword at Sylvain, missing horribly and falling over himself in the process, earning a bewildered scolding from Byleth. She and Mercedes hid a laugh together as they saw Caspar stumble over a barrel, nearly flattening Ashe as they made to cross axes with each other. She was so used to being the klutz, it was kind of refreshing to see everyone else stumble and slip up.
Maybe they needed to have drinking parties more often.
Chapter 5: Lowered Walls
Sylvain tries to decide who to take to the Heron Ball, resulting in an argument and a less-than-fortuitous encounter.
The White Heron Ball was the prime event of Garreg Mach monastery. Or, at least, that’s what Sylvain believed. Loads of dancing, dozens of cute girls to flirt and hook up with, and the promise of at least one person spiking the punch and making the time better for all people involved. In all honesty, it was the greatest promise of all. Now if only he could find a suitable date…
“Oh, Sylvain! Doing something besides flirting hopelessly for a change? Or just doing nothing at all?”
Sylvain whirled around to face Ingrid, who was looking at him with a mix of amusement and derisiveness.
“Ah, Ingrid…no, I was just thinking of who I might bring to the dance. You know, as my partner.”
“Oh?” Ingrid’s eyes flashed, her face flushing just slightly. “And have you decided on anyone? Or are you still going through the small list of girls at the monastery whose hearts you haven’t broken?”
“Ahhh…I was thinking about maybe Dorothea. I think she’s planning on joining the class soon, anyways. Or maybe Annette? She’d probably be more pleasant, honestly, and I don’t think she-“
Don’t think she was after his crest. But Sylvain didn’t say that. He knew Ingrid despised him for his flirting habits, but also knew that his reason for doing so was something she was familiar with; if he told her his real intentions behind flirting with women, she’d probably realize just how awful of a person he really was. Better not to say anything about that.
“Sylvain, if you get Annette’s hopes up and just crush her heart flitting on to the next person, you will live to regret it. I can promise that much.”
Sylvain winced. “Hey, it’s not like I’d be getting her hopes up! Annette and I do not have that kind of relationship, trust me. She’s like a little sister to me!”
Ingrid crossed her arms, unconvinced. “Uh-huh. And are you prepared to stand by that excuse regardless of what happens at the ball?” Her glare made Sylvain hesitate.
“I see you didn’t mention Marianne or me-…er, Mercedes. Any particular reason you don’t care about them?”
Sylvain scoffed. Of course, the real reason he wouldn’t think of asking them was because of their own relation to people pursuing them over crests. He knew what it felt like to be unable to trust a single person asking for a hand on the dance floor. For him to ask either of them…it would be complete and utter hypocrisy. And he respected those two girls enough not to act that way towards them.
“Just not my type, I guess.”
“Not your type?!” Ingrid was mad, and Sylvain had no idea why now. “So you suddenly have a type now? You’re willing to flirt with anyone you come across, even my granny, but you won’t ask them because they don’t fit whatever type you have?!”
“Uh, wait. So…you want me to flirt with Marianne and Mercedes?”
“Yes! NO! Argh!” Ingrid threw her hands up and turned on her heel, storming out of the hall. Sylvain shook his head, completely bewildered.
“I think I need to go get a drink.”
The monastery tended to limit alcohol consumption whenever possible, but still admitted that many of its students were at least semi-responsible adults that could be trusted with the beverage. Students above 18 were allowed to partake of the beverage, while underage students were…well, barred. Generally Sylvain didn’t go without company: he and Felix were good drinking partners, and His Highness was better than the two of them combined when he got determined. And then Mercedes and Annette…
He shook his head vigorously, sitting down at the bar alone. That night was just a fluke nothing else.
“One of the usual, please.”
The bar was as busy as usual today, and as Sylvain waited for his drink he sensed the presence of a figure approaching his seat.
“Is this spot taken?”
The stunning voice caught Sylvain’s attention, and he turned to see an absolutely gorgeous young woman staring back at him, eyes wide open in anticipation and mouth parted slightly in a question. For a moment, even his brain forgot to function for a moment. Then it was like the act took over, and he couldn’t even stop the words and motions taking over even if he wanted to. The same old act, back at it once again.
“Sure thing, lovely. Taking a break from the usual hustle and bustle?” The young woman rolled her eyes and let out an overdramatic sigh.
“Oh, absolutely. I could not tell you how awful these past few months have been! Thank heavens for the Heron Ball though, right?” Sylvain nodded ruefully.
“Oh, I feel you. This year has been such a disaster, I haven’t been able to kick back and relax. I came to this academy seeking love you know, not war. I thought maybe I would never be able to find one at this rate…”
The girl leaned in, eyes sparkling.
“That is absolutely romantic, you know. I never thought students like you would be so…thoughtful.”
This took Sylvain aback. She wasn’t a student?
“Might I have the pleasure of asking who you may be, then? I was under the impression you were a student like the rest of us.”
A soft, bright laugh pealed through the bar. A few of the regulars looked over, nodding approvingly, before realizing who she was laughing with and returning to their conversations gloweringly.
“I’m just a merchant from outside the monastery. I’m visiting with family while they sell their wares here. My dream is to take over the family business and travel all over the world.”
“All over the world, huh?” Sylvain felt himself relax a little. All over the world sounded innocent. Adventurous. Not like someone looking for a crest baby.
“Yup! I don’t want to be tied down to Fodlan. This world is so much more than crests and politics and relics and all. I want to see what there is to see, forge my own existence. That’s what the goddess planned for us, I think. Not this system of valuing power and only power like we have now.”
Sylvain couldn’t help it. He lunged forward, embracing the girl in a hug. She yelped slightly, and he felt her arms move down reflexively before relaxing.
“Warn a girl before you make a move like that, huh” Sylvain leapt back into his chair, suddenly incredibly embarrassed. His face hot, he grabbed his drink and drained it all in one gulp.
“Sorry, I just…I’ve been waiting to hear something like that for a long time. I’m a noble in House Gautier, actually. My life has been pretty much dictated by crests. I want to break away from it, so badly, but…I don’t think it’s possible at this point.” The girl’s eyes filled with sadness and tears.
“Oh…oh, no. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring up anything bad, I just-“
Sylvain lifted a hand. “No, it’s fine, really! I meant it when I said I was waiting for someone to say that. Knowing there are sincere people out there in the world, it means a lot.” The girl flushed slightly, and Sylvain felt the urge. “I don’t suppose…you could talk to me more about your dreams of travel?”
And so the night continued on. The drinks continued on for some time, until-
“Sylvain!” Had he given her his name? He couldn’t remember. The world seemed slightly tilted, out of focus. Something was wrong. They hadn’t drunk that much, Sylvain was certain. He could handle more than-
“Come on, lean on me. I’ll take you to your room.”
His room? She didn’t know where that was. But she’d probably figure it out. She was a good kid. Sylvain trusted her. Trusted…
“You absolute idiot.” Sylvain opened his eyes with a stinging headache, laying in a cot in the infirmary. Two people were sitting next to him: a snarling, blue-haired young man and a concerned blonde woman off to his side.
“You never go to a bar without someone there with you. How did you forget that? And you never take your eyes off your drink. And-“
“Felix, please.” Ingrid interjected. “This isn’t the time.”
Sylvain grabbed his head, trying fruitlessly to recall the recent past. Talking, drinking, leaning on her, and then-
“What all happened? Sorry, I…don’t remember most of it.”
Felix scoffed. “Nothing much, no thanks to you. The girl was caught before she made it out of the main hall. It was pretty obvious you were out of it, and she wasn’t even close to heading in the direction of the main rooms. She probably thought she could play it off if she acted confident. It didn’t work. So she made a break for it and left you behind.”
Sylvain propped his head back, closing his eyes in frustration. Of course that had happened. He always made a habit of never trusting the girls he met, but the moment he let his guard down…this. Felix huffed in annoyance and got up
“You have nobody to blame for that than yourself.”
And with that, he was gone. Leaving Ingrid. Sylvain gulped. This was about to go from bad to awful.
He sensed her kneeling down beside him, but he couldn’t bear to look. Her face was either full of fury or sadness, and seeing either was going to destroy him inside.
“Sylvain.” Oh no, it was soft. Sylvain considered pulling the pillow over his ears, but it probably wouldn’t accomplish much.
“I’m not going to get mad at you. I think we’re both far enough along this whole charade to know that won’t do anything.” Ouch, but true. “Instead, I just want to ask you: please, start trusting people more.”
Sylvain’s eyes shot open and he turned to her. Her eyes were indeed filled with sadness, but there was something else in there that Sylvain couldn’t recognize fully.
“You knew?” Ingrid nodded slowly.
“I suspected, really, but I guess it dawned on me after our last conversation. The people you go for are always the ones you’re most suspicious of. The ones you leave alone are the ones you respect. It all makes sense when you realize that.” Sylvain flushed and looked away. Leave it to Ingrid to be able to figure him out based off the girls he flirted with.
“Sylvain, I don’t think you’re awful for acting like that. But I care about you too much to let it keep going on. You’re hurting yourself acting like this. And hurting others. That girl was special because she was able to say something that made you trust her, right?”
“And then she took advantage of it. Typical, isn’t it?” Ingrid grabbed his hand, squeezing it gently.
“Please don’t get caught up in all that. Take things slow from here on, okay? For everyone’s sake. Who knows? You may find someone actually worth trusting if you do.”
Sylvain rested his head back. She was right, of course. But that didn’t make quitting flirting a suddenly easy task.
“I’ll try. How’s that?” Almost immediately, Ingrid perked up.
“Great! Let’s start with the Heron Ball. I’m your date, and I’ll be monitoring your interactions with people as you mingle. Let yourself go a little, and have fun. I’ll be there to step in if it goes too far. ‘Kay?”
Without waiting for a response, Ingrid bounded from the room, leaving Sylvain alone with a massive headache. He shook his head, then immediately regretted the action, turning over in the bed to get some good midmorning sleep.
Letting people in, letting walls down. It was easier said than done, but if it was for his friends, it was worth a shot.
Chapter 6: Dance of Life
Marianne participates in the Heron Cup while battling some inner demons.
It’s the only sense Marianne can feel right now, the only thing rushing through her mind. The future was dark, darker than Marianne had ever sensed it, and she had no idea how to help prevent it. The events of the past weighed heavily on her mind; Remire, Miklan, Lonato, the Rite of Rebirth, Flayn…all the misfortunes swirled around and her head, nearly crippling her. As images of the dead, of enemies and allies alike screaming in agony, pointing their fingers at her, one thought filled her mind.
You are to blame. Your existence is a curse on those you befriend.
And they were right. The monastery was a downright peaceful place for decades, filtering students through relatively peacefully with no major drawbacks. And then Marianne came with her misfortunate existence and turned the whole area upside-down. It figures that it would turn out this way. In all honestly, she had half joined the new professor’s class simply to spare her old classmates any pain. Granted, the other half was…
No. It wasn’t fair to anyone to indulge in her own selfish thoughts. Her life purpose was to spend her time away from other people until the Goddess saw it fit to finally call her back from the world of the living. Not to waste her time dancing with friends, or to fight on the battlefield, or to indulge in dreams of a romantic night with-
The shout launched Marianne into the air with a light yelp, and she whirled around to see her professor, who looked equally shocked.
“I…have never heard you scream like that, Marianne. My apologies.” Marianne shook her head.
“No, Professor, the apologies are all mine. I was lost in thought, I suppose.” Byleth nodded, then shuffled his feet, appearing somewhat apprehensive.
“Marianne, I…I wanted to ask you something. About the activities this month.” Marianne’s mouth went dry. The professor couldn’t possibly be asking- but no, it was completely beyond possibility. Professors didn’t ask students as dates to the ball, and yet…
“I wanted to ask you if you wanted to represent the Blue Lions for the Heron Cup Dance Competition. I think you would really excel at it.”
Marianne’s mind blanked. Participate in a Dance Competition? Her? Had the professor lost it? Clumsy Marianne, who couldn’t put away library books without stumbling over herself, who dropped the infirmary utensils just giving them to Hilda. Did he really expect her to win this?
“Um…Professor, are you sure about this? I’m not exactly light on my feet.”
Byleth laughed, and Marianne found herself smiling greatly at the sound. Despite all the awful things she had brought to the Academy this year, the professor at least seemed to have improved greatly in the months leading up.
“You don’t need to worry yourself about that, Marianne. Manuela taught me the moves for the dance, and I fancy myself at least capable. I can show you the ropes during the routine practice the professors are holding.”
Marianne hesitated. She wanted to do this for her house, she really did. But immediately the thoughts flashed through her head once more.
You can’t help. You’ll never be good enough. Your contributions are laughable. You’ll only embarrass them.
“Ah, Marianne, Professor! Discussing the plans for the dance, are we?” Marianne turned just in time to see a shock of blonde hair and a blue cape before blushing furiously and turning away again. Of course, Dimitri would come right at this moment.
“Ah, Dimitri, thanks for coming. Marianne here was just about to let me know her thoughts on participating in the dance competition.”
Marianne was already looking down, prepared to hear the prince’s peals of laughter at the thought, but they never came.
“Oh, could you, Marianne?” The sincerity in his voice alone cause Marianne to look up, even before she registered his words. “That would be absolutely wonderful! I truly think you’d be fantastic at it.”
“Oh, absolutely!” Dimitri’s face was filled with excitement now, his eyes almost sparkling. “You certainly stand more of a chance than any of us, for sure. You’re…” For some reason, the prince seemed to hesitate, absolutely at a loss for words. Byleth took the opportunity to intervene.
“We think you’d be perfect for it, Marianne. Trust us.”
And so Marianne had been persuaded to volunteer for the Blue Lions. The following week consisted of dance practice and tea parties on behalf of Byleth, who remained convinced that Marianne’s inner charm could be unlocked through a bit more conversation drawing her out of her shell. The work was uncomfortable and unfamiliar, but she persisted, not in the least because of that one constant presence, that one person who looked on and cheered for her, every single day. For a moment, she felt she could imagine that she might have a future with someone else. Just for a moment.
The Heron Cup Competition came quicker than anticipated. Aligned in a row, Marianne stood alongside Dorothea and -awkwardly enough- Hilda, from her own house. The girls looked at each other, and Hilda sported a thumbs up.
“You got this, Marianne. Knock ‘em dead, all right?”
Then the music started. Marianne closed her eyes, imagining herself, standing alone in a ballroom. Alone, with nobody watching, nobody there to lay blame or condemn, nobody to fall to misfortune. Her movements began, but they felt…incomplete. Why did they feel so-?
Then a hand grasped hers, warm and soft. Surprisingly so, for someone who seemed so coarse. She brought her hands up, and suddenly the dance felt…passionate. She was swaying, twirling, moving in perfect time with her partner, staring down with kindness and compassion she had never seen before. She felt her face flush, and her mouth split open in a smile, a smile she almost never used. A twirl, a dip, a flourish and-
This isn’t your future. This isn’t your hope.
She turned, and her partner disappeared, only leaving behind a faint trace of blue cloth, a flash of blonde hair, before vanishing.
You have nobody. You can be with nobody. You would only bring him misfortune if you tried.
Not a hard fall, and she got up quick enough to finish the performance with a final spin and a curtsey, but she fell all the same. She could hear a few snickers from the crowd, as well as a gasp of concern from her fellow dancers. Her face flushed with shame as the music faded, and the dancers stood in a line to await judging. She had failed.
“I’ll cut straight to the chase. Black Eagles. You didn’t waste a moment, even when one of the dancers fell. Golden Deer, you danced pretty well, but lost focus when your fellow dancer fell. Blue Lions, sorry, but you messed up. No matter how beautifully you danced before that.”
Next was Manuela, who eyed Shamir with a measure of distaste.
“Well, this is where I disagree, actually. Dorothea, Hilda, you both danced well and kept your poise. But, as a performer, I want to focus more on the overall performance rather than whether someone made a mistake. Marianne, your performance was absolutely breathtaking. The passion and love you showed in your dance brought me to tears. I think you deserve it.”
Marianne felt her face flush in mixed pleasure and disbelief. Had she really…?
Finally was Alois. He cleared his throat, and began.
“Well, it seems we’ve come to a split decision. Fortunately for you all, I have the winning vote! The winner of the cup, and recipient of the dancer technique, will be…the Blue Lion House!”
Nobody seemed to really believe it.
Then the cheers erupted from her house. Hilda was barely able to give Marianne a pat on the back before her class overwhelmed her. Mixed comments of praise and gratitude poured out of different mouths, and then-
There he was, the prince himself. Without saying a word, he scooped Marianne up in his arms, twirling her around and dropping her back down to the floor.
“That was fantastic, Marianne! I told you, you are a marvel on the dance floor!”
Marianne looked back up to the prince, hardly able to believe herself, and not even realizing she wasn’t responding. Silence stretched on. Mercedes coughed.
“All right, everyone, I think there are receptions for the competition at the dining hall! We’ll meet you two there after you get done getting ready, all right?”
The dance hall emptied surprisingly quickly, and all of a sudden it was just Marianne and Dimitri. The prince shuffled his feet awkwardly.
“Listen…Marianne. There is something I wanted to ask you. I know it’s…probably rushed.”
Marianne blushed and looked away.
“I know you aren’t comfortable with this sort of thing, so I won’t ask you directly. However, I don’t have a partner planned for the ball coming up.”
Marianne blushed harder. She knew Dimitri didn’t realize it, but it was very obvious he was pushing the effort of asking someone to the ball on her.
