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To War

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White Clouds

Student Dormitories

Lone Moon

Year 1180

Raine found Petra sitting on the staircase outside of her dorm, and she was both surprised, and relieved, to have found her student so easily when she had decided to go searching for her. In the aftermath of what had happened inside of the Holy Tomb, there was disarray everywhere inside of the monastery, and the students of the Black Eagle house were feeling the worst of it. Already had come the suspicion and fear after Edelgard's surprise assault and her attempt to rob the tomb of the crest stones that were buried there, and though she had been thwarted and chased away rather handily... It did not change the fact that she had returned to the Empire, had been crowned Emperor, and was now gathering her forces and those loyal to her for an all-out war on Garreg Mach, and perhaps the entirety of Fódlan itself.

Petra did not notice her professor's approach, and instead simply continued to gaze down at the open letter that she had been reading. Her eyes were still however, as if she had already read it over several times and was now ruminating on the contents, and Raine paused as she wondered if now was the appropriate time to interrupt. Already she had heard Manuela speaking to her students, urging them to look into their hearts and find the answer to what they wished to do there rather than blindly heed the orders of their former house leader, but Raine wasn't entirely sure if that speech had been convincing. It wasn't loyalty to Edelgard that would drive them to return to the Empire if they were called home. It would be loyalty to their country. To their friends and family. And that, at least, Raine could painfully understand even if she wished that circumstances could be different.

How had she missed something so painfully obvious? As she looked back on the past year, on Dimitri's behaviour, on Warin's cold observations, it seemed to have been clearly staring her in the face since the very beginning. Yet still she felt surprise, dull and painful, that the foe she had been chasing after had been closer than she ever could imagine. Edelgard was the Flame Emperor. Edelgard had been fighting alongside those who had killed her father, and those responsible for the Tragedy of Duscur and Remire. Dimitri's rage and bloodlust had scared her, and yet she had also understood it when he had snapped into a roar of laughter before claiming he would have her head, and she didn't doubt he would pledge every last ounce of life he had to ending his step-sister before this was all over.

If she had had longer to process, perhaps her reaction would have been the same. Warin's certainly had been a violent one, and she hadn't been surprised to hear her brother hiss that he should have killed her long ago if this is where she had been planning to go from the very beginning. And to her surprise, Edelgard had looked at him with such hatred that she had almost felt it like a physical blow. When had the white-haired heir apparent grown such ferocious emotion towards her brother? What had happened between them to make her hate, and possibly fear, him so much? They were questions that had been swirling helplessly in her head, and more than ever she mourned the loss of Sothis and her wisdom. She wanted help, wanted advice, but she had nowhere really to turn as Rhea had summoned the knights to begin fortifying their defences, and the teachers were left to their own devices now to rally the students for a battle they had no place participating in. Warin had left with them voluntarily, as there had been nothing else he could do, and to say she felt painfully alone was a grand understatement.

"Professor." Petra's voice snapped her from her dark thoughts, and she realized with both surprise and shame that she had been standing there in silence for perhaps a little too long. The young princess from Brigid however did not look at all surprised by her appearance, and she set the letter down in her lap as she turned herself slightly in her direction to face her head-on. Her reddish brown eyes were calm despite the chaos about her, and her hands rested lightly upon the letter in her lap before she spoke calmly to her teacher's questioning look, "This... is a letter Edelgard has been sending. It is... a request for the Empire and Brigid to be... friends."

"I see. I heard that she had sent out several letters to her allies, requesting their aid. It makes sense she would reach out to you, as well." Raine forced her voice to remain calm despite the momentary pulse of panic that filled her veins at her student's calm and matter-of-fact way of speaking. She didn't want to think of it, turning her blade on her own student because of something as foolish as politics, but she was sharply aware that was simply the worldview of a mercenary and now a professor. To Petra, it would never be foolish to cede to political wisdom over her emotions. That was her duty as a princess, and as the future ruler of Brigid. And with her country in such a precarious state with the Empire... Raine fought down a reflexive shiver even as her blood began to heat with anger once again. 'When I get my hands on her throat... I swear, I'll kill her before Dimitri ever gets a chance to...'

