꧁ ⋅ Prologue ⋅ ꧂
✦ ⋅ Flames of Rebirth ⋅ ✦
The adrenaline was pulsing through Jeralt’s veins and he hadn’t even begun yet, but it made his usually sturdy hands shake. He clenched them, willing them to stop with his resolve. He had paced back and forth in his personal quarters for the past few days, in fact, he would’ve been impressed that he hadn’t made a dent in the floor with all of his anxious wanderings if he wasn’t preoccupied with something else entirely. He stopped at his desk where the bassinet lay, oddly quiet and unmoving. Sorrow washed over him, freezing him to the core and forcefully reminding him of the events that had transpired recently. He didn’t know how much time had passed since her death, it had become a confusing blur of mourning and apologies, of prayers and condolences. It hadn't even really settled in, the reality of her death. He kept expecting her to come back at some point.
But she wouldn't. She was gone, and all that was left were the two lives she gave up living for. They never cried, which was concerning for many reasons.
"They're fine," he was told. "They're two healthy infants, but the fact they don't cry is… abnormal. They'll probably grow out of it." Then, the most puzzling thing he had learned that also made him lose every bit of sleep and had made the doctor go uneasy.
"They have no heartbeat. They're healthy and have a pulse, that much is certain. But I can't find a heartbeat."
No heartbeat. And yet they both stared back at him quietly with eyes all too knowing.
The silence of the two infants wasn't what worried Jeralt the most though. No, what he feared most was how Rhea watched him now. He had been suspicious, how could she have died when by all measures she was set to recover quickly? It made no sense. He felt as if Rhea's empty eyes were following him everywhere he went, and he kept expecting her to come around every corner. It kept him from sleeping, as he feared that if he looked away for even a moment, they'd both be gone. Just like her.
Enough was enough. He knew what he had to do, and just prayed that all three of them would make it out alive.
Jerlat let out a sigh of frustration before looking back at the two. "If we get out of this," he promised. "I'll name you both and you'll never see this place again."
They didn't respond, obviously. But the way they looked at him, it was as if they knew exactly what was going to happen.
"For the four of us," Jeralt muttered, using a knife to cut off a piece of his hair and throw it into the pile.
Then there was a spark of orange, and the smell of putrid smoke filled the room.
꧁ ⋅ ✦ ⋅ ꧂
Garreg Mach was quiet at night, almost completely silent as Seteth walked up the stairs to the second floor of the monastery. His footsteps echoed against the dull stone as he slowly ascended, tracing his fingers along the cold walls. The monastery had always been quiet, ever since he had been summoned by Rhea to be her most trusted advisor, but in the past few days, it had become more like a tomb. Quiet and somber, the rain had refused to stop falling like the goddess herself was crying over the tragic death that shook the Church of Seiros to its core. Seeing Jeralt, of all people, cry over the death of his beloved wife reminded Seteth that even the strongest humans had their weaknesses.
It had brought back devastating memories for him, as he had lost his wife as well.
The second-in-command to the Archbishop stopped at the landing to the second floor, something halting him in his tracks. Originally, he had planned to find the Archbishop and ask her what had happened to the woman and the twins. She was the only one in the infirmary right before her death. No cries that split into the night alerted the Knights of Seiros, only Rhea’s calm but heartbroken tone had informed them what had happened.
As he turned to walk toward the Archbishop’s chambers, he recoiled. A foul stench suddenly hit him in the face, making him gag and reflexively cover his nose and mouth. It was putrid, causing him to choke on the nauseating smell of burning hair and smoldering meat. Then he saw the smoke wafting from under one of the doors down the hall. The door to Jeralt’s room.
“Oh hell-!” He yelled and ran for Jeralt’s room. “JERALT!”
He pulled on the door handle, but immediately let go and let out another curse as the skin on his palms burned red. The metal was scalding hot, too dangerous to touch with bare hands. Suddenly the shrill sounds of the warning bells rang out throughout the monastery, and Seteth could hear guards shouting and people screaming. He choked on the smoke, coughing it out and covering his nose with his sleeve.