“Your Highness, I couldn’t possibly-“
“Marianne, please.” Dimitri knelt down to look into her downcast eyes. “Neither of us believe ourselves to be much in this world. I know that. But I also know that nothing would make me happier than to have this night with you. Please, do me the honor of giving me at least that much.”
Marianne couldn’t speak. She knew her voice would betray her if she tried. Then her mind went to her vision. That one moment, alone and then-
She reached out her hand. A moment’s pause.
And then the same hand, rougher than she’d imagined, but still surprisingly gentle and warm.
“Heh. Your hand, Marianne…it’s so soft. Comforting, too, like I’d imagined.”
Marianne raised her head, looking the prince in the eye. They were hurt. Lost. Filled with pain. But somewhere in there she saw a spark of hope, either shining in his eyes or mirroring his own. Hope of the future, or that things could be better if they tried.
And the voices felt like they were miles away, never to return.
Chapter 7: The White Heron Ball
Sylvain faces some very conflicting feelings on the night of the Heron Ball
The White Heron Ball had finally arrived, and Garreg Mach Monastery was alive with lights, sounds, and people glowing with cheer and vigor at the festivities. Sylvain sighed, resting back against a wall of the main hall. All his classmates seemed to be enjoying themselves greatly partaking in the event; Dimitri and Marianne, who had apparently decided to be partners, were the stars of the dance floor. Sylvain smirked as he sulked back. Doubtless the prince would likely drive her away as well in a poor display of affection. He didn’t suspect Marianne was particularly fond of daggers, for one. However, the girl appeared enamored with the prince’s overly repressed and stern manner even now, so it was possible it might not even be an issue.
Dorothea was also having a grand time, waltzing from suitor to suitor without a shred of indignity. A larger portion of the Blue Lions- Ashe, Caspar, Felix, Dedue, and Ingrid- were sitting off to the side, looking mildly uncomfortable. Mercedes and Annette had taken the lack of dance partners in their own house in stride, and were now dancing with each other shamelessly, completely oblivious to the odd askew stares they received. Inevitably, Sylvain’s stare fell back to Ingrid. She didn’t look particularly done up: her hair was tied back in behind her head, and she appeared to have some light touches of makeup that brought out her incredible green eyes and emphasized her already perfect skin. Sylvain shook his head, weirded out by his own thoughts.
“What’s going on? I would never feel this way about Ingrid.”
He shook his head, trying to snap himself out of it. A problem like this had a simple solution, and damned if Sylvain wasn’t going to take it. Brimming with renewed confidence and purpose, he strode over to a group of young women watching the festivities. As he neared the party, the group turned and appraised the nobleman approaching their table, a mix of suspicion and flirtation displayed on their faces. Ladies wanting a good time, but no strings attached.
“Excuse me, my find young ladies, but I’d like to introduce myself. The name’s Sylvain Jose Gautier, from the Blue Lions House. I don’t suppose any of you would care for a dance?”
A chorus of giggles and sighs rippled through the group. A particularly comely and confident-looking woman spoke up.
“It depends, Milord Gautier. What type of dance will you be entertaining us with? Surely nothing that can’t be shown…elsewhere?”
Oh. They were looking for that kind of good time. Sylvain felt his cheeks flush, just slightly. It wasn’t the first time it had been asked of him, and he had learned that it was better to accept than to drag out the inevitable anyways.
“Well, if a bunch of lovely ladies like this ask something of me, than who am I to-“
Please, take things slow from here on, okay?
Ingrid’s voice popped up, unbidden, and Sylvain suddenly imagined her face, filled with disappointment and anger and grief upon realizing he had let himself go yet again. His heart sank into his stomach, a bitter taste entered into his mouth, and suddenly everything just felt wrong.
“Er…on second thought. I actually have someone I need to meet. A classmate of mine, you understand. Maybe later, though.”
Grumbles of disappointment and whispered slurs trailed behind Sylvain as he left the table, but he didn’t really care. All of a sudden, his head felt very light, and even though he wasn’t really thinking about where he was going he knew where he would end up. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before he was stopped, standing face to face with Ingrid. Now that he looked at her, she wasn’t just subtly done up. Her makeup and hair looked stunning in the lights of the ball, and the smile she flashed…oh, Goddess. Sylvain thought he might just melt away.
“Back again, Sylvain? Don’t tell me you’re already done getting your fill of women. The night barely even started! Or is the list of women you can talk to in the monastery already small enou-“
The words were stopped in her mouth as Sylvain lurched forward embracing her in a giant hug.
“Hey! Sylvain, if you’re trying to mess around, now is really not the-“
“Dance with me.”
Ingrid stopped now, and stared into Sylvain’s eyes. They were wide, trembling, and…Ingrid hadn’t seen that look in so many years. Vulnerable. There was nothing guarded in his stare or sarcastic in his mannerisms. Sylvain was, completely and honestly, begging her to dance with him.
“Sylvain, are you sure about that? You’d be disappointing a lot of girls. I’m not generally known for swapping partners mid-dance, after all.” Sylvain shook his head. None of that mattered.
“I don’t care. In fact, I would absolutely love it if we stood out. As dance partners, that is.” He added that last part with a small blush. It probably wasn’t fair to ask her for anything more. Not at that point.
“Um…well, all right, I suppose.” Ingrid took his hand, and he led her out onto the dance floor.
There they swayed simply under the ballroom lights. Ingrid wasn’t incredible at dancing, and Sylvain was doing most of the work, but that didn’t matter. Here, more than anything else, things felt…comfortable. No asking about crests, no feelings or misgivings about the future, just two friends dancing in the hall. There was no discussion about Ingrid’s marriage proposals or Sylvain’s affairs, Ingrid’s dreams of knighthood or Sylvain’s work in relations with Sreng. The two simply swayed silently to the music, letting all hopes and worries of the future fade.
“…Sylvain?” Ingrid’s voice entered the fog in Sylvain’s head, and he realized his face was wet. Goddess, had he really been crying? Lame.
“Ah, sorry.” He wiped his cheeks absently with his dry sleeve, laughing embarrassedly. “I guess it’s just been a while since I could relax like this.”
“True…” Ingrid’s voice didn’t sound convinced. Sylvain looked away, his face on fire.
“Sylvain, are you feeling well? You can tell me if you aren’t, really.”
Damn it. Sylvain shook his head rigorously.
“I’m…fine. Really. Please, don’t concern yourself-“
“I am concerned, Sylvain. It’s you, after all. Come on, let’s go get some air. It’ll be fine, nobody will even notice.”
Sylvain sighed, nodding his consent. It probably was best to go out and clear his head anyways. The two walked out, arm in arm, to the courtyard.
“You know, we’re not far from the Goddess Tower. You remember the legend, right?”
Ingrid’s eyes softened. “An endless vow that the Goddess will protect. Do you think she’d allow me to become a knight, duty to my house and all?” Sylvain shrugged.
“You think she’d allow me to destroy the crest system and remake my house’s whole system?” Ingrid elbowed him in the ribs, hard.
“That’s not funny, Sylvain. Saying that here…that could be dangerous. Please, just…keep it in, just for now.”
“All right, all right…” Sylvain looked off to the side, feeling just a little hurt, just in time to see a flash of black and brown dash across the yard.
“Wait…is that?” Motioning Ingrid to follow him, Sylvain made his way to follow the figure. Who had just…
“Oh, thank you, Professor. I’ll start joining the class activities tomorrow. You don’t know how much it means to me.”
The voice…that was definitely Dorothea. But she never spoke with Manuela that way. Was she…
“I’m pleased to hear it, but Dorothea, that’s not why I wanted talk to you here.”
Ingrid slapped a hand over her mouth, her eyes wide on shock. The voice definitely belonged to their professor, Byleth. Was Dorothea joining their class?
“Oh? Don’t tell me you were going to whisk me away to the Goddess Tower to exchange vows of love? Oh, Professor!” The voice was mockingly sultry, but the silence following spoke volumes.
“Oh, dear. You actually meant to. And I…oh, I’m sorry, professor. Please, forget I even-“
“No, it’s fine. It was perhaps a little silly of me. I’d still like to go and hear what your dreams for the future are, if you’d indulge me.”
“My dreams?” Dorothea seemed taken aback. “Nobody’s really asked me about my dreams before.” The voice softened. “I…I think I’d really like that. Thank you, professor.”
And so the voices faded away, and Sylvain sighed.
“Man, Dorothea and the professor, huh? Who would have thought that…”
His voice trailed off as he realized Ingrid was staring off, a distant look in her eyes.
“Er, Ingrid?” At her name, she turned slowly to Sylvain, her eyes seeming distant.
“Sylvain. You asking me to dance with you. What was that?”
Sylvain flushed bright red now, he knew it. “Uh…”
“And you asking me to go to the Goddess Tower, you acting all weird when we were dancing. What exactly are you getting at?”
Sylvain looked away now. “Nothing I have any right to go after. I know that much.” Ingrid huffed now, looking away.
The silence stretched on, and presently Ingrid stood up. “I’m going to go turn in, Sylvain. It’s been a long night.” Sylvain looked up at the clock. It was 10:00, not a pathetic time to go to bed, but certainly not one denoting a full night. It was clear she just wanted to get away. Of course she did, knowing what he was really after. It was what he was afraid of, after all.
“All right. Good night, Ingrid.”
Then, a small brush against his hair as Ingrid knelt down. Her lips barely brushed his forehead, and he looked up in shock to see her looking at him tenderly. Far more than she ever had before.
And then she was gone. Sylvain simply sat there, dumbfounded at what had just happened. Was she making a move? Should they become a thing? Could they? He shook his head, and made his way up to the nobles’ rooms. He wanted answers, but he suddenly felt very tired from what little exertions the night had. Thoughts swirled around his head as he made his way into his room. About him and Ingrid, about Ingrid and someone else, about how painful that thought was, about how painful both situations felt. The thoughts didn’t stop as he settled into a fitful sleep.
He awoke to someone pounding on his door. He groaned, forcing his eyelids open, and stumbled to the door. It had to be some ungodly hour in the morning. What could possible-
It was Felix. His hair was disheveled, and his armor was hastily strapped on. He spared no moment once Sylvain opened the door.
“Get dressed and ready for battle. We’re heading to one of the chapels immediately.”
Sylvain had trouble making sense of the words. Battle? Chapel?
Felix, of course, barely let him get the word out.
“The professor is having us march there. Some students are in danger. The place has been invaded by Demonic Beasts.”
Chapter 8: Voices of Death
Misfortune strikes the heart of Garreg Mach Monastery, and Marianne is right at its core.
I want to just post this as a trigger warning, there is a very definite attempt of suicide here, and lots of really horrible self thoughts in general.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Demonic beasts rampaged across the courtyard surrounding the abandoned chapel. Marianne could hear terrified screams and sobs resounding around the courtyard, but where were they coming from? The group around her gathered close, anticipating orders from the captain of the Knights of Serios.
“Listen up, kids.” The captain shouted over the chaos. “we have several monsters with no identifiable skill in combat or method of identification. Use caution, battalions, whatever you have at your disposal to survive and take these things down. Try to locate any students in danger, but do not do so at risk of your own life. Your survival is priority.”
Marianne scoffed softly under her breath. Her survival? That was likely what had caused this incident to begin with. If only the Goddess had taken her sooner…
“All right. Dimitri, Flayn, Marianne, and Sylvain will take the northern route towards the church. Ingrid, you fly with Ashe to the East and make sure there’s nothing dangerous over there. Catherine, Shamir, and Dedue will take the west to deal with the monster rampaging on that side, and I’ll stay with the captain to rush the northwest area. Understood?”
The professor gave out orders authoritatively and succinctly, leaving no room for argument. Marianne noticed Dorothea run up to Byleth’s side, presumably acting as his assistant for the battle. Felix did the same, running up to Dimitri’s side, while the rest of the class members gathered back in the south towards the monastery, keeping watch. Solon’s sudden appearance at Remire had put everyone on edge, and they were under direct orders from Seteth now to find and apprehend the vile scientist.
Marianne’s group rushed in headfirst, Dimitri’s favorite tactic, to a Demonic Beast blocking the entryway to the church. His Highness let out a battle cry that could have shaken the heavens, running with the members of his battalion to intercept the raging form. The beast screamed with fury, lashing out with its claws in an attempt to intercept the prince who deftly leapt through its clenching hands. Flayn wasted no time to use this opportunity to strike, as the bishops under her command gathered in a circle, heads bowed.
A moments pause.
And then a raging storm of flames and ashe burst from the ground, catching the distracted beast off guard.
Marianne watched as the readhead leapt up from his own horse, the Lance of Ruin flashing through the air as it pierced the monster’s head. A mighty scream was pulled from its throat as it collapsed onto the ground, oozing a hideous black liquid.
“Oh, Sylvain, are you hurt?”
Marianne dashed towards the paladin, who seemed to have gotten caught on one of the monster’s claws. The wound wasn’t heavy, but Marianne took no time to heal it. It could never be certain whether a small treatment could mean someone’s life in the future, especially in battle.
“Wait. Is that…?”
The professor and Jeralt ran by the monster’s slowly dissipating corpse, intent on finishing the rest of the monsters, but Dorothea had stopped to stare at what it was melting into. The rest of the group looked on as well, in horror as the form retreated into the shape…
“Goddess…that monster was just a young man.” Dorothea shook her head, her eyes quickly filling.
“Not just a young man…look at his clothes.”
She was right. The uniform of Garreg Mach Monastery was clearly visible on the corpse, and the student staring off unseeing who had worn it…he had been in Marianne’s own class.
“Hrrrruuuuuuuuup!” Marianne stumbled, startled, at the sickly sound of someone retching. She turned to see Dorothea leaning behind a pillar, slowly standing as she wiped her mouth. She turned to the group, smiling thinly without and trace of warmth.
“Sorry. That young man, he…he and I danced together just last night. The thought of him, so full of life just hours ago, I…” she shook her head violently now, her eyes becoming panicked instead of sad. “He had dreams and aspirations. Real ones, not just the usual nobility raff. He wanted to become a bishop of the church. Help out the sick and orphaned. Said his heart was for the people, not the nobility. He didn’t deserve to die. Not like this, never like this!” The songstress backed away rapidly now, a hand clamped over her mouth as a rough keening voice unlike her usual soft tone emerged from her throat.
It was only a matter of time before the sounds echoed through the courtyard, as the other students uncovered the truth of the Demonic Beasts.
“Goddess,” Dimitri breathed, his eyes wild with disgust and…was that hatred? “How could you allow this? What did anyone do to deserve this?!”
“They allowed your existence.” The voice, absent since the days of the Heron Cup Tournament, had returned. “A sign from the Goddess. Your misfortune. Their misfortune. All the same.”
Marianne dropped, her hands covering her ears. “Go away, go away.” She repeated in a murmur. “Go away, go away.”
“A child of a monster. A girl with no future. A bane on your friends. A pox on the world around you. You, the cause. You, the sign. You, the despair to be cast out and-“
“Marianne!” The girl let out a scream, pushing a concerned Dimitri back from her.
“Stay away from me! Now!”
Dimitri tried to edge forward again, but Marianne backed away now, her fingers brimming with ice.
“I said stay back! Don’t you get it? Don’t you understand? This is the misfortune I bring,” she gestured wildly to the chaotic battlefield of the chapel. “This is how my existence is a curse! You ask how the Goddess could allow this? It’s punishment, Your Highness. Punishment for allowing my existence. Punishment for housing a monster like me in the monastery.” She felt the tears brimming her eyes. Frightened students, presumable saved by the remaining members of the Blue Lions, ran by not giving either the prince or the dancer a second glance.
“If you want all this misfortune to end, your Highness, put me to the blade. Now.” Her eyes looked up, staring Dimitri in the eyes once more, and she saw it. A glimmer of distrust. A moment of doubt. A hint that just maybe, he would follow through with her wish. A light fall of rain began to wash over the chapel grounds, and the clouds grew darker still, as though highlighting the moment of reckoning.
Whatever Dimitri’s response would have been was cut off by a loud scream of despair. It was male, mature but not old, and…raw. Anguished beyond belief, but belonging to someone who had never made such a sound before.
Belonging to the Professor.
“Professor!” All thoughts of her own damnation exited her head in an instant. Immediately she was on her feet, running alongside Dimitri to the chapel.
And there…laying by the rocks…
Dorothea had arrived their first, white magic streaming uselessly from her fingers. The sparks simply bounced off the skin, rudely highlighting that there was no life left to restore. Sylvain and Flayn had also appeared, the redhead drawing the girl in a brotherly embrace as she sobbed into him.
“Professor! What- Oh, Goddess…” Ingrid and Ashe, leading the rear, were the last of the remaining students to arrive to witness the scene.
Their professor, the unflinching, emotionless, and unshakeable Byleth, was leaning over, screaming as tears ran down his face. Below him, lying motionless on the ground, was the captain of the Knights of Seiros. The Blade Breaker. The Professor’s father, Jeralt, lay dead in his son’s arms, a bloody knife pierced through his back, poking out his stomach. And suddenly, that was the only scene there. Marianne could hear other voices scrambling around, frantically directing others, but they were overwhelmed by-
“Your fault. Your fault.”
“Professor, I’m so sorry…”
“Your fault, your fault.
“Please, quick, someone get Manuela!”
“I’m on it!”
“YOUR FAULT YOUR FAULT”
“Check on the other students and begin evacuating. There could be Assassins lying in wait.”