"Yes. She has been reaching out... but I have decided I will not be being friends with the Empire. Brigid will not go to war with Edelgard." Petra's voice remained calm, but her eyes narrowed as her hands clenched into fists to crumple the fragile parchment she had been holding. Her jaw tensed, and a flash of anger crossed her face as she shook her head and continued with a deep breath that failed completely to steady her, "I... am no longer of the Black Eagles. I am a Blue Lion. But I am also a friend to you, Professor. That friendship... is more important than friendship with the Empire. Brigid will be needing me, and Edelgard will not be taking kindly to my refusing, but... That is not of matter to me. I am to stay here, and to fight with you and my friends. That will be my reply."

"Petra... Are you certain that's wise?" Raine hated herself for questioning her student, especially when it brought her such relief to hear that Petra was so sternly denying any thoughts of allying herself with her former house leader, and possible classmates. She was well aware Petra's position in Garreg Mach was not one she had taken willingly, especially when she had become a hostage of the Empire to have control over Brigid in the first place. It had been those exact circumstances that had made Raine want to reach out to her in the first place by asking for her assistance in their missions so many moons ago, and to have her as a student now, and fully away from such influences... But that still did not change reality. "Brigid is at the Empire's mercy... Your enrolment here was further proof of that. Your country could suffer if you choose this path."

"We suffer already. And this... What Edelgard wishes... will only cause more suffering. Brigid will not take part in such things. I will not, either." Petra reiterated firmly, and she pushed herself easily to her feet before taking the letter into her hands and ripping it into two. Her eyes blazed as she locked gazes with her startled teacher, and her left hand crumpled the shreds of parchment still further as she continued fiercely, "It is the time of fighting now. I will be here, with my classmates, with my friends, until the ending of the fighting. With you, Professor. This is the action I have chosen for myself. And for Brigid."

"If that's what you've decided... I guess I can't stop you." Raine let out a breath, but there was no stopping the small smile that curled the corners of her mouth, or the smarting pain that had begun in the corners of her eyes. She hadn't known what to expect from her recruit, had been steeling herself for a refusal for aid, but this pledge of loyalty both touched her and broke her somewhere deep within. She was putting her life, the lives of her countrymen, on the line for her loyalty to the Blue Lions and Garreg Mach. It was not a move that she could see as wise, even if she appreciated it from the depths of her being, and it only made her eyes hurt all the more with tears of gratitude and pain and shame.

"Professor... I am having a question. Or... Er... I would be asking of a favour?" Petra paused as she stumbled over her words, and she pulled a face as she realized her error and made a quick attempt to try and correct it. Raine watched her calmly and without judgement, something that made her offer an awkward smile, and she was glad of her silent way of allowing her a moment or two to try and puzzle it out for herself before she would offer suggestions. She had found it a great way to learn without harming her pride or feeling as if she was failing in her learning of the language, and when Raine nodded her head in acceptance, Petra quickly continued, "I would be speaking to my former classmates, if I could be being allowed? I am of the understanding they have also had letters... I do not want them being friends with Edelgard. I am understanding it is their choice, but... I want to be stopping them. I do not want to hurt my friends in battle, even if we are classmates no longer. But..."

"You'd like me to come to try and convince them to stay here? I can do that, but... I can't promise my words will have any meaning to them." Raine agreed without any hesitation, and seeing the immediate relief on Petra's face only made her smile in a comforting fashion. She understood where Petra was coming from. She had spent the majority of the year with the Blue Lions now, and had left the Black Eagles far behind now in terms of time. But they were still the comrades she had begun her learning with, and she cared for them even if she had left their house to join another. Her concern was valid, and Raine was not about to say otherwise. However... and she added with a wry sort of sigh, "I can't promise I'll be much help, Petra, but I will do my best to speak to them, too. I do know Professor Manuela already spoke with them."

"You are not Professor Manuela. You are Professor Raine. Your words are different." Petra replied simply, and Raine looked at her in sharp confusion, which only made the princess of Brigid smile. She understood why she was incapable of understanding the difference, but it did not matter. Being a student of the Blue Lions after being in the house of the Black Eagles had taught her much of the differences between the two. In her time with Edelgard, it had been clear who was the leader, and what was expected of them all as classmates... or as underlings. That had not been the environment she had experienced underneath Raine. There, they were all equals, and did not see nobility, race, or anything else as a barrier. The only person they obeyed was their professor, and even then, she had always been open to their wants, their decisions, and their choices. Had she not told them expressly in the Battle of the Eagle and Lion that they were soldiers now, and they could choose how to fight without her direction? She trusted them. They all knew it and felt it. "They will listen if you speak, Professor. I have belief in that."