“Seteth, move!” A guard sprinted down the hall at full speed, reaching for the door handle. Thankfully, the guards were equipped with gauntlets that protected their hands, which would hopefully shield them against the heat.
But the guard pulled on the handle, and the door didn’t budge. He pulled again with as much strength as he could muster. Nothing. “It-It’s stuck!” He cried.
“What do you mean it’s stuck?!”
“There’s something holding the door shut! It won’t budge!”
Seteth turned to the door. “Jeralt! Jeralt, say something!”
Nothing but the growing roar of the flames and the smell of smoke responded to his call of desperation.
“Out of the way, let me!” From down the hall came the knight Alois, doing his best to maintain composure. Without hesitating, he pulled out his axe and swung it into the door. The wood made a crack at the force, again and again, each hit chipping the door away more and more.
“By the goddess…!”
Seteth turned to see Rhea briskly walking towards them. She was dressed in her usual robes, the white of it untainted and the dark blue cape and shawl the color of a cloudless night. Her long, seafoam colored hair was adorned with the holy headdress, the gold glinting the small amount of light that the hallway granted. The flowers in her hair were weaved in perfectly despite the dire situation. It was clear she had not yet retired to bed when the flames had started and the bells started ringing their deafening song of warnings and destruction.
Yet, despite her flawless appearance, the wide-eyed, rage-filled look she had terrified Seteth to the core. He hadn’t seen that expression of hers in a very long time.
“Stay back, Archbishop!” Seteth yelled.
Alois struck the axe down, and there was a deafening snap of metal and wood. The doors swung open, pieces of what appeared to be an iron lance skidded across the floor, and the group was faced with what looked like the Eternal Flames themselves. The entire room was engulfed in fire, leaving nothing in its wake. They burned with fury, eating away at everything in the room with a gluttonous passion, all the way up to the ceiling.
The sickening smell of burning flesh caused the entire group to recoil in disgust. Most of the guards visibly gagged and choked. And there, in the center of the room, was a figure lying in a heap on the floor.
“JERALT!” Alois tried to rush into the room.
Seteth put his arm in front of Alois. “Don’t get yourself killed!”
"We can't do anything for him now!"
“The children-!” Rhea shrieked, her fingers clawed towards it in hysteria. “Seteth, the bassinet!”
Through the flames, he could make out the shape of the desk, and the burning cradle sitting on top of it. The flames were slowly devouring at the wood around it, surrounding it in a hellish light. Seteth hesitated for almost a moment, he could be killed by the flames. But he then furrowed his brow in resolve, knowing Jeralt would do the same for his child if she was in that situation. He made a quick prayer to the goddess and jumped into the room as swiftly as he could.
“Seteth, don’t!” A guard cried.
Rhea turned on them. “Bring as much water as you can grab! Go now!” She ordered.
Seteth’s eyes burned as it was assaulted with smoke. He wheezed violently as he blindly made his way to the desk. But then the scent hit him again, that disgusting odor of death and embers.
Right as he reached for the cradle, there was a crack .
Before he could even process where the sound came from, he felt Alois grab at the back of his shirt and yanked him backward. Before he could yell out in surprise, a large beam used to hold the ceiling up came crashing down, collapsing under its weakened state and completely crushing what remained of the desk and cradle with a thundering boom .
Seteth screamed, “NO!”
Rhea let out a wail of absolute horror.
“We need to get out of here!” Alois rasped, pulling Seteth out of the room and coughing violently. “Let’s move!”
The three of them had no choice but to run as guards and other servants moved to carry buckets and pitchers of water. Anything that could hold liquid was used as people desperately tried to put out the flames.
The entire monastery was in absolute chaos as Seteth ran through it. People were screaming, shouting to retrieve water, animals were howling and shrieking at the commotion. He looked back only once, and to his horror, he saw that smoke was billowing out of the windows and seemingly reaching the heavens.
The moment they reached the courtyard, Rhea fell to her knees, unable to move. She was shaking violently.
“Archbishop!” Alois cried. “Are you alright?!” He looked back at the tower, eyes wide with panic as he looked to both Rhea and Seteth, “Stay right here, I need to get everyone out!” Alois ran back into the chaos, shoving past anyone who got in his way like a man obsessed.