“YOUR FAULT! YOUR FAULT! YOUR-“
The owner of the voice didn’t matter, not now. Marianne turned on her heels, dashing off. It didn’t matter the direction, or the end goal. She had to get out of here, get away from this, the voices, the-
Her feet led her to cliff just outside the chapel. A ways to her right was the bridge leading back to Garreg Mach. To her left, nothing but the woods. Marianne peered over the cliff. The rocks below were sharp and broken, barely visible from the height. If the fall didn’t kill her, the jagged surface of the valley itself would.
“End it. Save them. End it. Save them.”
Marianne backed up.
“Go now. They live. Go now. They live.”
She stepped forward.
“End it. Save them. Go now. They live.”
She reached the edge, teetering, leaning, and-
A hand roughly grabbed her arm, yanking her back as she nearly fell forward. She fell roughly into Prince Dimitri, letting out a yelp as her arm twisted a bit. She tried to adjust, but the prince was holding her tight against her chest.
“Please, Marianne, don’t leave me, too. Please, I couldn’t bear it, I couldn’t…”
The prince whispered softly, tears streaming down his face, and suddenly Marianne was crying too. She wasn’t sure if it was relief she was alive or anger that she was still there to cause misfortune, but she was crying. And that’s how they stayed, for however long it took, two dark souls crying against each other. Somehow, it was somewhat comforting.
Presently, Dimitri stood, still holding Marianne close.
“We need to get your shoulder checked by Manuela.” He sniffed, his eyes puffy and red.
Marianne nodded, her thoughts still distant. Did she really want to die, in that moment? It had only been a short time ago, but just in that moment, had she felt-?
“I’ll need to tell her all of what transpired, you know. You’ll receive more than just physical care.”
Marianne nodded again. She wasn’t sure how she wanted this to play out. Did she need care? Would it help? Manuela couldn’t magically just prove she wasn’t the descendant of a beast of misfortune. She couldn’t magically make the darkness in her soul go away. What could she do of value for her?
“I don’t know how this will end,” Dimitri murmured, almost seeming to hear Marianne’s thoughts. “But I can’t just see you like this any longer. Please, this has to be done.”
Again, Marianne nodded.
As they walked by, Marianne saw the Blue Lions procession trudging- yes, trudging was probably an apt word- back to the monastery. Marianne rested her head against Dimitri’s shoulder, her heart clenching inside her chest. She felt awful for bringing her misfortune to her friends. She felt awful for making Dimitri so anguished as she did. But she also felt awful because, for now, everyone seemed just as miserable as she felt her whole life, and somehow that felt comforting.
She shook her head, tears streaming from her eyes again. The clouds rumbled and roared as the rain continued pouring on the procession, and no light or hope filled the sky that day.
Okaaaaaay yeah, I went overboard here. I'm so sorry if this hurts anyone or anything, but I just felt the need to display the characteristics that Marianne very explicitly feels throughout the story, as well as showing the reaching out and drive to help that Dimitri gives. If you or anyone you know is suffering from severe depression or suicidal thoughts, PLEASE get help, even if you don't think it will get rid of what's going on inside, there is always someone there for you who will care about you and do everything they can to get you through it.
Chapter 9: The Darkened Woods
Ingrid leads a recon force out to search for Monica. Who knows what they'll find in the forest's depths...
Hey all! Just so you know, this chapter does relate back to my previous fic here, Shadows of a Thief, and what happened in regards to Ashe. It's a bit of a confusing read otherwise, so if you're scratching your head reading it, here's a link!
The Blue Lions didn’t hesitate to start mobilizing forces once Jeralt’s funeral had passed. Dimitri and Dedue kept watch over the Professor, making sure that he was all right during his time of need. Meanwhile, Sylvain was working with all the girls (Ingrid excluded) to distract Hanneman, who was trying to keep the peace for the Blue Lions House as Byleth took leave. Normally, this would be an issue, given Hanneman’s unique focus, but the forces of the crest belonging to Marianne, Mercedes, Annette, and Sylvain ended up proving too much for the scholar to handle, and he was whiling his time away looking into the groups’ natural qualities at their own admission. Dorothea was all that was needed to distract Manuela; she promised that the songstress would be no problem, and indeed the woman had not made a single attempt to involve herself with the class since. Ingrid was excluded from this little venture on account of her currently scouting out the woods where Monica had reportedly last been seen, alongside Felix, Caspar, and Ashe.
The small group had been selected fairly carefully by Dimitri shortly after Jeralt’s body was brought in. Ingrid, for her leadership ability and keen focus. Felix, for his combat prowess and brilliant quick thinking. Ashe, for his ability to move unseen and unheard. And then Caspar, who insisted on going until Dimitri finally relented. Ingrid grimaced to herself. She was perhaps being too hard on the Black Eagles transfer student. In all honesty, she wanted to see the supposed culprit for herself. After all, she had been persuaded by secondhand accounts before in regards to a people’s guilt and the result…
Ingrid shuddered, but thankfully could attribute the action to the passing chilled wind. She had been so certain, so convinced about the Duscur people’s guilt. And then Dimitri had insisted they were innocent, and he had been there. And then Dedue, who claimed no innocence, but was so purely opposite everything she imagined. If she had to be honest, it felt like doubt was consuming her entire existence. She had prayed death upon an entire people for four years. If she was wrong, what did that make her…? Regardless of that answer, the result hardened her resolve. She had to see things for herself, she had to. Or else she could never deal with the increasing doubt inside her.
Felix whispered fiercely to the group, and all immediately stopped.
And then a piercing…scream? Moan? It was definitely muffled, but agonized. The group flinched at the sound, recognizing the cause. Someone was being held against their will, and obviously in pain. She took point.
“Move out. Slow and quiet. Remember, us revealing ourselves will only put us and whoever they have in danger.”
Caspar huffed at the rule, but attempted to follow the group in silence. He was easily the least adept in the group at moving quietly, but he thankfully chose to place his feet in Ashe’s footsteps exactly to minimize the effect of his inexperience. All things considered, he did a good job of acting a mimic.
The sounds grew louder and louder as the group pressed on, and Ingrid found herself fighting the urge to move quicker, desperation clutching at her chest. Then she saw it, a flash of red as a figure moved in the woods beyond. She motioned to Felix and Caspar, who spread to her left and right while Ashe readied his bow behind her. The form seemed unconcerned- or perhaps ignorant?- of their advance, however, making their way around deeper in. Barely looking to seek approval from Felix, Ingrid continued ahead.
The walk felt like it took hours. Strained movements and careful steps made Ingrid’s legs ache with the desire to relax and burst forward, and her eyes and ears strained to see and hear the assailants. Finally, the group came upon the clearing, and saw four individuals, two standing and two kneeling. The standing two were incredibly familiar: a wizened old man with pale, iridescent skin toiling on some material, while a redheaded girl in a Garreg Mach uniform stood over the kneeling forms. Those forms, a man and a woman, were both bound hand and foot, and muffled sounds emanating from them could only make Ingrid assume they were gagged. She barely had time to assess the situation before the old man shouted, a surprised and shocking sound. She knelt down immediately, terrified he had seen or noticed the students coming.
“Aha! Another experiment finished.” She heard. “Come now, Kronya. It is time to begin our next experiment. Show me how you worked in that chapel.” Ingrid ducked her head, seething. That was the information she needed. Monica- or was it Kronya?- had been in the chapel, and was working with Solon to experiment on people. There was no other explanation. She raised her head, ready to signal her teammates to make their way back, before she saw a blade flash. Ingrid turned her head to see two daggers bury themselves in their respective victims shoulders, causing howls of alarm and pain to emnate from their victims. Behind her, she could hear Ashe balk and make a small, panicked noise. Whirling around, she watched as he fell back, eyes going wild and teeth chattering violently in a panicked attempt not to scream. He clamped a hand over his mouth, curling up in a panicked, fetal position.
That was when everything went to hell.
Caspar, fuming and incoherent, immediately charged forward, swinging his axe in a wide cut to intercept the two. Monica avoided the blow easily, though Solon was caught unawares and caught a nasty gash on his own arm. Felix rushed forward as well, his face unusually contorted in an outraged snarl. However, his movement was towards the captives, cutting the ropes binding them as they bucked and shook from some unknown force. Ingrid turned, desperately trying to get Ashe back on his feet.
“Ashe, please, it’s all right. You’re with us, we’ve got you. Please-“
A roar pierced the skies, and Ingrid whirled around again, only to find her view was obscured by complete black. When had it grown so…? Oh, Goddess. It wasn’t night or clouds obscuring her vision. Instead, it was two hulking Demonic Beasts, filling the forest and her vision and blocking out the sun. Immediately, she felt a jerk on her arm, and was pulled back by Felix. As she stumbled around, turning to flee the forest, she saw Caspar carrying Ashe, slung over his shoulder like a bundle. Terror gripped her throat. They weren’t equipped for fighting Demonic Beasts. They had no battalions or long range gambits, given it was a stealth and recover mission, and their weapons packing was miserably light. How on earth could they-
She heard a gasp and shout as Ashe came to, and she turned to see that the boy had a bright red mark on his face.
“What?” Caspar gasped as he began lowering Ashe down. “It worked, and…ugh…I was getting…tired, carrying him around!”
Ashe rubbed his cheek and looked away, seeming somewhat ashamed. Ingrid’s heart panged, but there wasn’t time for sympathy, not yet. First, they needed to survive.
“Ingrid, do you happen to have a torch?”
Ingrid whirled to Felix, who seemed…surprisingly calm?
“Um…yes, I thought it might be useful if the cold air induced a fog. Why?”
“How many uses do you think you can get?”
“Uh…2 or 3, maybe?”
Immediately, the swordsman stopped, whirling on his feet and dashing in an opposite direction.
“Wait, Felix! What are you-?”
“Caspar, head to your left! Ashe, to the right. Ingrid, you keep going straight.”
Ashe shook his head. “Felix, please, I don’t underst-“
“Ingrid, give Ashe and Caspar a use of your torch! And wait for my signal!”
And with that the swordsman was gone. Ingrid grumbled beneath her breath. That was just like Felix, coming up with a wild scheme and telling nobody about it. She rummaged through and started passing around her stumps for torching.
“Come on boys, you’ll need this. Let’s hope Felix’s plan is…really something.”
Pain. Fear. Anguish. Terror. All of these swirled inside the beast, pushing to the forefront of its mind a carnal desire to rampage, to destroy, and to devour. And the smell of terror, of fear, was still out there, running wild. It stopped, sniffing curiously. It had seemed like a unified smell at first, but now it could discern four different ones, spreading out. What was it-?
What was that sound? It turned towards it, recognizing an odd glow, a strange-
There again, from the opposite direction. Was it the prey? Was it something different? How could they possible have-
The sounds recurred again, and now the beast felt anxiety clawing at it. There was something occurring that it didn’t like, a plan it couldn’t understand. It would leave and return to hunt another d-
It leapt up from the ground in an explosion, wrapping around its body and decimating the armor it had over its vulnerable skin. The beast howled in terror.
Then in pain as it felt pain cut across its side. It turned to see a figure, holding a glowing orange blade, a lance, dash behind the woods. It made to go after it, but was waylaid by another form. This one, a blue haired axeman, buried their weapon into the beast’s chest before ducking down and weaving itself deftly through the beast’s claws. Again, the beast turned, only to feel a string of stings on its neck as a flurry of arrows embedded itself down through its throat. The beast screamed now, rearing back to rain down fiery fury upon its foes.
And then it noticed a presence, behind it. A small blur, insignificant, flew by its head. It barely noticed the flash of a blade before another searing pain crossed its neck. And then there was a strange sensation, as though it were falling from itself. Then darkness.
“Well, that worked.”
As usual, Felix seemed annoyingly nonchalant. The group stood around the corpse of one of the captives- the woman, maybe? It was almost impossible to tell- all simply trying to take in what happened.
“That was awesome, Felix!” Caspar was in awe, staring Felix up and down like a war hero. “How did you know to do that? That was so cool!”
Felix considered the question. “It was just a matter of considering their weakness. Battalions are only effective against these things because they confuse them and hurt their armor, right?”
The group nodded solemnly.
“Well, if there are other things that can distract and hurt them, it should have that same effect. A fire blazing up under them, for example. From there it was just a matter of ganging up on them as usual.”
He said it nonchalantly, but Ingrid noticed him hesitate at the word “them”. Truthfully, the battle would have been infinitely more difficult had the other beast not run off at the fire’s start. Ingrid could tell Felix was relieved to see the other one go.
“In any case, we have what we need. Let’s not get hung up on congratulating ourselves and go tell Dimitri what’s on the up and up. And Ashe.”
The sullen commoner hadn’t spoken since the attack, but looked up sharply now, concern set deep in his eyes. “Y-yes, Felix?” The sword master looked long and hard, then scoffed and turned away.
“Don’t scare us like that again. Or else you can’t come along on these types of missions. Understood?”
Ashe pursed his lips and nodded, his face flushing bright. “Understood, Felix. I won’t let you down. Er, I’ll try not to. That is…oh, I guess I’ll just have to do my best!” This earned a hearty slap on the back from Caspar.
“That’s the spirit, Ashe! Come on, there’s a long road back to the monastery, and I am absolutely STARVING!”
“Ah, Caspar, wait!”
The two raced off, leaving Ingrid and Felix behind. The two turned towards each other.
“You could have been a lot nicer. He’s been through a lot.” Felix opened his mouth, but Ingrid stopped him.
“You also could have been a lot nastier, and you always deal with everyone with your own brand of tough love. How about we call it even and say you handled that all right?”
Felix blushed furiously at that, turning away. “And since when have we cared about my people skills? I don’t even care, I just didn’t want him to slow us down. Or get himself killed in his drive to be a knight.”
“Mmm. Come on, let’s follow them. Caspar has no sense of direction, and Ashe is probably still a bit out of it.”
“Whatever.” Yet the moment they started moving, Felix immediately took the lead, rushing to keep the two younger boys from getting lost. He was such an older brother sometimes, Ingrid thought. Older…brother…
Just for a moment, Felix changed. His hair was longer, his jawline squarer, his form more muscular. His tied back ponytail fell down, and as he turned to smile mockingly at Ingrid, it was…
She shook her mind at the thought, and opened her eyes again to see the same old Felix, looking at her with a mix of pity and disgust, as though he knew exactly what had gone by. Ingrid felt her heart hurt. She didn’t mean to replace Felix, or see him as Glenn, but in that moment, he seemed exactly like the man. Why couldn’t she stop getting lost in the past? Just like with Sylvain’s past, just like with Duscur. Every time, she…
But no, this wasn’t the time to dwell on herself. She had a mission now, and she needed to get back to the monastery now. The team had their information on Monica and Solon, and the time to act out the professor’s revenge was nigh.
Chapter 10: Words of Grace
The Blue Lions stall for their friends to retrieve information from the Forbidden Woods. However, things don't play out quite as hoped...
“So, tell me, Mercedes, what food options do you find appetizing? Do you care for salty food, or sweet? Perhaps bitter? Where do your preferences lie?”
Mercedes was sitting across from Professor Hanneman in his study, politely sitting as the scholar took out a notebook and quill and started jotting down notes. The crest bearers of the Blue Lions house had all decided to relent and allow the driven professor to study them, for lack of a better term, and their unique qualities that may or may not be related to crests. This, of course, was more to keep the teacher from fulfilling Byleth’s duties and inevitably discovering that four of the top students in the class were missing on a reconnaissance mission. Marianne and Annette had already borne the full burden of his scrutiny, and Sylvain had been the last in line before Mercedes volunteered herself. The boy had shuddered as he passed Mercedes down the hall. “He had me perform a full physical, Mercedes, a physical.” He whispered. “And it was very, incredibly, invasive. I’m going to go take a shower. Be careful how you answer his questions.” With a scoff, he had turned and stormed down the hall. Mercedes gulped remembering the passing and chose to phrase her words carefully.
“Well… I suppose I like sweets the best. Annie and I used to love baking them together in the School of Sorcery.” Hanneman tapped his quill to his chin.
“Hmmm…as far as I can tell, there is no known relation of the Lamine crest to the Dominic crest. However, your mutual food tastes and close relationship could possibly hint at something. How curious…” He scribbled down some notes. “I noticed Miss Annette had a very extreme fondness for sweets, as does Lysithea from the Golden Deer. Would you say your tastes match them?” Mercedes pondered the question.
“Well, I think they taste about as sweet as they should, but…oh, I suppose I’d just have to make you some if you really wanted to try.” Hanneman nodded appreciatively.
“I would love to! To see the exact tastes of a crest bearer such as yourself would be a prime opportunity. I cannot let this chance pass up!”
Mercedes sighed. She was honestly trying to do something nice for the professor, half out of guilt that her class was effectively pulling the wool over his eyes through these studies, but he always seemed to take her offers as a chance to study her crest. She didn’t mind the attention and focus, but the repetitive cycle continued to be disheartening. Hanneman seemed to have noticed her move, and suddenly shifted in his seat, as though to stand up.
“Actually, on second thought, perhaps it’s time to finish up for the day. I still have not taken to the duty of teaching the students directly, and while I’m sure Manuela is doing an excellent job, I feel it is my job to help. After all, I feel like I haven’t even seen some students since Manuela took over. Young Felix and Ingrid, for example.” Mercedes didn’t have time to think.
“They’re both handling the loss horribly. We haven’t seen them since the month started either.” Hanneman peered up at her curiously.
“How do you…?”
Mercedes felt her mind turn at a ridiculous pace. Hopefully, she hadn’t backed herself into a corner. Then, an idea popped into mind.