"I... don't know where you get your confidence, but if that's what you think, then all right. Where do you want to go? Who should we speak to first?"

"Dorothea, or Bernie. They will listen most intently." Petra's answer was immediate, and seeing that her professor was more than willing to follow along, she set off in the direction of their rooms without missing a beat. She was glad that Raine was so supportive, even if it was clear she was hesitant to involve herself in the politics of the other house. She was not their professor, and it was obvious that she felt she was overstepping boundaries... but boundaries had already been broken. The rules no longer applied to them, not to the students, or to the professors. War was coming, and it took all rules from the table without preamble or care. Action was needed. Immediate and surgical. Petra had lived through war already, and understood that intimately. It was what made her so at ease as she walked along the dorms with Raine following her closely behind.

Raine watched as Petra walked with complete and utter confidence to Bernadetta's dorm, and she knocked twice on the closed door without any hesitation. She still admitted she wasn't sure that this was wise to do, but if Petra insisted on it, then she couldn't just sit by and watch her try to do this by herself. She had made a promise to do all she could for her students, and even if Petra had been a former Imperial ally, she would always abide by her word. She watched at a respectful distance as the two conversed through the door for a moment or two, then blinked in surprise as it swung open.

Bernadetta burst from her dorm and almost immediately into Petra's arms, and Petra smiled as she took the plum-haired archer into a gentle, and comforting hug. The two held one another for almost a solid minute before Bernadetta drew away, her face pinking awkwardly, and then she caught sight of Raine standing below and watching them with surprise. Quickly her relieved expression turned into one of anxious embarrassment, and she almost left a vapour trail in her haste to flee back into her room. Only Petra's amazing reflexes stopped her from slamming the heavy door behind her, and Petra offered her professor an awkward smile as she called for her friend almost in a scolding tone of voice, "Bernie, do not be acting like prey. Professor is here to help. She is worried, as I am. You said we could talk, did you not?"

"Y-Yes, but... But...! Oh, all right...! But it has to be inside! Inside! So stop keeping the door open!" Bernadetta's voice was tight and almost squeaky, and Petra again offered Raine an apologetic grin before following the archer's orders and ducking into her dorm as quickly as she could allow. Raine didn't waste time wondering about how utterly ridiculous this all was and instead followed her lead, and she was mindful to shut the door behind her as she entered the archer's room to find her cowering in the corner, holding a pillow in front of her like a shield as she looked to her friend, and then to her rival house's professor with large, worried eyes. As soon as she was certain the door was shut, and Petra had taken a seat on the edge of her bed closest to her, Bernadetta burst out without warning as she looked straight at Raine, "Yes, I got a letter! Everyone here did, I'm sure of it! Even Professor Manuela got one!"

"I... I, er... Bernadetta, I didn't come here to interrogate you about the letters..." Raine began hesitantly, and she looked to Petra who could only shrug her shoulders at her friend's immediate attempts to defend herself and explain the situation without even begin asked why she was there in the first place. She had heard Professor Manuela had received a letter of invitation as well, but to her knowledge, the spirited former opera singer had burnt it to a crisp in front of her class before announcing sharply that she'd sooner stand alone against the Empire, Kingdom, and the Alliance armies before she ever left Garreg Mach undefended. It had been quite a grand statement, and a very theatrical one, but Raine really couldn't say she expected anything less from her colleague. It was just her way. "I mean, I understand that you all received them, but that isn't what I really care about..."

Bernadetta's face changed through several emotions rapidly, with distrust, concern, fear passing most frequently, but it ended with her eyeing Raine rather suspiciously over the edges of her frilly pillow. She hugged it tighter, glancing from Petra's easy and familiar smile and then to Raine's confused, but still earnest-looking expression as she wondered what it really was that had brought them there if she knew about the letters. Her voice was sharp, and she couldn't quite help it as she asked, "So, what is it that you want, then?"

"What I want...?" Raine hesitated, and she again looked to Petra as she tried to decide how best it was to answer such a question. She hadn't exactly thought about it in such terms. Why did her wants matter? War was coming, no matter how she felt about it, and there was no changing that. She had come for Petra, or at least, she had thought she did, and yet Bernadetta was now demanding to know what it was she wanted of all things? It made her pause, and she looked around the room as if she could find answers to her question there.