Seteth panting, gasping for air, but then bolted up and looked around in a panic, “Where’s Flayn?!”
He stood up, scanning the chaos and screaming her name. People were shoving past one another, all a blur of various sizes and colors that made his head spin. But out of all of them, he saw a flash of emerald green hair frantically weaving through the crowd looking for a certain someone amidst the melting insanity that was starting to make Seteth’s head hurt, a mix of loud noises, sensory overload, and smoke inhalation had made him feel lightheaded.
He had opened his arms as she came into contact with him, hugging her tightly as he dizzily fell to his knees.
“Are you alright?! Your hands-!”
He hadn’t even noticed that both of his hands were seared red, aching and numb.
“They’re dead… they’re all dead,” He barely managed to mumble, “But… I’m so glad you’re alright, Flayn.”
“They’re both dead. We couldn’t save the twins-!” Rhea echoed, seemingly forgetting Jeralt entirely for the moment. She covered her mouth and screamed into her hands a horrible sob, “I failed you-!”
“Archbishop, are you also hurt..?” Flayn held her father close, slowly beginning to heal him with magic.
Rhea looked to Seteth, ignoring Flayn completely, “... Who did this?”
He froze, his chest tightening, “What are you talking about?”
Rhea’s eyes glowed in the light of the fire as she slowly lowered her hands, “This… this was no accident. This was murder! Who did this?!”
“I don’t know!” Seteth grimaced, “But we will find them, Rhea. We cannot allow whoever did this to get away with this.”
Rhea rose to her feet, staring down at him with eyes that burned like two raging green flames. “Whoever did this has defiled this holy monastery and has dishonored the goddess. I will never forget this crime they have committed against the Church of Seiros, even after they burn in the eternal flames and break their bones as they bow to give futile prayers for the goddess to grant them forgiveness.”
A sickening chill went through Seteth as she spoke those hateful words. It was truly terrifying to see a saint ready to spill the blood of those she deemed unworthy of the life given to them by the goddess.
꧁ ⋅ ✦ ⋅ ꧂
In the ensuing chaos of the fire, no one took notice when one of the carts left the stables of the monastery. No one noticed one of the horses being pulled away, and no one stopped it as it drove off. The bigger concern was, of course, on preserving the monastery and getting out as many survivors as humanly possible without risking the knights’ lives as well.
The cart drove for the better half of an hour, and only did it stop when Garreg Mach was little more than a small figure on the horizon. Even from this distance, Jeralt could see the smoke rising to touch the skies. He came to a stop, and only then did he let out a sigh of relief. The plan had worked. He only hoped that by the time anyone had pieced together that the body Jeralt had left was not his, he hoped to be far enough away that it didn’t matter.
Carefully, Jeralt pulled up a basket that was used for carrying armor and undid the latch. Safely inside, sleeping soundly and completely oblivious of the entire journey, were his children.
“To be honest, I’m not too surprised you two slept through that whole ordeal.” He let out a relieved sigh. “But I should be grateful. If you started crying, we could’ve all been dead.” One of them opened its eyes to look at the world while the other slept peacefully.
“We made it,” Jeralt reached a hand to the infant, gently touching the side of its face. “We’re safe now.”
The infant waved its tiny hand, grasping at Jeralt’s finger. In that moment, he felt as if his heart just died in his chest. He wished that she was here, as he had no idea as to what he was supposed to do now.
“Guess we’ll figure it out,” Jeralt muttered. “But first things first, I have a promise to keep. You two need names…”
He had put off naming them for a few days now, as he didn’t want to get attached if they all died. She had a few names picked out, and he went through each one they had debated over.
“You’re Byleth,” He looked to the sleeping one. “It’s what she wanted to name you if you were a girl. But because there’s two of you now…” He thought again and looked at the other one. “As for you… I had a different name in mind if you were a boy. Your name will be… Byriel.”
He nodded. “Byleth and Byriel Eisner. Sounds good to me.”
The one infant that was awake made a babbling sound.
“Glad we agree.”