“I can sort of sense how other people are feeling, professor. Like how you began feeling uncomfortable after taking me up on my offer for sweets.” Hanneman sat back now, grabbing his quill once more.
“I see. Please, explain more.”
Mercedes paused. “Well…it’s sort of that I’m really good at watching people. I’m not sure when it started, but I’ve wanted to pick up on what was bothering them and help, and so that became my method of doing it.” Unbidden to her mind sprang the image of a young man in a mask, unblinkingly observing the students and faculty crossing by, making to attempt to converse or intervene. “Well, now that I think of it, I guess my brother and I have that in common.”
“I see, I see…”Hanneman was writing furiously now. “Characteristics and mannerisms being affected by crests. Is that a possibility?”
There it was. Time to see how far she could take it.
“Well, of course, professor. Haven’t you noticed?” Hanneman stopped.
“N-noticed?” Mercedes nodded.
“Noticed. Why I thought it was plain to see. Felix’s whole family all acted the same before…well, the tragedy, according to Ingrid. They don’t show affection very well and adore fighting. Flayn is terrified of sleeping, apparently after an incident where she couldn’t wake up at some point from sleeping so heavily, and her crest is the same as Linhardt’s.” Hanneman groaned silently.
“Yes, I know exactly what dear Linhardt is like.”
“And then you and Bernadetta share the crest of Indech, and both of you tend to be a bit more shut-in, and you both like bows! Edelgard and Lady Rhea both have the crest of Seiros, and…” she faltered. “Um, actually, I don’t really understand what the two have in common.” Hanneman shook his head.
“Both are supremely capable leaders, for one, and tend to be rather guarded. I know that from my years of service to the school myself.” He flashed an uncertain smile to Mercedes. “Rhea is absolutely wonderful at her job, and she truly cares for her people’s safety, but she never seems quite sure how to let her guard down when she needs to.” Mercedes nodded appreciatively. “See! Crest bearers seem to share a lot of personality traits between them. I’m sure you’ll find more similarities.”
“Indeed…” Hanneman’s eyes grew distant as he turned to his papers. “It seems I have much more to evaluate here than I originally planned. Thank you ever so much, Mercedes. I’m sorry for cutting this short, but I have so much more to analyze and understand now. Please, give Manuela my regards and apologies for not making it.” Mercedes nodded in a polite bow and turned to exit the room. However, she didn’t get far before immediately being waylaid by Flayn.
“Ah, Mercedes! I’m glad to have found you.”
“Oh, hello, Flayn.” Another image flashed in her mind, and a feeling of intense shame upon seeing a masked figure standing over Flayn’s unconscious body. She shook her head. “Is there something you need from me? Just say the word.” The younger girl bounced up and down on her toes pensively.
“Ingrid, Ashe, Caspar, and Dedue are back, but they were caught by the Gatekeeper. The whole class along with the professor is being summoned to the archbishop’s office immediately.” Mercedes’ heart sank. This could not possibly end well.
“Unbelievable!” Rhea paced up and down the room in a frenzy, beholding the terrified students standing before her. “You went behind my back, and those of your professors, carried out harebrained schemes to distract them from noticing, all to endanger your own lives and the lives of the people in the nearby village!” The four adventurers hung their heads, but without an ounce of shame in their eyes. Rhea huffed.
“And what were you planning to do once you learned this? Tell your professor and sneak off again without church permission? You could all get killed!” she spat. “I will absolutely not allow you to make a move to the mark, and the four of you,” she said, pointing to Ashe, Caspar, Felix, and Ingrid, “are hereby discharged from the Academy, and may return to wherever you will.”
Almost immediately, protests rang out from the class. Byleth had raised his head to make a case for his students, with Dimitri and Dedue rallying behind him. Annette and Flayn began appealing as Sylvain looked as though he wished to challenge Rhea to a one-on-one duel, which probably would not go anywhere pleasant. All this, while Rhea seemed to grow increasingly agitated, her face growing ever more red with impatience and rage.
“She is a capable leader, but tends to be rather guarded.” The phrase Hanneman told her suddenly popped into her mind. “She truly cares for the people’s safety, but isn’t sure quite how to let her guard down.”
Nobody in the room seemed particularly willing to listen to Mercedes.
No response, only more arguments.
Silence. Everyone turned in awe to look at the soft-spoken healer who had just yelled at the archbishop.
“My apologies, Lady Rhea, but please.” The archbishop was silent, but raised her head as if to signal her listening.
“On behalf of Ashe, Ingrid, Felix, and Caspar, I apologize for breaking the rules of the Military Academy. We shouldn’t have allowed it, and it was a poorly made decision. However, we couldn’t stand to just sit around and do nothing. We had first hand accounts from students too terrified to come forward to the church, and the knights of Seiros were spread thin enough as they were. We only sought to see this come about in as peaceful a manner as possible.” Rhea’s eyebrow lifted slightly. Encouraged, Mercedes pressed forward.
“We never intended to take full action without the church’s permission, but we also couldn’t wait until we had everything organized to go down there. Doing so meant we could understand who the culprits where, what they were after, and where they were. One of the church’s teachings is to not seek unnecessary violence, so we simply wanted to ensure that they weren’t planning another disaster as well. If they had been planning something, they would have-“
“Actually…they were.” Caspar spoke up now, blushing slightly. Rhea’s face immediately changed from stern to concerned, even…fearful?
“Excuse me? Did you just say they were-“
“Planning something? Yeah. Turns out they’re definitely making people into Demonic Beasts. We had to take one down during recon after they changed a couple of locals in the forest.”
“You took down a Demonic Beast? The four of you? How-“ She shook her head, seeming suddenly flustered. “Never mind. That’s not important right now. The four of you, debrief me as quickly as possible. Professor, mobilize your students as soon as you can.” Byleth’s eyes lit up.
She shook her head, still glaring slightly. “We will discuss the punishment of your students at a later date. If what this young man said is right, we have no other options. And besides,” she looked begrudgingly at Mercedes, “it is clear they meant no chaos through their actions. Any punishment may be…reduced, in light of that.” The four bowed their heads gratefully. “But you are not off the hook. Everyone, go prepare for battle. This threat needs to be addressed as quickly as humanly possible, by any means necessary. Fodlan’s future may be at stake.”
Chapter 11: The Transformed Teacher
The Blue Lions close in on the pair who caused so much tragedy. The beginning of the end has come.
It had been a trap.
Of course, the whole thing had been a trap. How had Ingrid not expected it? When the local authorities had reported no movements of any parties from the forest, she had been suspicious, but hoped that Solon and Kronya had only attempted to care for their injuries or were attempting to clean up the mess they made. But of course, that hadn’t been the case. Shortly after the village outside the woods had been evacuated and the Blue Lions had ventured down towards the woods, the enemy had swarmed around them. Several Demonic Beasts joined their ranks, and Ingrid’s stomach turned as she wondered who the pair had made victims of to create these monstrosities. And behind them all, laughing gleefully:
“Hello, you’re here! Welcome to the forest of death! My name is Kronya. This weakling girl was just a borrowed look for me.” With a magnificent flip, she twisted and formed, turning into a grotesque…being. Bright orange hair, pale white skin, and an overabundance of makeup Ingrid was sure would make Mercedes feel ill. She decidedly liked the look of Monica better.
“This is what I really look like. Now, you vermin…I’ll take down every last one of you!”
And then they lunged.
There was no time for a plan, no time to make a formation or divide roles. This was a desperate fight for their lives, and they were either to work together or die. Ingrid spurred her own wyvern forward, and could sense a couple of the Lions branch off to join her. She tried her best to focus her attention on giving the Demonic Beasts a wider berth: getting caught up fighting them while taking on the human enemies would be an easy ticket to getting her killed. Instead, she focused on driving her lance through the opposing mages who were threatening long range spells on the central fight. The task itself was easy enough: the mages seemed far more preoccupied with preparing their spells than with their own safety, and fell away like chaff.
The shout barely registered before instincts kicked in. With a kick, Ingrid directed her wyvern to the side and launched herself in the opposite direction as an arrow sailed harmlessly between them. Not missing a beat, Ingrid spun as she fell, whirling her lance around in an arc to slam into the offending archer who had nearly cost her wyvern its life. Barely a shout emerged as the soldier fell. Sylvain floated down beside her, his face knit with worry.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah.” Ingrid nodded reassuringly as she watched her wyvern effortlessly slam into an armored knight, claws easily piercing the thick plates and rending the flesh beneath. Wyverns could fare in battle well enough alone, but were dangerously poor at watching out for their own safety. Ingrid would need to recover her steed soon enough.
The thought was interrupted as an explosion rocked the forest. Sylvain yelled, clinging to Ingrid as the vibrations nearly knocked them to the ground. Several Demonic Beasts screamed in pain as their armor evaporated, likely as a result of Annette’s favorite battalion. The realization that her friends were taking on the beasts grounded Ingrid.
“Come on, Sylvain! No time to relax, we’ve still got to fight!” She quickly reigned in her own wyvern, climbing atop in to soar into the battle, Sylvain close behind. Well, a slaughter was perhaps more accurate. The Blue Lion’s battle prowess seemed to be at full strength, with no holds barred. Dorothea, Flayn, and Annette were launching spells without abandon. Axes swung through the air as Caspar and Dedue railed against the few human soldiers still standing. Sylvain and Byleth stood back to back, their swords flashing through the air and cutting large gashes in the unprotected skin of the beasts. And of course, Dimitri was ever the force of nature he always was, weaving through and between the beasts with reckless abandon, seeming equal a force of terror as the beasts themselves were. Ingrid and Sylvain looked at each other, silently coming to an agreement before launching themselves forward as well. Given the current state of the battlefield, it only took a couple of swipes from each’s Divine Weapon to bring down the remaining beasts. Taking a lap around to survey the area, Ingrid and Sylvain alighted next to their friends and dismounted.
“Whew, that was fun!” Caspar, of course, was reveling in the fight, clearly thrilled to have vanquished the enemies, all except…
A chill ran over Ingrid’s spine. For some reason, her breath hitched, and in the moment she didn’t think. She grabbed Sylvain’s armor and pushed forward, pushing them both forward onto the ground.
The Professor’s voice resounded, and she looked up to see him, sweaty and pale, and just for a moment, she almost seemed to see a faint, green gold aura that then faded.
The voice rang out somewhere above or behind Ingrid, and she whirled around to see Dimitri’s lance pierce the shoulder of the woman who called herself Kronya. With a scream, the woman wrenched her arm free of the lance, turning and sprinting off into the woods. With a shout, the professor followed close behind, leaving his students back. Ingrid shook her head.
Two close calls in one battle. Ingrid needed to start taking better care of herself. She turned over in the ground to Sylvain.
“You okay?” The redhead nodded ruefully.
“Yeah, just slow. I could sense something was wrong, but you react quicker. Thanks for that.”
Ingrid merely nodded, her eyes distant. All of a sudden, a harsh chill seemed to fill the air, and the group as a whole shivered.
“What on earth was that?”
Ingrid could feel the pit in her stomach open up as the class ran forward through the forest. Was that the professor? Had he been-? Ingrid shook her head. The professor had to be alive and well. The chill was just that, a feeling. Nothing more, nothing less.
The scene that the class arrived to was…confusing, to say the last. The entire forest was empty, save the cackling figure of Solon.
“Fools.” The wizened old man snarled. “Your professor is gone. The Goddess shall be no more. Your world will end today, and you will see the birth of a new Fodlan!”
Ingrid’s legs were weak. The professor dead? It couldn’t be, it had to be false, there had to be something wrong-
A scream woke her to her senses. She whirled around to see her classmates quickly forming a half- circle as more monsters and soldiers poured out from hiding in the surrounding forests. Annette was already fallen back, clutching a bleeding gash on her forearm. Mercedes could heal it quickly of course, but-
Ingrid looked around.
Mercedes? Where was the girl? She seemed to be the only student missing, so why-?
Ingrid didn’t have time to contemplate. The monsters lunged forward in perfect unison with the soldiers, in so great and overwhelming a number they couldn’t possible be-
And then a burst of flame, burning bright in the center of the battlefield. All members present stopped and watched in mixed awe and confusion.
And then the flames burst forth, washing over the monsters, soldiers, and even Solon himself in a wave of mass destruction that didn’t even touch the Blue Lions, save a small flicker washin over Annette, healing the gash in her arm. Soon, the battlefield was only ashes. The Professor stepped out from the flame, his hair aglow in a green shine…no, his hair was green itself! The students all stared, mouths agape, at the sight of their new professor.
And then he collapsed.
The rest of the cleanup was relatively uneventful. Dimitri made his way back to the monastery immediately with Dedue accompanying him, the professor slung over his shoulder. The rest of the class scoured the battlefield, taking care to make sure the bodies were properly disposed of so as not to attract hungry predators to the forest. But where was…
Ingrid heard the cry and dashed over to where she heard Annette’s voice: a relatively secluded corner of the forest she couldn’t remember the fight ever being. There, she saw the young redhead, sobbing quietly as white sparks streamed from her fingers. They connected, thankfully, indicating that Mercedes’ wound could be restored. However, the sight itself was ghastly. Mercedes was not generally a strong or imposing figure, but seeing her curled up, her tunic shredded and her side bleeding profusely, was not a welcome sight. It took time, but presently, the motherly cleric quietly stirred. Her eyes opened in a squint, and as Ingrid knelt down, she lifted her hand to stroke the blonde’s hair deliriously.
And then she drifted back into unconsciousness.
Chapter 12: Relics of the past
Mercedes spots a figure retreating from the battlefield, and immediately recognizes them. With reckless abandon, she chooses to pursue them and learns more about the future of Fodlan.
The battlefield was raging with a mix of humans and Demonic Beasts. Soon after her initial threat, Kronya had almost magically disappeared from the battlefield, seemingly pushing the work of actually disposing of the Blue Lions onto her subordinates. Mercedes’ other classmates were almost effortlessly crushing the forces rising up against them, so Mercedes took it upon herself to try and scout out the elusive assassin. She was confident in her ability to find her; finding things most people glossed over or left behind was a talent of hers, after all. But what she ended up finding was a person very different from her targeted enemy. He was simply standing, off in a distant corner of the battlefield, eyes glowing a menacing red. He didn’t seem at first glance particularly inclined to fight the students; as Mercedes watched, he simply turned and retreated back into the forest he had come from. It had to be him: their constant opponent, the Death Knight. Professor Jeritza.
Mercedes didn’t waste a second. In a moment’s decision she left her classmates, thoughtlessly climbing over fallen stumps and rubbish that was leftover debris from Ingrid’s previous recon mission. It didn’t matter how much danger she was putting herself into, or what mess she would stumble upon: she had to see her little brother, and figure out once and for all what he was doing here.
She shouted out, unable to see where he had retreated. Scanning the forest, it seemed completely empty, which was completely impossible. Unless…
She scanned the ground now, looking to see any uneven surface. Immediately, it became obvious: a small rut, basically a dugout, that could fit maybe one or two people. She took care to approach it calmly but quietly, silently sliding into the divet, right next to her brother.
The knight didn’t look her way. He didn’t shift to move away either, or make to threaten her with his weapon. He simply stared ahead, almost seeming contemplative…or was that her imagination? It wasn’t as though she could read his emotions easily with his mask on. Eventually, he allowed a small huff to exit through his mask.
“Mercedes…you should not have come.” Mercedes shook her head.
“I had to see you, Emile. You know that. I need to know what you’re doing here. Why did you hurt Flayn, or work with the Western Church, or help these people? They were behind Remire, right? And Captain Jeralt’s death. And Lonato’s Rebellion too, right? Have they been behind everything?”
The knight exhaled slowly.
“Do not…ask questions you do not wish to hear the answer to.” Mercedes felt tears sting her eyes.
“So it was all them…all you! How could you do this, Emile? How could you follow them, knowing all they’ve done? What stake do you have in this? Why can’t you just leave them, and join with us?” As if to answer, the Death Knight simply reached into his cloak, withdrawing a small gem. It sparkled, golden and pure, with a fearful energy resounding behind that pure glow.
“Tell me, Mercedes…what does this gem symbolize to you? What do you feel when you look at it?”
Mercedes stared at the gem, long and hard. It was undeniably the Rafail Gem, of course, the treasure of House Martiz. It was the gem that was hers by birthright, which heralded the protection of the goddess. It was also tied to her crest, which caused her mother to be used, caused Emile to suffer at the hands of House Bartels, and was even now causing her to be pulled away from her life at the church to be married off to some scheming nobleman. There was only one word for her feelings.
“I feel sorrow, Emile. Sorrow at everything our blood has cost us; our freedom, our ability to choose our life, our innocence of the world. This gem…no, our crests, took so much from us. There our days I cannot help but look to the Goddess and ask her why she chose to give these blessings that cause so much strife in Fodlan.” Emile lowered the gem, gently into Mercedes’ lap.
“You have your answer. The one who commands me…seeks to destroy the current order of Fodlan. In their view, the world will value crests no more than they value dirt. Any crest or commoner may achieve what they wish, no matter their blood.” Mercedes pondered this response, then peered closer at the Death Knight’s emotionless visage.
“And you, Emile? What do you wish to see? Are you content seeing so much wrongdoing for the sake of an equal world?” He shook his head.
“My cares and will dissolved long ago. My only craving now is of my own blade. Nothing else, including Emile, exists anymore.” Mercedes tilted her head, eyes questioning.