The archer's room wasn't sparse. It was full of plush sewing works of plants and flowers, and hanging from the ceiling was a plant of some kind that Raine hadn't ever seen before. Her desk was full of books of similar nature, with one or two about riding horses and improving lancing, but what caught Raine's eye most was the vase of flowers that had been set apart and clearly placed with great care on her bookshelf. She remembered those flowers. She had picked them out herself to send on to Bernadetta for her birthday. They should have withered, and likely had, and yet Bernadetta had replaced them with a mirror-like bouquet anyway. The thought made her chest tight, and she abruptly found her answer as she shook her head and looked back to the archer seated in the corner, "I want you to make a decision that you want to make. One that you'll be happy with, and won't regret. That's all."

Whatever Bernadetta had expected to hear, it was obvious that Raine's answer was not it, and her arms lowered as she looked up at the seafoam-haired professor with widened eyes. She glanced once to Petra, who was silent and observing them both carefully, and then back to the woman in front of her who was no longer making eye-contact with her. Her gaze had again returned to the student's desk, and it only took Bernadetta a moment for her to realize she was staring at the bouquet she had been taking great care to manage and replace since she had received it on her birthday. The thought made her lower her guard, and she repeated her words quietly, "A decision I want to make...?"

"I don't know how you feel about this entire... mess. I can't call it anything more polite. I know that you and Edelgard were friends, and I know the Empire is your home. If you wish to go back, to fight, then that's a choice I'll respect. Petra doesn't want you to do that, because it will mean one day that you two might be enemies, and I understand that feeling. You and I are different, as we're not exactly close, but... I feel the same way. I don't want to be fighting you, either." Raine felt her words pouring out of her in a long, tired breath, and she felt her shoulders sag as she reached unconsciously for the chair at Bernadetta's desk to steady herself. The weight on her shoulders seemed to be growing by the day. She was beginning to have trouble holding up underneath it. Still, she felt the need to soldier on as she felt both of the young women's eyes on her, and so she continued firmly, "You're a kindhearted young woman, Bernadetta. I still remember that day when you came to lay flowers on my father's grave. If I can avoid fighting you, I'll do anything to do it. But more than that... I just want to know that if you're going to make a choice to go to Edelgard's side that it's a choice you made in full confidence. That you wanted to do it, not that you felt like you had no other choice."

Bernadetta sat in silence for a long moment, her brow furrowed as she allowed Raine's words to sink in and to feel the weight of their meaning. Ever since word had spread of what Edelgard had done in the Holy Tomb, it had felt like she was in a blind panic. Then to receive that missive, personally for her eyes only... She hadn't known what to feel, or what to do. If the monastery was in a state of chaos, then she most certainly was in the same way. Professor Manuela's show of bravado and confidence hadn't done her any good. She simply was not like her professor, and now, to be approached with the concern of her own desires being paramount... It made her take pause, and forced her to try and think.

"My father... is a horrible man. I'm terrified of him. The things he did to make me into a "marriageable" woman... It's why I'm so scared of everything, and everybody." Bernadetta felt the words escaping her lips before she could think better of it, and she wasn't entirely sure why they were coming. Few knew the truth, the whole truth, and the two sitting inside of her room were not among that number. Only Dorothea really knew why she was the way she was, and she was so happy to have found a friend who understood, and who cared for her so ferociously. But something about what Raine had said had compelled her to speak, and she did so without reservation now as she wondered why it was, "Edelgard had him placed under house arrest. I can't say I feel bad about it. My mother supports her, though, so my house is likely safe enough from all of this in terms of politics. At least, that's what Edelgard said in her letter. I think she expects all of us to come back to the Empire. To help her. And to be honest... The thought of saying no didn't enter my head until now. Is that strange?"

"No. You are a Black Eagle. You are from the Empire. You returning home, even if it means participating in a war... It isn't anything unnatural. It's what you've been trained to do." Raine hated the way the words tasted in her mouth, but she knew the truth of them, and forced herself to speak them. The academy was not only about politics, but also warfare, and she had learned that lesson hard in her first few moons. It did not matter what country the students hailed from. All of them were drilled in both politics and warfare, and were expected to be able to kill as well as they could debate once it was time for them to leave and return to their duties in their own territories. "If you want to return to the Empire... Then I think you should."