“And yet, you have not raised your sword to me, your enemy, since I arrived. Why is that?” Her response was merely a huff as the figure turned away. She smiled to herself slightly; there were certainly similarities between her brother and Felix, that much was for certain. Then she started as she felt cold metal grasping her hand. She turned to see the knight’s mask, eyes glowed red, staring her straight in the eyes.
“Mercedes…” the knight huffed again, turning away. “You cannot sway me, and I will not pretend to be able to sway you. We will meet again on the battlefield, and you will die.” Mercedes clutched the gem nestled in her lap.
“You won’t kill me, Emile, I know that. Besides if you tried, I have this now.” She held the Rafail Gem close, suddenly feeling a much fonder sentiment emerging from the gem. “I think…this gem holds more than just sorrow, now that I think about it. Thank you for letting me see that, at least.”
“Oh, please, Jeritza. Did you actually just give her one of the Relics?”
Mercedes couldn’t react. In an instant, she felt a knife pierce her side, though the pain was…duller than she had expected. She saw the gem in her hands faintly glow white, and the pain receded further.
“Mercedes! Kronya, you-“
“That’s enough of that. The Professor is out for blood, and in case you couldn’t tell, I’m injured. I need to hide awa-“
Mercedes couldn’t see the pair, but she heard a sickening screech from the woman, followed by a scampering of leaves. Then simply one voice.
“If you feel you have the Goddess’ protection, show me. Or perhaps you’re strong enough to survive on your own. Either way, survive on your own merits. I will not assist you this time.”
And then her brother was gone.
“Emile…” Mercedes closed her eyes, groaning against the dull pain in her side, suddenly feeling lightheaded. A dark chill filled the air, and she heard a shout. The Professor? A sudden thought, unbidden, showed of the professor, staring up in darkness at a young girl shimmering in light. Who was she-?
The scene paused, and the girl turned suddenly, staring at Mercedes, and she felt a great power behind her eyes. It couldn’t be…
Just as quickly, the scene went dark, and everything else did as well. Mercedes groaned, trying to keep a hold. Had she just passed out? Had she just woken up? She strained again, trying to think.
A feeling of urgency pressed against her mind, and the voice of her dearest friend, echoing clear as day.
Everything went dark again.
And then briefly, like a flickering candle, she was back again. She could hear strained sobs…Annie? And a gasp of horror from…was that Ingrid? She was still in the forest, still bleeding, but white sparks were overwhelming her, bringing peace and warmth to her pained side. A face entered her field of vision, and she only saw a head of blonde with green eyes carefully prying her with concern, almost like a sibling watching another one battling illness. She reached up gently, stroking the face that slowly seemed to morph into the face of her brother.
And then she lost consciousness once more.
Things had moved on pretty quickly at Garreg Mach once the Blue Lions had returned. Mercedes, of course, had been rushed to the infirmary, but the healing had not been particularly strenuous or time intensive. To Mercedes’ shock, her side didn’t even scar. The full story of the woods came out a bit more slowly: the professor’s transformation at the hands of the Goddess (who Mercedes now highly suspected resembled a small child moreso than the mature woman mural in the cathedral depicted), Kronya’s death to Solon and Solon’s subsequent death at Byleth’s hands, and Rhea’s immediate decision to take the group down to the Holy Tomb at the end of the month. None of this had been particularly surprising, and only now was Mercedes sitting down with Annette in the Blue Lions’ classroom to discuss the events.
“So…you’re saying the Death Knight is your brother? And that he gave you the Rafail Gem? Wasn’t that in the Empire, though?”
Mercedes nodded her head.
“I suspect Emile stole it at some point. Apparently House Bartles was destroyed not long before he came to Garreg Mach. It’s a strange little gem, isn’t it?” She held it up to see, it’s pulsing white light pushing the natural golden shade to the background.
“I’ll say. You said that thing gave you visions?” Mercedes nodded her head.
“Mhm. Of you and the professor. Though, now it doesn’t seem to be doing anything. Maybe it only works when I’m in danger. Or when others are in danger?” Annette snorted.
“That’d be something. Between our second month here and now, I’d say everyone in our class has been through enough trauma for that thing to be going nuts all day. Sylvain and I have started a working theory that everyone here has some amount of emotional damage at this point.” Mercedes pouted, looking over at her best friend.
“Oh, come on, Annie. I’m sure not everyone’s that bad.” Annie leaned back, beginning to count on her fingers.
“Let’s see…should we start with the trauma you, Ashe, Caspar, the professor, Flayn, and Sylvain have gone through this year? Or should we start with what me, Dimitri, Felix, Ingrid, Dedue, Dorothea and Marianne have obviously been struggling with since before the Academy? Honestly, Mercie, it’s just kind of a mess.” Mercie stared down at her gem again, thoughtful now.
“Yeah? What’s up?” Mercie let out a shaky breath, then turned to her friend.
“Do you think any of this stuff is related? The Flame Emperor, the Death Kni- er, Emile, that is. And these people, who seem to be involved in everything. Sometimes I look at everything and I think I see a connection, but then…” She shook her head. “Oh, this is all just so confusing!”
Annette nodded slowly.
“I dunno, Mercie, but if you’re saying you have a bad feeling, then I feel the same. This has just been such a bad year, I wouldn’t be surprised if things bottom out.” Mercie peered at her friend.
“Bottom out?” Annette bit her lower lip.
“Ah, sorry, I just…I feel like things are taking a turn for the worse. Who knows? Maybe we’ll need that gem…plenty of more times in the near future.” Mercedes shook her head.
“I certainly hope not. But then, you’ve always had a good sense of intuition. Best keep our guard up, just in case, hm?” Her friend nodded.
“Mmm. But for what it’s worth, I think we can handle it. We’ve always been strong, you and I. you know”
“Oh, absolutely. We’ve always been there for each other, and always will. Never doubt that.”
The two walked on, arm in arm, back to the dorms, but as they walked, Mercedes frowned in consternation. A gnawing feeling began at her gut, and it wasn’t long before full-blown anxiety was at the forefront of her mind.
Annette was right. Something bad was coming, clear as day. And no matter what Relic Mercedes had at her disposal, she wasn’t sure she was ready for it. This was a problem bigger than her, bigger than the Lions, even bigger than all of Faerghus.
Mercedes was sure that, whatever was lurking behind the scenes, it was threatening the future of Fodlan, and all who lived in it.
Chapter 13: Fog of War and Mind
Ashe and Catherine deal with unpleasant situations, both internal and external.
The dreams, of course, were never a good escape.
Every night was the same: flashes of dark history resounding in Ashe’s mind. Intense waves of hunger and despair seeing his siblings’ faces. Fear and anxiety not knowing if he could provide for them. Heart wrenching pain as he watched himself take the life of the man that changed all that to save the life of his house leader. Fear and despair yet again, as he looked into eyes filled with hate and malice, unable to move, unable to scream, as his shoulder flared with intense pain…
A scream left Ashe’s lips as he jolted awake, not quite understanding where he was or what was happening. It took a few moments for him to realize he was still in his room, completely untouched, completely alone. His breathing relaxed somewhat. Groaning with phantom pains and sleep deprivation, he laid back in his bed, hand absently tracing a thick scar on his right shoulder. It had been over five months- or six, Ashe had lost track at this point- since he had been kidnapped from the monastery and experienced conditions all medical personnel eloquently described as “torture” at the hands of a noble he had stolen from and disgraced long ago in his past. Since the incident occurred, everyone seemed to tread on eggshells around him, aside from a select few: Caspar, Felix, and Sylvain all seemed relatively at ease around Ashe, Sylvain even making the odd off-color joke every now and again that Ingrid would inevitably scold him for, but Ashe never minded. It made him feel like his friends were beginning to move on from the incident, that it could finally be put in the past a little. Granted, it was a bit of a slow effort due to the ever present-
BAM BAM BAM
Ashe sighed as the door rocked on its hinges from the immense strength of the person slamming on it.
“Ashe! I heard a shout, you okay?”
Ashe sighed in despair. Catherine was an ever-present guard by his door since his abduction. She had given herself the somewhat awkward motto “Rhea by day, Ashe by night” which had come to estrange anyone not previously estranged by her single minded focus to Lady Rhea. Ashe had yet to understand her motives, but her constant presence, well meaning as it was, made moving on…exceedingly difficult.
“I’m fine, Catherine, thank you. Just more bad dreams, I’m afraid.”
A pause from the other side of the door.
“…oh. Well, if that’s all, I’ll, uh…” Catherine paused again, then Ashe heard an unusual sigh from the other door. “Actually, Ashe, could you open up a moment? There’s something I need to ask of you.”
That was something unexpected. Catherine usually was on her way once Ashe confirmed he was all right. Cautiously, he pried the door open a hair to see the intimidating sword master staring down at him.
“Ah…what is it, Catherine? You seem somewhat on edge.”
Catherine fidgeted, as trying to prove Ashe’s point, and seemed to battle herself on something. Then the dam broke loose.
“Listen, Ashe, I’m really sorry to ask this of you, but I think you’ll understand more than anyone. The Western Church investigation is reaching a close, and given your professor’s state, Lady Rhea seems to have no desire to pursue the matter right now. I need backup to handle them myself, but I can’t bring your whole class or your professor will go insane, and I can’t bring the professor because Lady Rhea won’t let him do a damn thing.” She paused, letting the fact sink into Ashe.
“Listen, I know you want to know what came up with the Western Church more than anyone. I think this is your chance to find out. But it has to be just us.”
“Just…us? But Catherine, since I’ve come back, I’ve barely made it through a battle without suffering a panic attack, much less contributing meaningfully.” It was true. His only real missions had been the chapel, the recon mission, and the battle against Solon and Kronya’s forces. The previous two had both triggered a panic attack from him, and he had only barely held himself together in the latter thanks to Felix threatening to send him back to the monastery if he succumbed. “I’m not sure I’m the best to fight a battle with.” Catherine’s eyes flashed.
“I know you won’t break down this time, Ashe. You’re Lonato’s son, after all. You’re made of stern stuff. And you have a reason to keep holding on. You need to know the truth. I can tell.”
Ashe let in a deep, shuddering breath. Lonato’s son. Catherine had never mentioned the nobleman’s name after his death many months ago. She had always shuffled away, even when Ashe inquired after her. For her to bring it up now…
“Take it or leave it, Ashe. If you don’t do anything, I’m trying my luck alone.” Ashe jumped, startled.
“A-alone? Catherine, you can’t mean that!”
“I do. These creeps need to be taken out immediately, and the only one I would trust with this as much is Shamir. Sadly, I haven’t seen her since this morning.”
Ashe took the words in, nodding solemnly.
“Well, I can’t just let you do this alone, then. Let me get my wyvern and weapons together, and we’ll head out.” Catherine nodded and turned away, seemingly to prepare herself for battle, when Ashe stopped her.
“Say, Catherine…this will be fine, right? This situation is under the Knights of Serios’ control?” Catherine nodded.
“Of course, Ashe, I thought this whole thing through. I’ll make sure nothing bad happens to either of us.”
“I MAY HAVE MISCALCULATED THE SITUATION!” Catherine yelled as dark magic swirled in the air around her and Ashe twisting into an unpenetrable fog and knocking the few knights remaining down to their knees.
Things had gone to the wolves very quickly after Catherine and Ashe arrived. The Knights of Seiros, seeming fearfully underequipped for taking down an entire church faction, had received them well enough, but the moment they had ventured into the forest a burst of dark magic had destroyed the majority of the troops. The rest, Catherine and Ashe included, scattered to the woods’ edge, desperately trying to scope out the enemy in the sudden, magic-induced fog.
“Damn it!” Catherine pounded the side of the ditch she and Ashe were hiding in. Outside, Ashe could hear more fading screams of knights being slaughtered. “I’m an absolute fool! Your class just got finished recovering from an ambush battle of your own, and I didn’t recognize a single sign! I just dragged you in, and now your life is…” She sighed, tossing her head back in frustration. The two remained silent as the sounds of battle wore thin, and not particularly favoring the Knights of Seiros. Catherine spoke again, her voice soft and low.
“I really do keep screwing everything up for your family, huh?”
There it was. Out in the open. Ever since the battle against Lonato, Ashe had suspected, but he knew Catherine had her reasons for not opening up. He had expected her to talk about it once the expedition was over, but no, they were really doing this, right here and right now.
“Catherine…you know that isn’t fair.”
“Isn’t it?” She snorted, her eyes empty and distant. “I’m sure you know what my relationship to Cristoph was. I knew he wasn’t malicious, or murderous, or any of that, just…a little naïve. Still turned him in. Still got him killed.”
“Then Lonato. I thought I could make things right, you know? Talk to him, maybe. Get him to stop, or if need be, cut him down myself. But then the moment came, and I couldn’t do it. I was too…freaked out, I guess? I didn’t know what to do. Then he went and attacked the prince and I didn’t do jack, left you to kill your own father.”
Ashe was shaking now. He could feel himself slipping, panic and anxiety and flashes of painful moments beginning to overwhelm him.
“And then the night I was supposed to be doing guard duty at the dorms, I go out for a drink with Shamir instead. We thought a place as uptight as Garreg Mach doesn’t get raided, it’ll be fine. And I wake up to hear you get kidnapped due to my negligence. So I stand guard duty for every night after, and against my better judgement bring you here to…I dunno, try and make up for it? Get you answers as if it’ll fix everything? Now it’s just full circle and-“
She was cut off mid-sentence as Ashe suddenly lurched forward, fist jammed into his mouth to muffle a sudden cry of agony. He was shaking, eyes wild and panicked, his mind obviously in a different place.
“Oh, Goddess. Ashe, please, hold on.” Catherine lowered the boy down to a resting position, still trembling and crying through his fist. The boy curled into a fetal position, hiding away from…her.
She sighed, resting back, her hand rested on her blade. Of course it was her. And now, it was only up to her. She was going to fix this situation, regardless of what happened. Hesitantly, she lowered herself down next to Ashe’s prone form.
“Listen Ashe, I don’t know if you can hear me,” she whispered. “But know that I’m not going to die until that creep Bishop leading the Western Church is dead and gone. If I die after, tell Lady Rhea…I filled my duty to her. And I hope you know I’m fulfilling my duty to you, too.”
The swordswoman proceeded to climb up, making her way from the ditch into the broad, open air. It was time to take these Western Church apostates head on.
“Weird,” she mumbled to herself. “I told myself I never would die for lady Rhea.” A mage burst from the bushes, screaming maniacally as fire trailed from his fingers. A strike from Thunderbrand later, he was facedown on the ground, unmoving. “Guess you never know how things will go down, in the end.” An assassin leapt from the fog, managing to scratch Catherine’s arm with his small blade. He didn’t last much longer than the mage. “Though I guess this is for more than me. Got the kid to protect while I’m at it. Granted, who knows? I may make it through this completely unscathed.” She felt the presence above her before it struck. The lance pierced her upper armor, driving into her right shoulder. She barely had time to scream before-
The hum of a bow, and then a slamming sound as the Pegasus knight fell wordlessly from her mount. Catherine turned to see a sweaty, pale, and gaunt figure standing behind the fallen mount.
“Ashe!” The boy panted with exhaustion, clearly exerting himself beyond his normal energy to get himself moving from his attack.
“Hello…Catherine…” he boy weakly grabbed her tunic as she embraced him.
“Ashe! I didn’t expect to see you kicking so soon. What-?”
“Had to…help.. couldn’t just-“
A black cloud of magic settled over the two, and Ashe gasped in pain. Catherine pounced up, raring to attack the distant mage who had attacked the two of them, but was waylaid by a swordsman, who knocked her back towards the river. For just a moment, time slowed. She could feel herself falling back, towards the river below. A Pegasus knight flew up between the trees, lance poised to pierce Catherine as she fell. Her eyes shot over to Ashe, his already weakened body writhing under the influence of dark magic. Left with nothing else to do, she merely reached out her hand, as if to grasp his in what seemed to be their last moments.
She didn’t expect a hand to grab it, yanking her backwards. From somewhere to her side, she heard the thrum of a bow as two arrows flew in quick succession, slamming into the pegasus knight and her mount both as they tumbled into the river. The hand pulling her back quickly retreated, and Catherine saw a flash of blue hair as the brawler cleared the battlefield at a blinding pace, slamming into the mage and dissipating the dark cloud of magic.
“Well, well, Catherine. Glad to see you managed to survive your own brainless tactics for more than thirty minutes.”
Catherine was never more happy to hear that sneering, sarcastic voice.
“Shamir!” The sniper smiled and jerked her thumb towards the brawler, who was retreating and tending to Ashe with intense worry plastering his face.
“I brought Caspar, too. We both ran into each other in a fit of worry from not being able to find you or Ashe. Seriously, I never expected you to make a move that was quite this thoughtless.”
Catherine flushed. Normally, she’d brush off Shamir’s words, but this time…well, this time it had very nearly been death. Maybe she wasn’t quite as ready for that as she thought.
“Well, I’m glad you two are here, anyways. You didn’t happen to bring reinforcements?” Caspar’s face paled.
“Oh, man, no. I was so worried about finding you two I didn’t even think about-“
Shamir pinched the bridge of her nose, sighing loudly and excessively.
“Lucky for all of us, I have more working brain cells than apparently the three of you all put together. Now, everyone!”
Torches lit up the battlefield, and Catherine soon saw herself surrounded by fighters. Alois, Dedue, Felix, Mercedes, Annette, Ingrid…all took to the battlefield, weapons poised and ready for a renewed fight.
Shamir glared at Catherine, a mix of a scowl and gloat filling her eyes.
“See what happens when you actually think of a strategy, partner? Things aren’t as simple as you try to make them…or as brainless.”
Again, Catherine flushed. Shamir had a way of getting to her that not many people had. Shakily, she raised her sword above her head, taking command once more.
“Soldiers, our target is the Western Church Bishop. He’s using magic to distract and confuse us, meaning he’s somewhere here in the woods. Be cautious, but do not second guess yourselves. This is a dangerous fight, and we are not sacrificing lives here. We fight for each other, and in the Goddess’ name. Move out!”
Chapter 14: Vengeful eyes
Dedue finds himself conflicted with the ideas of vengeance.
The Western Church Rebellion didn’t last long.
The Blue Lions had spread out once Catherine gave her commands, torches ablaze to dispel the black magic causing the fog. Dedue watched over the recovering Ashe as the rest of the Lions swept up the hiding church soldiers in a matter of minutes. Dedue grimaced in a dark sympathy. Of course, he was well aware of how adept the Blue Lions were at fighting.
He was also well aware of how adept the people of Faerghus were at wiping a people out in entirety.
The giant quickly pushed the thoughts out of his head, directing his attention towards the weakened thief.
“Ashe. Are you hurt?” The thief, obviously exhausted and sore, simply smiled tiredly and shook his head.
“No, I was just resting. Then I saw that look on your face and felt I needed to say something. Are you all right?” Dedue grimaced.
“I am not a fan of such wanton slaughter as this. I know it is what the archbishop wishes, but…it does not sit well with me.” Ashe grimaced, understanding the meaning behind his words.
“I’m sorry, Dedue. I know this isn’t what you wanted.” Dedue felt a small hand grasp his, and looked down to see Ashe squeezing him emphatically. “Listen, let’s get out of here, all right? We can just-“
Ashe’s words were interrupted by a man dressed in long black robes barreling through the forest, screaming at the top of his lungs. He wore an ornate crown on his head, somewhat less distinct than the archbishop’s, and had an air about him that bore ill of a self-important noble. If Dedue had to hazard a guess, it was-
“The head bishop of the Western Church,” Ashe breathed. In an instant, Dedue felt his body tense, and all of a sudden he was up and moving with a speed Dedue often forgot he had. His bow remained unstrung by the ground; instead, an axe twirled in his grasp as he tackled the head bishop onto the ground, holding the axe to his throat.
“You…you were the one who used Lonato.” Dedue nearly choked back at the pure venom that rested in the generally sweet and understanding boy’s voice. The rage and loss embodied in it reminded him of…
“Lord Lonato…what, are you one of his pages?” The condescension leaking from the bishop’s voice seemed at odds with his current position of immense danger, not seeming particularly concerned about the axe leveled at his throat. “He was just a pawn to help us achieve our goals. You are just a pawn to help that monster achieve her goals. But we will be saved by the goddess…yes, we will…” Something dangerous flashed in Ashe’s eyes. He reared his axe back, prepared to strike in a fit of anger, and Dedue couldn’t help himself.
His hand paused at the peak of his strike, and he looked over at Dedue. His eyes were monstrous, unforgiving, and broken. No matter what, the young thief truly was prepared to end the bishop’s life, here and now, without a second thought of how it would affect him. In every way indeed, he was just like him. Then they softened slightly upon seeing Dedue. His axe wavered for a moment, and Dedue immediately realized he messed up. With a screech of triumph, the bishop launched Ashe off of his chest, letting dark magic fly all around him, large swaths of it washing over the Duscurian. Dedue coughed as the hazy magic swarmed over him and into his skin, feeling like it was tearing him apart from the inside. The giant fell to his knees, his vision growing hazy and dim as he felt himself losing consciousness.
Dedue tried to reach out to Ashe, unsure of what he was trying to do in the action. Apologize for distracting him? Comfort him in what felt like his final moments? Try an plead for his life? All he could hear was a roaring in his ears, and all he could see was darkness.
Then all of a sudden, a piercing scream shook the air.
In an instant, the magic disappeared, and Dedue leapt up, prepared to take on the errant bishop. He stopped as he saw Ashe, bleeding and wild eyed, standing over the bishop’s body. The boy collapsed to one knee, gasping for breath, and Dedue walked over to him, taking a knee himself. For a time the two just sat there, looking at the now-deceased bishop of the Western Church.
“You managed to overpower him.” Ashe nodded.
“I’m a bit more resistant to magic than the average student. He also directed more to you, assumed you were the bigger threat.” Dedue nodded, not taking his eyes off the bishop. He wasn’t sure quite how to phrase the sentiment resting in his heart.
“I’m sorry for hesitating. I put us both in danger there, waiting like that.” In an instant, the thought came into his mind, and Dedue realized what he wanted to say.
“No, Ashe. I’m actually quite happy you decided to wait.” Ashe peered over at the giant, completely flummoxed. “The look you had on your face…it was a look of anger. Of vengeance. It…disturbed me, Ashe. This all disturbed me, but seeing that look on your face was like looking at all those faces in Faerghus. For you to kill like that…it doesn’t suit you.”
Dedue looked over to the young student, afraid he had said something to upset him. Instead, he saw Ashe smiling gratefully, tears beginning to well in his eyes.
“You’re…absolutely right, Dedue. In that moment, I…wasn’t myself. I’m sorry if I brought back bad memories.” Dedue shook his head
“It’s nothing. I’m just happy to see you…not overcome.” His mind briefly flashed to a different face, eyes dark and lifeless, mouth turned in a raging scowl as he effortlessly cut down swaths of enemies…
He shook the thought from his head. Best to address that issue later. As he focused back in to Ashe, he noticed the younger boy’s eyes grow distant, suddenly hazy. The realization that Ashe had taken a large share of magic damage before the fight had even started came to late as he collapsed onto the ground, completely spent. Dedue wasted no time, scooping the thief up in his arms and carrying him back to where the rest of the Blue Lions seemed to be gathering.
Again, his name was shouted into the night in a voice tinged with fear and worry. Was he truly in that bad of a shape? As Mercedes ran to him, white magic pouring from her fingers, the giant took a chance to glance down at his own body; his armor, nearly rent to shreds from sheer magical force, exposing his blackened skin covered in burns and thick, bulging black bumps growing from unburnt areas. He grimaced, looking away.
Perhaps it really was that bad.
Annette joined in as well, and as the white magic washed over him, Dedue felt his vision grow hazy once more. What was-?
“Dedue, it looks like your body has suffered a lot of deep magical damage. We’ll fix it in no time and it will be as good as new, but you’ll have to shut down for a while to process everything going on under the surface. Don’t panic, just let it happen.”
Dedue tried to calm his breathing as unconsciousness began to take him. He rested back, trying to get into a position where he could comfortably pass out. The last words he heard as he drifted away were from Felix.
“Great. Now who’s volunteering to carry him back to the monastery?”
The recovery was, as Mercedes predicted, rather short. Magical wounds were fairly easy to heal from once dealt with, and both Dedue and Ashe were back on their feet within the week. Once they were out, Dedue didn’t hesitate to make his way back to His Highness’s side.
“Your Highness, please, I beg you to take a step back and think about this.”
Of course, it had simply revolved back to the same debate they had been having the past couple of months.
Dimitri shook his head, obstinately standing his ground.
“No, Dedue, I will not hear you out for this. My efforts have to be fully focused on figuring out the truth of this tragedy.”
“You know I will follow you on this path to the end, Your Highness. However, I must ask that you think of your own better interests. I fear the toll this is taking on you, mind and body. If you want to be at your best when you uncover the truth, I ask that you please rest. I could not bear to lose you.”
Dimitri groaned overdramatically, tossing his head back in frustration.
“I will not.” He whined, almost like a child. “I cannot sleep, even if I try to rest. Even if it ruins me, I must pursue this to the end. You know that.”
Dedue sighed, once again resigning himself to Dimitri’s judgement. Just like every other time this argument had occurred.
“Excuse me, the both of you.” Seteth’s overly proper voice jolted the two from their discussion, and they turned to see Rhea’s advisor standing over them, an air of detachment around him.
“The archbishop has asked me to inform the members of your class that the time to make your way to her study has arrived. From there, your class is to make their way to the Holy Tomb alone.”
Dimitri nodded with understanding, and turned to Dedue.
“Well, Dedue? Let us head on. I’m sure everyone else will be waiting by the time we get there.”
Dedue nodded, feeling his heart lift a little at the thought of putting aside thoughts of vengeance for a simple trip. For once, it felt like things were going to progress peacefully, a simple trip without a hint of violence or war.
Chapter 15: Flaming Mask
The Blue Lions enter into the Holy Tomb, and come face to face with an extremely unpleasant truth.
The Holy Tomb was absolutely magnificent, in the absolute creepiest way possible.
The students of the Blue Lions house were transported down to the Holy Tomb via a moving staircase of sorts, which caused enough concern that even Caspar seemed to be making the gears in his head turn to try and figure the contraption out. Upon stopping, Ashe bore witness to rows and rows of coffins leading up to a humongous central throne in the back of the room. The center of the room held a raised dais with a sort of chest resting on the top…what did that chest contain?
Ashe shook his head. Now probably wasn’t the time to think about such things. At Rhea’s behest, Byleth made his way up to the throne, settling comfortably on the throne while seeming completely unfazed. Of course, he had mentioned after his transformation that he had seen all this before, so the tomb and its contents were probably of no surprise to him. All the students seemed to be waiting alongside Rhea with bated breath. What revelation could the Goddess possibly ha-
A chill ran up and back down Ashe’s voice as the familiar voice echoed through the hall. He and his other classmates turned to see a large squadron of troops come seemingly from out of nowhere, protruding like rats from the woordwork. The tiles of the floor glowed, and hulking beasts materialized into the tomb.
“Warp magic,” Felix hissed, annoyed. “How kind of them to send us more enemies to bury.”
Ashe scanned the battlefield, looking to single out the most dangerous targets. The Demonic Beasts seemed like the obvious dangers, but he had confidence that his class had enough experience in tackling them that they wouldn’t be an issue. In the back of the room, there resided a silent, softly swaying masked figure accompanied by a crouching man-an assassin, by the looks of it- issuing out instructions to his men. Silently, the soldiers ran directly to the nearest coffins, emptying them of stones…the same stones that had comprised the other Demonic Beasts they had seen, that Solon and Kronya had been working to create.
“Stop them!” Dorothea cried out. Without hesitation, a giant ball of flame materialized in the middle of the ceiling, crashing down on the nearest soldiers raiding the coffins. Without hesitation, the Blue Lions followed suit, cutting down soldiers and surrounding the coffins, weapons bristling. As Ashe made his way to the nearest coffin, which was currently being guarded by Mercedes and Dedue, he stooped to notice the uniform of the soldiers.
A bright red…and the insignia of an Eagle. That meant they were…
“Empire Soliders.” The bitter irony in Caspar’s voice made Ashe jumped, and he turned slowly to look the boy in the eyes. His face was twisted in a disgusted scowl, staring down at the uniform below him. “Looks like the Empire’s finally decided to make it’s move, huh? Though we probably should have seen it coming, given that seems to be the Flame *Emperor* over there.”
Ashe directed his vision back to the other figure in the back, who of course was the Flame Emperor. This was the first Ashe had seen them in person, and the sight was…certainly unnerving. The mask bore heavy intimidation, though their figure was much shorter than he had anticipated. It was generally hard to tell from a distance, but Ashe had managed to train himself through his time as a thief, and then archer, to be able to tell small differences from afar. The figure was very definitely short, much shorter than even most of the girls back at the Monastery, yet they still had an air of overpowering authority. Somehow, the strange conflict of appearances was familiar…
Oh, Goddess. The pieces fell together almost immediately, and Ashe looked over to Caspar in a complete panic.
“Caspar, just…out of curiosity. How close are you to your family and the Empire?” The blue haired grappler pondered the question.
“Eh, not really, I guess. I mean, dad kinda cut me out of the family, and none of the Eagles did much to help. That was all you guys. Why-“ The thought struck him quickly, and he looked around to see the rapidly falling soldier of the Adrestian Empire, dying at the hands of his classmates. “Oh. Right.” He shook his head, realigning his thoughts.
“Honestly, Ashe, I don’t really care that much. If it’s a tossup of them against you all, I’ll pick you all. You’re close to me, you know that.” Ashe managed to prevent a slight blush at the forwardness in Caspar’s words, and instead pressed an extra step further.
“And Edelgard? How about her?”
Caspar huffed. “Well, after her right hand man tried to kill me, I’ll say I don’t really care for her much either. Why is that so important?” Ashe sighed with relief.
“Just wanted to make sure. Thank you, Caspar.”
Ashe didn’t have time to clarify his stance; the majority of the Blue Lions were now advancing towards the back of the tomb, accompanied by Lady Rhea and the Professor. The Demonic Beast closed in on the two, fangs bared and claws flashing, but-
A flash of light bloomed from Rhea’s side of the room, and a red crackling energy from Byleth’s as his sword whirled through the air like a whip. His sword cut through the beast’s skin like butter, scattering it into dust in a matter of moments. Likewise, as the light magic Rhea cast receded, nothing remained of the beast there aside from a few remains of dust.
Ashe shivered. The Professor and Rhea both scared him sometimes. From the corner of his eye, he noticed a bandit slipping from the field, desperately making his way to the exit in order to escape the slaughter that was occurring.
“Give it BACK!” Rhea nearly screeched, seeming completely unhinged at this point. There was no magic this time, instead only her bare fist slamming into the thief. With a sickening crack, his head twisted at an abnormal angle, and he fell to the ground lifeless.
Yes, Lady Rhea was definitely very terrifying.
Without any hesitation, the Lions made their way up the stairs, battering enemies away almost like chaff. Caspar himself began leading the charge on the now absent Flame Emperor, which seemed strange to Ashe. Wasn’t there…?
Ashe wasn’t sure how he knew. It wasn’t the Divine Pulse the Professor had told the class about; that generally brought about a faint memory of the death or a sense of premonition. He had felt that himself at an earlier point. No, this was sort of just…intuition. As an aspiring sniper in his youth, Ashe had prided himself on being able to sense things others couldn’t. It wasn’t necessarily hyperawareness or a sixth sense, but rather just a certainty of where something was. It wasn’t necessarily something he could explain. But in that moment, he knew enough to draw his bow, knock and arrow, and let it fly…just inches away from Caspar’s midsection to imbed itself in the assassin who had been issuing orders, hiding in the shadows.
The man’s eyes bulged, completely shocked, and he fell back. The man’s sudden appearance startled Caspar, who fell back as Dimitri leapt over him, swinging his lance with a yell as it collided with the figure’s mask. The Emperor had no time to react to the sudden movement, merely stumbling back as the mask flew off with ease.
And then the Holy Tomb went silent as the entire class, along with Byleth and Rhea, simply stood still, taking in the scene before them.
The Flame Emperor, defiant and imposing as ever, eyes full of authority and pride that would never back down, no matter who they had to face. A low chuckle from Dimitri began to feel the air, and it felt almost like an ironic mirror of everyone’s bitterness. Ashe had hoped it was some mysterious stranger, or a phantom, or anyone from the Empire that he didn’t suspect, but of course that was in vain. No, the Emperor was someone everyone in the room knew very well.
It was Edelgard.
Chapter 16: Wavering Resolve
Dedue and the rest of the Lions are forced to unravel complicated emotions after the Emperor's identity is revealed.
His Highness had succumbed, fully and completely.
The moments after the heir to Adrestia’s face was revealed could be described as nothing short of mindless bloodshed, filled with animosity and bloodlust that Dedue could hardly differentiate from the Kingdom Soldiers laying waste to the people of Duscur. Imperial soldiers fell in waves before the Faerghus Prince’s lance, all falling forward to protect their Emperor. How, Dedue wondered, did she incur such intense loyalty? But it mattered not at this point. The staircase that had brought the Blue Lions class opened up, and more soldier poured out, almost in droves. As they exited, Edelgard herself withdrew without a word, simply staring at the Professor with her enigmatic eyes, almost as though searching for something. With a scream, Dimitri launched himself heedlessly towards her, snapping Dedue from his trance. In a rush, he lunged forward alongside His Highness in a desperate attempt to take the Flame Emperor down before her retreat.
Of course, the effort was in vain. No speed could fully gap the distance between them, and the doors shut in front of her just as Dimitri slammed his lance into it. A ghost of a smile splayed her lips, and she shook her head sadly.
“Oh, Dimitri…how I wish I could make you see reason and understand.”
“Silence,” Dimitri growled. “I wish nothing but to see your head separated from your shoulders. That day will come no matter where you run, Edelgard, I swear it.” Edelgard’s mouth thinned out in a grimace.
“I have no intentions of running, Prince of Delusion. Whenever you wish to come, I will accept your fight. And I will win. I will not fall before this country is reformed completely. No matter the cost.”