"I don't know what it is I want. I didn't want to come here, but I was brought here anyway. I didn't want to marry, but Father forced me through all of his training because he said it was best, and I didn't have a choice. I don't think anyone's ever asked me what I wanted before." Bernadetta admitted with a hallow sort of laugh, and she drew her knees to her chest as she looked up to the ceiling with confusion and hesitation written all over her face. It was difficult to think of. How could she make a choice? Was there really a choice to be made? She had idolized Edelgard, but these actions... Could she go forward as her ally, knowing that the young woman she had looked up to as her hero had made such horrendous choices that led to deaths in Remire, in the monastery, and had almost led to deaths of people she considered friends?

"Caspar, wait a second, you can't just barge in like-"

The voice of Dorothea worriedly exclaiming outside was the only warning the trio of women inside the dorm had before the doors were being kicked open and nearly clean off of their strong hinges, and Bernadetta squealed in terror as she leapt clear from the floor and to the bed in a matter of seconds to get behind Petra for a better defensive position. Both Petra and Raine were on their feet almost immediately after, one hand reaching for a sword and another for an axe before an irate Caspar stormed in, his bright blue eyes alight with wrath as a face-palming Dorothea stood outside with a look of abject embarrassment all over her face.

Ignoring everything but what was in front of him, Caspar glared around the room to find Bernadetta hiding behind Petra, and his eyes narrowed almost even further at the sight of her and the professor of the Blue Lions in her dwellings. His hands were balled into tight fists, and though he was unarmed, Raine had seen him fight enough on the battlefield to know that the young man did not need his gauntlets or his axe to cause real damage if he wished to. He had almost knocked the door down with one kick, which was impressive enough on its own, and he was well aware of what kind of threat he looked as he stood at his tallest despite his lack of height when he demanded loudly, "What are the two of you doing in here, interrogating her like some prisoner?! Bernadetta hasn't done anything! And that letter she got doesn't mean anything, either! We all got them, and I'll tell you where she put hers, right in the wastebin like mine went! So you two can just leave her alone! She isn't about to go waltzing back to the Empire just because Edelgard summoned her!"

"Caspie..." Dorothea sighed in exasperation for her friend, and she looked apologetically to both Raine and Petra as they blinked in surprise and looked from him and then to her for some kind of explanation. The singer shook her head as she raised her hands in a gesture of peace, and she stepped inside, too, before closing the door behind her for some semblance of privacy. The plum-haired archer was staring ahead like a frozen deer, and she was quick to shoulder her way further in before reaching to carefully pull the shell-shocked girl into a supportive hug before casting a withering look at the indignant brawler, "I told you, Caspie, Petra was only going to check in on her, and the professor went with her for moral support! Nobody is interrogating anyone! You just took off like always, ready for a fight, and without listening to me! And now look at what you've done, you've scared poor Bernie senseless!"

That seemed to take the wind right out of the brawler's sails as he looked around the room for the first time, and almost at once he seemed to shrink as he looked at the trembling Bernadetta for the first time. Guilt and regret flashed immediately across his face, and he winced away from her and back to the startled looks of Petra and Raine for the first time. There was not an ounce of malice in their expressions or body language, and he closed his eyes as he momentarily took a breath and admitted that he had gone and made another massive mistake without waiting like he should have. It made him sick to his stomach, and he hung his head as he spoke to his feet in a much meeker tone of voice than any of the women around had ever heard, "I'm... sorry... I didn't... I got angry, and I stopped thinking, and... I'm real sorry. Professor. Petra. Bernadetta. I'm a real arse. Please, forgive me."

"It's all right, Caspie. You acted because you wanted to protect Bernie, and we all understand that. But you really need to learn to listen before you go charging off. One of these days, someone's not going to be as forgiving." Dorothea spoke up for all of them, shaking her head as she clucked her tongue in a chiding manner, and she squeezed Bernadetta a tad closer before glancing down at her to share a comforting smile. Bernadetta clutched to her arm like a child, but her trembling had stopped, and she looked up awkwardly to see Caspar staring down at his feet rather shamefully. She sat up a little straighter to whisper something in Dorothea's ear, and the brunette offered her another smile before she continued, "And Bernie forgives you, too, so it's fine. Just don't do it again. Or else you'll be replacing her door next time."