Dedue shuddered. The way she so effortlessly said that, “No matter the cost” unnerved him. She didn’t seem to be concerned (or perhaps, willing?) enough to consider the ramifications of the war she was apparently waging by having her Empire commit this act. She was simply prepared to do the worst, for what cause? The thought was horrifying. Someone with such an apparent disregard for life…Dedue could easily see them as someone behind the Tragedy. Which would certainly explain his Highness’s actions…
“Edelgard!” Dimitri’s choked voice rang out in the midst of the battlefield chaos. “I will have your head! I swear it!” But there was nobody left to respond, as the Emperor retreated from the battlefield. Instead, all that remained were remaining Imperial soldiers, who the prince seemed more than happy to take out his frustrations on…in the most gruesome ways possible. The rest of the Blue Lions’ battle slowed to a halt as all simply watched the prince decimate the soldiers heedlessly; some with cold approval, others with fascination, but most with horror. Ashe and Annette were pale as sheets, while Dorothea and Mercedes simply looked on with painful understanding. Ingrid and Sylvain looked lost, and yet a dawn of realization seemed to reach their eyes. Only Felix looked completely unsurprised, looking off with cold disdain. Presently, the last of the Imperial soldiers fell before the crazed prince, and the Holy Tomb fell silent. Rhea shook her head, her rage seeming to almost match the Prince’s.
“This is completely unforgivable.” She seethed. “For the Adrestian heir to commit such an act, defiling the tomb, defiling these bodies, my-“ she stopped herself, Dedue noticed, and changed her words. “The church will offer Adrestia forgiveness if they offer up the Emperor to the church to be punished appropriately. Otherwise, they will know the full wrath of Fodlan.” With a huff, she proceeded forward, to the exit that had reopened from Edelgard’s departure.
“Professor, Dimitri, come with me. We must prepare for any upcoming attacks the Adrestian Empire will form as well as attend to any possibilities stemming from it. There is much you must know in that time. Come along.” Byleth looked back helplessly at his students, but was presently ushered alongside Dimitri without much of an ability to protest, leaving the class alone to wait for the door to reopen.
“Well. What now?” The words from Sylvain sounded like they were meant to be a joke, but his voice broke partially through the question, belying the turmoil that lay in everyone’s hearts. Silence was the only response available for such a question. Dedue stared down at the bodies of the Imperial soldiers, and in an instant was brought back…
“I wish to bury the dead.”
“What?” Sylvain turned to see the look in Dedue’s eyes, and flushed as he realized what the man meant. “Ah, that’s nice Dedue, but that’s not really what I-“
“I wish to bury the dead.” Dedue repeated. “And then, I wish to take some time. Perhaps not sleep, or eat, or train, but think. About what I wish to do from here. And then I wish to talk with you all. And then I want us all to understand what we will do. From here. Perhaps together, perhaps not. We need not decide things right now.”
The silence spread again as the Lions considered his words.
“I…agree…” Marianne whispered. “I think our first priority is to…take care of the dead. Pray that the Goddess receives them in spite of their Emperor’s decision.”
Mercedes nodded. “And pray for Dimitri, and the Professor, and Lady Rhea, too. I’m sure they all have difficult decision ahead of them.”
“I, too, wish to mend this place.” Flayn added. “For these bodies to rot in this tomb…it isn’t right. Neither the Goddess nor any of the Saints would approve of this…I believe.”
The rest of the Lions added in their agreements, and began to gather around the tomb to take up the bodies of the soldiers who had died. Presently, the door to the exit opened once again.
“These soldiers fought and died for their liege.” Dedue started. The group was gathered outside Garreg Mach, as close to the Adrestian Border as they had been instructed they could safely get. A fenced off area had been provided for them to form the burial ground for the soldiers; the Empire had rejected the Monastery’s bid for a momentary cease-fire to allow the bodies of the soldiers to be returned to their families. And so, the rest of the members of Garreg Mach- largely comprised of the Black Eagles who had cared to come- was gathered in front of rows of unmarked graves. Dedue continued.
“We may not agree with the actions their Emperor took, or with the undying dedication that they have shown in their loyalty to their liege. However, these were brave and unyielding soldiers, through and through. They fought for a dream, for a better future of Fodlan they envisioned. Whether that dream was wrong or right…we may never know.” Dedue suddenly found the words he was saying to feel quite hollow. These soldiers were potentially serving an Emperor who had enacted a mass murder, caused a genocide, and they potentially knew and accepted that. If that was the case, what was he saying in trying to honor their sacrifice?
Thankfully, Felix of all people joined in. “They fought well. They died well. Whatever for doesn’t matter anymore. We’re better off moving on.” The words, often used in a more condescending tone, rang in Dedue’s ears.
Better off moving on…hm.
He shook his head, shaking his mind free. It wasn’t possible to know what the soldiers knew, or what they fought for. The reality was, they fought and died. Such was the life of a soldier, and the natural end of war. It was a bitter truth, but there was a solidarity in it. He resumed.
“I will not honor the ideals they fight for. As it is, we may soon be forced to war with their country, and find ourselves taking many more lives for the sake of Fodlan’s survival.” He paused, and took a breath. “However, I will mourn their loss. May a day come where slaughter and war are never again in the future.” Soft murmurs rang out from the audience, and Dedue felt himself flush. He certainly wasn’t used to making speeches, and this one was far more complicated than most. However, as he had been the one to suggest the idea, he was pushed as the one to oversee the burials. Thankfully, the crowd dispelled quickly, retreating to the monastery to continue a number of preparations: conserving food stores, gathering armor, forging weapons, writing to family. Everyone was getting caught up in the winds of war.
Dedue himself made his way to the dorms, settling in his room that lay near the end of the commoner monastery dorms. Numbly, he heard Ashe next door fumbling with his pack of clothes- he was to set off for the weekend to visit his brother and sister in Faerghus to discuss the future with them.
His thoughts flashed to Prince Dimitri, full of blind rage and hatred as he railed against the Imperial Soldiers. And he thought of the conversation he had with the prince, so early on. The prince promised him that Duscur would be reformed, that nobles and commoners would try and push away the values of the crest system to find common footing and opportunity, that hatred and prejudice would no longer reign in Fodlan. Was the man he saw in the Holy Tomb someone who could fulfill that promise? Did it even matter?
And then, one image filled his mind. The image of Dimitri, near insanity in his eyes, desperately reaching his hand out to Dedue.
“Please, let me save you. I can’t bear this anymore, I know you’re innocent, but they won’t listen. Please…”
Dedue studied his own hand, lost in thought. Years ago, he had grabbed the prince’s hand without hesitation, desperate to find salvation. Now? If he didn’t accept his hand now, when he was at his weakest…would he even have a purpose? What would he be? Would the other Lions see things the same way?
He sighed, leaning his head back against his pillow. At this point, it didn’t even matter. He had decided long ago that he would follow His Highness to the ends of the earth. And if this path led to the people behind Duscur being punished, if it led to Duscur’s restoration, if it led to Dimitri’s peace, he had no other option.
Dedue grimaced as he looked out to the door. Tomorrow, the Blue Lions would all come together and decide what they would do. If Dedue was questioning himself, it was almost doubtless others were going to outright abandon the house at this point.
It was not going to be a pleasant reunion.
Chapter 17: The Meeting
In the wake of the Empire's war against the church, the Blue Lions parse out what their fellow students are willing to do.
Felix jumped as his mind snapped back to the present. Shaking his head, he looked up to see the rest of his classmates, gathered in a circle in the courtyard outside the Blue Lions’ classroom. They had all gathered there a short time ago in preparation to discuss what their plan was from this point forward. Of course, him getting lost in his own thoughts wasn’t doing anything to help. In an attempt to save face, he scowled at the one calling role, who happened to be Ingrid.
“What is it? You know I’m here already.”
Ingrid’s eyes flashed. “Yes, physically. But when it takes me calling your name out five times, I’m beginning to wonder if your body is all that’s there. Thankfully, you’re the last to answer, so we can go on ahead.”
Immediately Felix felt his stomach drop. He had known beforehand that this meeting would be…a heavy one. The Empire had just announced their intentions to wage war against the Church of Seiros, and the Black Eagles section of the Monastery had already thinned out considerably. Felix had almost assumed that Lady Rhea and Seteth would be inclined to bar students from deserting, or even execute potential traitors, but apparently students had been free to go as they pleased for some reason. As such, Golden Deer students who felt they had no stakes in fighting had left as well, along with even a number of minor Blue Lions members. The classmates now gathered were a combination of members originally from each class; Dedue, Felix, Sylvain, Ingrid, Ashe, Mercedes, Annette, Dorothea, Caspar, Marianne, and Flayn. 11 in total.
Ingrid began. “We all know that war will soon be coming to the Monastery. And with it, we will likely have to fight…Edelgard.” Dorothea and Caspar looked off to the side. “This will be an incredibly dangerous battle, and the Knights of Seiros have given no promise to our survival. Alongside that…” Ingrid grimaced, and looked to Felix with intense pain in her eyes. “His Highness has…changed. Completely. Ever since the Holy Tomb incident he has single mindedly focused on killing Edelgard…gruesomely. It wouldn’t be unfair to say our class leader is a completely different person than the one we all united under to begin this year.”
Felix scoffed. To you, maybe, he thought. He had plagued Ingrid with assertions about the boar’s true nature, but she had always evaded his criticisms with vague defenses about Felix overexaggerating. Now here she was, struggling to reconcile reality. And yet, Felix himself…again, he found himself lost in thought. He hated the boar, truly, and there was no doubt about it. And yet, there was something in him that still felt…longing? Sadness that things were this way? He couldn’t tell.
“As it is,” Ingrid continued, “we do not expect any members, new or old, to remain here to fight. We will offer our camaraderie and aid on the battlefield, and still offer our promise to return here in five years time, but we will not make you stay if you do not wish it.” Folding the paper she had written her small speech on away, she resumed by looking out to her circle of classmates.
“Now, I do not do this to attempt to persuade anyone, but I just want to know how everyone feels. Who all is considering leaving?”
Felix felt his own hand raise before he even thought about the question. He looked around and saw Dorothea’s hand raise without much hesitation alongside Mercedes. After a brief moment of hesistation Ashe raised his hand as well, followed by Caspar. Five people. Nearly half the group.
“I…see. Is there anything any of you wish to talk about, then?” She said this as a general question, but her eyes were locked mournfully to Felix. He averted his gaze, and instead locked onto Annette, who-
Oh, Goddess, that was a mistake. Annette was staring at Felix too, eyes watering and filling as she stared him down with guilt. He tried to scowl it off and turn away, but he couldn’t help his cheeks coloring with shame.
“Well…” Dorothea thankfully began, drawing attention off Felix. “It’s not that I want to leave anyone, really. I do treasure all of you here in the Blue Lions, but it’s war…and it’s Edie…I just can’t get my mind wrapped around all this. I need some time, and to talk with…” her face flushed, and she cut herself off. “I need to think about what I’m going to do, is all.”
Mercedes nodded her assent. “If this continent is doomed to war, I will happily fight alongside everyone, truly. But if this can play out without enveloping Fodlan, I’d love to just keep things at peace, you know?”
Her face spoke plain honesty, but Felix could sense something behind her words very similar to what Dorothea’s tone conveyed. She clearly wasn’t comfortable going up against the Empire either.
Next was Ashe. “I fully intend to fight with everyone if Fodlan is engulfed in war as well. But my siblings are still in Gaspard territory, which borders almost right alongside the territory of Lord Arundel of the Empire. I need to make sure they’re safe before anything else.” He bowed his head in an almost disgustingly knightly fashion. “My apologies.”
Ingrid shook her head, the beginnings of a smile returning to her face. “No need to apologize, Ashe. You’ll be welcome here at any time, no matter what.”
Now it was just Caspar and Felix shifting uncomfortable in their seats. Realizing it was his turn, Caspar simply flushed.
“Oh, me? Uh. I just have, um, friends. Friends? No, things! Yeah, things. In the Empire. That I need to make sure are safe. Yeah, that’s it.” The boy was unusually squirrelly, and presently it occurred to Felix that Linhardt had departed for the safety of the Empire a short time ago. He and Caspar were inordinately close, and it was clearly having an effect on the boy.
“Right, right.” Ingrid nodded, apparently oblivious, and turned to the last considerer. Felix opened his mouth to speak, but Ingrid started first.
“Felix, you have every right to walk out on us.”
That wasn’t what he had expected to hear.
“You’ve told us this whole time that something was plaguing Dimitri, that we weren’t paying enough attention, that he was..crazed.” She spat out the last word bitterly, and Felix grimaced. This apology, as well as the realization about what was going on with the boar, was clearly taking its toll on her. “We just scoffed, called you a liar, or a jerk, or a demon. You didn’t deserve that.” Tears filled her eyes as she looked up at him. “If you want to return home and leave us all behind, I won’t blame you.”
Felix stared at the rest of the Lions, completely dumbfounded. His original classmates all wore set, stern expressions on their faces, trying to look detached and strong…was that seriously for his sake? Even the newer recruits who hadn’t questioned leaving, Marianne and Flayn, looked at him with sympathy in their eyes. Felix sighed loudly and rolled his eyes. What was this world coming to?
“Goddess, I had only said I considered it, you fools.” Ingrid seemed to nearly collapse from the shock.
Felix scoffed. “Abhorrent as the boar may be, the Empire is inexcusable. I won’t turn on the entirety of Fodlan just to satisfy my own hatred. And besides,” he coughed, trying to force his voice to sound detached and sarcastic for his last bit. “You all aren’t the boar. I wouldn’t leave you all behind in battle for anything.”
The attempt failed miserably. Almost immediately the mood lifted among the class as a whole. Mercedes and Ashe, once solemn, were now beaming. Dorothea was nodding, all the while biting her lip in thought, while Caspar had ducked his head…poor kid. The rest of the class seemed to bear an even greater solidarity now- that of those prepared to go to war. To fight for each other, and if need be, to-
Wait, that wasn’t right. Felix cleared his throat again, loudly.
“That being said, if any of you have delusions about dying for anyone else or of me dying for you, go ahead and pack up and leave. This isn’t a fight worth dying for.” His classmates’ reactions were somewhat less than ideal: the majority nodded solemnly before immediately beginning to discuss movements, battle strategies, plans, and the like. Caspar and Dorothea, however, retreated quietly. Felix watched them go with equanimity. Both had their reasons to stay or leave, he reasoned. All that mattered now was the fight coming. Only now did a ripple of unease begin to take him, and he looked up to the Archbishop’s quarters, where she was instructing the Professors and house leaders on their conduct for the upcoming war.
“Dimitri…will this fight satisfy you?” He wondered aloud. For years, the boar had raged in his despair of the Tragedy of Duscur. And for years, Felix had tried to find a way to relive him. Now the apparent cause was coming to them, and yet the answer to Dimitri’s rage seemed no more in sight. He scoffed in disgust. Even now, after seeing him, those closest to the boar were probably still considering themselves as fighting for him. Sylvain, Ingrid, Dedue, they were all loyal to a fault when it came to Dimitri. But not Felix.
“I’m not fighting for you anymore, boar prince.” He growled under his breath. “From now on, I’ll fight to protect them. From being used by you.”
Chapter 18: The Crimson Flower Fades
Dorothea and Caspar decide what- or rather, who- they're fighting for as the Empire draws near.
Dorothea and Caspar sat next to each other, out on the bridge branching out from the Cathedral. This was…well, their spot. Dorothea had dragged Caspar here, time and again, to vent her frustrations. First her frustration at Ferdinand, who seemed to be everything wrong about the nobility in Adrestia. Then about Linhardt, who never seemed to quite get her, then Byleth who made a move before she felt comfortable around him, then the knights who spoke ill behind her back, then…
Dorothea shook her head. She really did drag Caspar away here far too often, but it was only because he was the only one who she felt comfortable around. Ferdinand and Linhardt were often the problem, she was there for Bernadetta to vent to, Petra didn’t quite get the things she said, and Edie and Hubert…no. She just wasn’t comfortable talking to them. But Caspar, as thick headed as he could often be, was there for her to vent to, no matter what the subject. He even took her criticisms of Linhardt in stride when she thought she had far overstepped her bounds. Which made this talk just as awkward, now that she thought about it.
“So…” The words lingered in the air, but Dorothea couldn’t bring herself to complete the thought.
Caspar grunted. “So.”
Dorothea dug into her pocket, withdrawing a silver piece. “Penny for your thoughts.”
Caspar merely lifted his hand, pushing the coin away. “Keep it. We’re here to talk anyways, right? It’s what we always do here.” Dorothea nodded, and reclined her head back. They both knew what they needed to talk about, but all of a sudden, words failed her.
“So…Edie.” Caspar nodded painfully, and Dorothea bit her lip. “I didn’t think she’d actually go and start a war, you know?” More nodding, more lip biting. “And now we’re going to have to fight who knows who from the Empire, all because the church can’t muster up enough knights and feel we need to do our part. That’s crazy! That is crazy, right?”
Silence. Caspar was definitely not listening.
“Caspar!” The boy jolted in his spot, scrambling slightly as he teetered at the edge of the bridge.
“Ah! What? Yes, no, what? I dunno.” Dorothea sighed.
“Cas, you’re not yourself. You haven’t been for a while now. Do you need something you need to get off your chest?”
Caspar seemed to retreat back, which Dorothea was at least well versed enough to know that meant he was thinking about something that made him uncomfortable. She hazarded a guess.
The wince spoke volumes. “Uh…maybe…”
Dorothea sighed. “Oh, Caspar, I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for someone so close to you to just leave like that. You must be feeling-“
Caspar cocked his head to one side. “Wha-? Close? Lin and I are friends, sure, but I’ve got lots of them in the Lions, too. Dunno what you mean by that, Dorothea.”
Dorothea felt her mouth gape open for a bit. Caspar wasn’t serious…was he? Everybody at Garreg Mach had seen how close the boys were…intimately so. At the very least she had noticed Linhardt’s overt care given to Caspar and nobody else, the methods of support relegated only for each other. The bond between the two was so inseperable she had been legitimately shocked to see Linhardt leave the monastery after the Emperor’s manifesto. To her it seemed as if Linhardt was truly in lo-
Oh, Goddess, Caspar really was serious, wasn’t he? The boy was truly completely inept at the subtleties of love, and Linhardt was definitely not the type to make things overt like Caspar needed.
“…Bless your heart, Caspar. But if you’re not bothered about Linhardt, then why…?”
Caspar tensed up again. “Uh….it may be Linhardt, a little.” Dorothea allowed herself a smirk. So there was something there, after all. “But it’s also my father. He’s a force of nature on the battlefield, and I’m a fan of having my head on my shoulders, thanks.”
Dorothea nodded again, much more wisely. The head of House Berglietz was known to be fearsome in battle, perhaps the most fearsome in all of Fodlan. Certainly, he was the cause of the end of the wars against Dagda and Brigid, both resulting in violent ends. If he was set out against the church while Caspar was here…well, it was only fit for him to be terrified.
“So you want to go home and check on Linhardt and hide from your father?”
Caspar flinched. “I guess I’m a little bit of a coward, huh?” Dorothea’s blood chilled. Did Caspar really think that being scared of a man like his father made him a coward? Or that wanting to protect Linhardt made him a coward?
“Caspar, wanting to protect the people you love isn’t cowardice. That’s completely human; in fact, it’s generally considered a pretty positive trait.” Caspar blushed. “As for your father…well, he’s one of the toughest men in all of Adrestia, and possibly all of Fodlan. I don’t even know the man and the thought terrifies me.”
Caspar shifted uncomfortably. “Yeah, but…all the Lions out there seem like they’re fearless. Even Ashe seems like he’s willing to fight as hard as he can, and I thought he was one of the more timid guys in the monastery.”
Dorothea pondered the situation along with him. In all honesty, she was sort of taken aback by the Lions’ resolve as well. She knew they were the courageous knightly types, but she had never expected them to be so bold in the face of imminent war. She tried to imagine herself in their place. What could cause someone to be so strong willed in such a terrifying situation? Briefly, her mind flashed to a shaking, sobbing purple-haired girl clinging to her clothes as she claimed to protect her from her own father; to a panicked, surrounded Pegasus and its rider desperately fighting off bandits in a fiery inferno; to the professor, desperately lunging forward at Demonic Beasts, vengeful tears streaking his face.
“Maybe they really are afraid, Cas. But don’t show it because they know…they know what they’re fighting for. And they’ll fight tooth and nail to protect it, no matter what.”
Caspar set his jaw, looking off into the distance. “Know what they’re fighting for, huh.” Dorothea felt like she might have said something wrong, and the feeling worsened as Caspar sank his head into his hands.
“Hey Dorothea?” His voice was muffled and strained.
“What do you fight for? What would you, if you had a choice?”
Dorothea sucked a breath in, images flashing before her in a blurry series.
Bernadetta, timid and scared, but smiling shyly through her tears.
Ingrid, fierce and noble, but strained and broken behind that pride.
Petra, confused and wondering, but exotic and beautiful in all that.
Sylvain, flirtatious and fake, but something ringing true about his smile.
Hubert, scowling and scheming, and yet fervently loyal in all that.
Felix, abrasive and rude, and yet somehow insightful to everyone in that abrasiveness.
Dorothea clutched her head, completely overwhelmed.
Holding out her hand, smiling encouragingly in spite of her status and pride, supporting her as someone who could make a difference in a world dominated by crests and nobility.
Holding her gently, carefully assuring her that she didn’t need to change who she was or rely on her looks to be treasured to him, and that once he’s no longer her teacher, he would love her for who she is, not for what she could offer him.
Some were here, some were not. How could she make a choice between the two It was completely impossible.
“I don’t know, Cas.”
A grunt was her only response. She supposed that wasn’t helpful. The silence stretched out for a long time. Then Caspar snorted and shook his head.
“Man, I don’t know why I’m so hesitant about this. I told Ashe I was gonna fight with the Lions no matter what. I need to stick to my word, dad or no dad.” Dorothea looked over to him, absolutely bewildered. Caspar couldn’t just change face that easily…could he?
“Uh…Cas, you sure?” The brawler let out a hearty laugh.
“You bet! I made a promise, you know I can’t let things like that get me down!”
Dorothea noticed it this time. The falter in his smile, the crack in his voice, his shoulders slightly slump over. Caspar was completely terrified. She tried her best to keep a smile from showing, since it would give away that she knew, but the gesture warmed her heart. He could use some work at putting on a face, but he was trying to keep from showing his fear.
“…you’re sweet, Caspar. You know that?”
And then that blush that she always elicited so easily spread across his face, somewhat ruining the expression.
“Sweet? Me? Nah, Dorothea, you’re the one who said all that cool stuff. You just reminded me of what it means to be out there, you know? I gotta fight along my friends, whether it’s tough or not!”
Almost as if spurred on by his own words, the boy leapt up and dashed off, presumably to yell at Ingrid that he was joining the fight no matter what. Dorothea sighed, placing he head in her hands. If only it was that easy for her.
Presently, she heard a small pattering of footsteps behind her, and the sidling of a body next to hers. She knew who it was, the presence was familiar, but she didn’t take her head out of her hands. She wasn’t sure she wanted to talk to him now, of all times. Still, his voice, soft and tentative around her as always, whispered out.
“You don’t have to fight if you don’t want to.”
Dorothea raised her head, looking into Byleth’s eyes.
“Really?” His eyes remained steady, affirmative. “If I ran away, would you protect me? Would you make sure I was safe from everyone?” A slow, steady nod. She felt her breath catch, and suddenly she had to press further.
“What if I changed sides? Would you strike me down? Or would you take me prisoner, or exile me, or-“ This time he shook his head.
“If I had any choice, I’d let you free. I want you to be safe, Dorothea.” She bent over now, her chest hurting.
“This choice hurts, professor. I don’t want to have to make it.”
“None of us do.” The response was almost silent, barely a whisper, but Dorothea heard it all the same. So even the professor felt ill about this ordeal. The pain in his eyes confirmed it, sympathy and uncertainty pouring from them in frustrated tears. She grasped his hand.
“If you promise me all that…I’ll stay.” The words barely left her mouth before his response came.
“I promise. With all my power, and all the power the Goddess gave me, I swear it.” Dorothea clutched the Professor’s hand tightly, grateful for its warmth. Just for now, her doubts and pain about the coming battle were-
There was the gatekeeper, dashing for Byleth in a mad rush.
“Professor, emergency! Scouts have reported Empire soldiers marching for the Monastery, less than a day away. Seteth is calling for a mobilization of any willing combatants to prepare for the coming defense. We need a record of all students coming to fight.”
Byleth hesitated, turning to look in Dorothea’s eyes. Silently, imperceptibly, she nodded, squeezing his hand. He turned back towards the gatekeeper.
“I’ll need a finalized list from my house leader, and I’ll send it to Seteth personally. Thank you for notifying me.” The Gatekeeper bowed quickly, rushing off once more. Dorothea got up unsteadily, looking out to the Monastery’s entrance.
“So…she’s coming after all, huh?” Byleth nodded silently. Desperately, she reached for his hand again, gripping it for comfort and warmth.
“Are you sure you will protect me?” The words escaped her mouth before she thought, and she already cursed herself for speaking them. It wasn’t fair to the professor for her to pressure him so, and yet him squeezing her hand in return brought her so much natural comfort she couldn’t feel sorry, not truly. Instead, she turned to meet his gaze intensely, trusting him completely. His eyes, equally intense, bore no ill, nor any sense of doubt, only loyalty and sincerity.
Chapter 19: The Empire's Strike
The Blue Lions face down the Empire as the attack on Garreg Mach commences.
The Blue Lions stood in front of the monastery’s gates, defiantly staring off into what was to become a raging battlefield. Off in the distance, the Imperial Army was beginning to form, marching closer to the depressingly small line of defense that was there to protect the students. Felix swore furiously under his breath. Unlike any other fight they’d had during their time at the monastery, this one seemed overpoweringly one-sided. Droves of soldiers marched forth, all confidently strident in their movements. These were soldiers, competent ones, and they far overwhelmed the forces the Knight of Seiros had banded together. He felt a hand grip his, and he looked over to see Annette, trembling and wide eyed as she stared out. Unsure what to do, he simply squeezed and looked back. He couldn’t comfort her, not now; it just wasn’t possible to give out something he was searching for himself.
The students all drew a collective breath as Alois strode out in front of them. The man raised his axe above his head, and bellowed loudly.
“Knights! Teachers! Students and Church workers! We gather here to defend this monastery and those who dwell in it from the Empire’s path of destruction!” A roar emitted from the Knights of Seiros and, after a pause, the church members able to fight. The teachers remaining let out a halfhearted shout of encouragement, while the students were deathly still. “We are outnumbered greatly, but I know our talent is beyond peer. Fight with all you have, and the Goddess will protect us! If we die today, we die like true knights!”
The cheers repeated, but now they fell on numb ears. Felix choked back, gripping his blade tightly.
Damn it, Alois. Why did he have to say those words, of all things? Now all Felix wanted to do was walk off the battlefield, find another way to hone his blade and live another day. He felt himself step back against his own will, until another hand found its way to him, gripping him firmly on his shoulder, spinning him around, stopping him as he came face to face with a pair of furious brown eyes.
“Fe.” The voice was commanding and stern, unlike how Sylvain generally was. He had Felix’s attention. “If you die out there like some true knight, I promise I’ll kill you.”
In spite of himself, Felix smirked. “And how are you going to do that if I’m dead, idiot?” Sylvain’s eyes didn’t soften their glare.
“I’m serious, Fe. Whatever it takes to survive. Kick them, bite them, scream for help if you have to. I’m not losing you to this.” Felix felt his stomach clench a little, and he looked away.
“Only if you promise me you’ll do the same.” This finally earned a laugh of reprieve from the redhead.
“Of course, Fe. You think I’m gonna be some knightly paragon? Me? I didn’t earn my title as Faerghus’ lead degenerate for nothing. And besides, we made a promise, yeah?
...Damn him too, bringing up that promise now of all times.
Suddenly, from across the field, a horn blared. Felix’s stomach clenched again as the Imperial army rushed forward, thankfully splitting themselves up between rows of shops and houses. That form of division would make them much more manageable and could make a key difference, especially since they all had to focus on entry from a specific point. The Knights of Seiros rushed forward first; this had been the plan from the beginning, for them to be the first line of defense.
Seteth soared down from above, his lance piercing the armor of the Imperial soldiers almost effortlessly, then dashing back, unreachable in the sky once again. Gilbert and Alois practically carved their own path among the enemy soldiers, basically shrugging off swords and lances aiming for them. Meanwhile, Catherine and Shamir were an unstoppable team; Catherine swinging Thunderbrand in an unstoppable whirlwind of force that caused the demise of any nearby soldier, while arrows darting from the shadows that dropped soldiers wordlessly onto the ground was the only visual sign of Shamir’s contribution. Felix clicked his tongue. He still wish he knew the Sniper’s true origins, but Shamir was, she truly was impressive.
Suddenly, the Imperial soldiers seemed to surge, forming a second wind. Byleth, standing solemnly in front of the students, raised his hand for the signal. Felix gripped his own blade. Now was the time for the Lions themselves to enter the fray. Curious of the other students’ trepidation, he looked down the line.
Not a single face betrayed any fear or worry. In front of him, beside him, and behind were faces made of stone, completely calm and prepared for the fight ahead. It was almost impressive if he didn’t already know that half of them were nearly wetting their pants as they walked into formation. Byleth closed his hand, swinging his arm down in a directing path, straight to the center of the fray. Felix didn’t hesitate, and neither did any of his classmates. As one, they surged onto the field, fighting side by side with the knights.
It was complete and utter chaos.
Felix ducked and wove through soldiers locked in combat, his blade tearing at any Imperial uniform he could find. By his side, he heard Ingrid shout defiantly as she joined Seteth in the sky, closely followed by Sylvain and Ashe, who had recently joined their ranks as a Wyvern Rider. Beside him, Dimitri was breaking forward at a pace even faster than his own, and he scoffed, letting the boar forward. He wouldn’t listen if he told him to fall back, anyways.
“Felix!” The voice came from above, and he looked to see Ashe, who was both trying to direct him and aim his bow at an incoming Pegasus knight at the same time. Surprisingly, he was doing an actually fair job of it. “Catherine and Shamir need more support on our right flank! The enemy summoned another Demonic Beast, as well as enemy snipers!”
Felix cursed under his breath and lunged to the side, making a break in the direction Ashe had pointed out to him. Again, he heard a scream of rage, and turned to see Annette and Mercedes, back to back, fire and wind blasting from their hands. Annette in particular was throwing out spells like mad, furiously hovering over Gilbert, who seemed a bit singed but otherwise well. Felix winced. He must have taken the bad end of a mage’s spell, which caused Annette to snap.
He made his way to the right flank, and almost immediately threw himself to the side. When he imagined Demonic Beasts, his idea was slow, raging hulks that towered over him and rampaged in dumb instinct. The bird in front of him seemed neither dumb nor slow. Its wings beat powerful blasts of air that tore at his skin, easily deflecting the arrows Shamir was directing at it.
“This is…huff…ridiculous…huff…” Shamir panted. “How am I supposed to aim at something like this?” Catherine seemed likewise frustrated; her efforts comprised of her lunging consistently at the beast, then just as consistently being blown backwards until she was right where she had started. It was almost entertaining to watch if it wasn’t for their lives being on the line.
“How did this thing even get here?” He managed to shout over the raging storm.
Shamir snarled. “Catherine beat Hubert into next week, but he got away. Next thing we know this thing is flying overhead with a half dozen Snipers. They’re down for the count, but this thing is stubborn.”
She nocked several more arrows, all at once, and fired them in arcs that would all have pierced the beast had it not flapped its wings in an outward arc, knocking them back into the wind. Felix shook his head, ignoring the unfortunate loss of arrows, and decided to focus on something else instead. Holding out his hand, he closed his eyes and tried to focus on the unfortunately few magic classes he had shared with Dorothea and Annette.
“Just hold your hand out and feel it, Felix.” Annette giggled. “Come on, you could at least summon a little gust of wind.”
“I’m not so sure wind is his type.” Dorothea teased. “You seem like more of a ‘blood and thunder’ sort of guy.”
He felt a crackle, and the hair on his neck stand on end. The bird paused, for just a moment, perhaps realizing what was about to happen.
Then a giant strike of lightning shot up, stunning the beast for just a moment. Thankfully, a moment was all Shamir needed.
Flurries of arrows soared into the sky, embedding themselves in the beast’s flesh. The bird cried out blindly in pain, and for half a moment Felix almost felt sorry for it, before remembering what exactly that thing was. It was for the best that this thing was put out of its misery immediately.
No sooner had that thought entered his mind than Catherine lunged forward, cleaving the monster in two with Thunderbrand. It vanished in a cloud of dust, leaving behind only the body of an Imperial soldier.
As soon as the beast vanished, the church’s army broke through on the right flank. Felix felt his blood rush, and surged forward as well. If they were close to the enemy’s side of the field, this could be a big breakthrough for them.
Alas, the group was still a ways off from where Edelgard watched the war unfold. Instead, they were in the center of the field, where a woman riding atop a wyvern- an Imperial general by the name of Ladislava, Felix remembered- and a warrior that he recognized as a Berglietz descendant by the name of Randolph were leading a new assault. Fortunately, a wave of Lions were there to head them off as well. Sylvain was battling Ladislava in the sky, fearlessly fighting and flirting with her in a fluid series of movements. Felix could tell the woman was getting increasingly frustrated, though whether it was as a result of Sylvain’s words or battle prowess he couldn’t tell.
Meanwhile, Alois was handling the majority of the ground soldiers, gauntlets flashing as he effortlessly slammed knights and wizards alike into the ground without taking a second for pause. This left Randolph alone with Caspar, the two of them almost gleefully lashing out at each other with sharpened axes.
It was almost like the world’s deadliest family reunion.
Felix decided to join the fray, taking pressure off Alois while Caspar ironed out his family issues. He didn’t particularly worry about Sylvain: though he was acting chipper, the glint in his eyes warned Felix he had a nasty plan incoming. In seconds, the ground soldiers were taken care of; as Felix dispatched the last one, he heard a cry from the air as Ladislava clutched her stomach in disbelief. A dagger was embedded in it, with Sylvain’s outstretched arm signaling him as the culprit.
“What?” Felix heard the redhead shout. “In Faerghus, a dagger’s supposed to be a gift of parting, you know? Can’t let a pretty lady like you off without a present.”
Ladislava seemed too in pain to be disgusted by the nobleman, electing instead to retreat back behind the front lines. She swept down low, picking up a similarly bloody Randolph before she set off. Caspar was left very frustrated, and he shouted as Felix approached.
“Damn it! I hate leaving a fight unfinished. Come on, Felix, we gotta chase Randolph back to-“
Again, a voice from above signaled Felix, and he looked up to see Ingrid sweeping down, completely ashen-faced. Oh no.
“Ingrid? What’s the matter?”
The girl coughed, fighting to catch her breath.
“It’s the professor. He was in a fit. He convinced Manuela to warp him-“ She fell susceptible to another fit of coughing. Felix felt his blood run cold.
“Warp him where?”
“Behind enemy lines,” she responded with frustration. “Felix, he’s going to try and take on Edelgard and her personal guard all by himself.”