"O-Okay... I'm still real sorry, Bernadetta..." Caspar kept his head bowed, and he felt the shame threatening to shrink him down to the size of an ant as he felt the stares of the four women burning holes into him. Dorothea was right. He hadn't thought for a moment before he had gone off on his own, fuelled with self-righteous rage and a single-minded desire to protect Bernadetta, and he had swallowed his own foot in a rather spectacular fashion. However, he noticed as he looked up that Raine in particular was looking at him with a sharp glint in her seafoam-coloured eyes, and he awkwardly shifted his weight from one foot to another as he expected for a full-scale scathing diatribe about his behaviour, as Professor Manuela had done to him too many times to count as he asked her sheepishly, "Y-Yes, Professor?"

"Did you say you threw away your letter from Edelgard?"

"Of course I did. It was trash and it belonged there." Caspar's answer came immediately, and he wondered at why she was looking at him so sharply over such a question with such an obvious answer. He hadn't even bothered to read the thing when he had realized what it was, and along with Professor Manuela, he had made quick work of disposing of it. He had heard just what everyone else had and more, and his decision had been made long before anyone had tried to ask him about his thoughts on the matter. It was simple. Extremely so. And he showed that as he shook his head and his eyes again flashed with indignance, "What was she thinking, that I'd be happy to clap my hands and join up with her and the bastards responsible for what happened in Remire? Or at the monastery? No way. I'm not going to do anything like that, even if she had me at sword-point. I don't care what her excuses are, or if she thinks she's doing the right thing, because she isn't. There's no justifying killing innocent people to further your goals. Ever."

Raine bit the inside of her cheek to stop a smile from forming as she heard the self-righteous indignance pervading Caspar's voice, but she had to admit it felt so good to hear him ranting even if she hadn't expected to hear it. Of course he was angry, and of course he was so single-mindedly making a decision based on that anger. It was just like him. Simple, and pure. He had a strong sense of justice, and in his view, Edelgard had violated that sense beyond redemption. He would not participate in her conquest, regardless of the ties he had to the Empire. It simply was not in him to do. "So, what do you intend to do?"

"Leave, probably. My father is in her pocket. So is Linhardt's. We've both talked about getting out of the Empire if it comes down to it, otherwise we'd likely be put under house arrest, or worse, if we spoke out against her if we went home." Caspar's answer was blunt, and there not a flicker of indecision or regret in his eyes as he met Raine's inquisitive gaze head-on. He had had plenty of time to think of it, connecting the dots on his own and listening to his much wiser friend's ruminating, and he was certain that his decisions were for the best as he spoke again,"I'm not the first son in my house. I don't matter much in the long run, so it doesn't matter what I do. And Linhardt doesn't like fighting. He doesn't want to be a part of any sort of war, and I don't blame him. So why not get out while we can? Of course, that doesn't mean we're going now. Garreg Mach needs to be defended. And we'll protect it. If we can stop the Empire here... There won't be a war to worry about, right?"

"I suppose you've a point to be made there..." Raine agreed cautiously, though she wasn't entirely sure what to think about Caspar's optimism. Would cutting the Empire off in the monastery truly mean the end of the war? She didn't believe so. Edelgard was intelligent, even if she was taking daring risks, and if she had chosen to reveal herself... It only meant she was acting according to plan. They did not have all of the variables, and Raine was not about to underestimate her twice. It was very possible that she had more pieces in play on her chessboard, and those pieces could very well mean worse for the monastery than what they already knew was coming. And what they already knew of was enough to make even Seteth gravely concerned. She turned her attention to Dorothea, who had been conspicuously silent throughout the conversation, and she spoke quietly, gently, as she understood that Dorothea had been the closest thing Edelgard had to an actual friend inside of the monastery, "What about you, Dorothea? What do you think?"

"To be honest... I don't know what I think. I mean, who knew she had it in her, our little Edie? But, then again, what did we actually know about her, if she was capable of all of this?" Dorothea laughed quietly, but the sound had no mirth, and the light had left her eyes as she looked down at her feet with an emotionless face. It had been hard to believe, when word had come that it had truly been Edelgard behind the mask of the Flame Emperor... but there was no doubting the facts. She had tried to kill every single student in the Blue Lion house, had conspired with those responsible for the tragedy of Remire, and gone even further by declaring war on the Church of Seiros after making an attempt to ransack the monastery's Holy Tomb.

She had returned home in secret, removing Ferdinand's father from his position as Prime Minister, before going even further and stripping his entire family of their territory and power right after her coronation. Ferdinand was taking it terribly, torn between outrage for his family's treatment, and his loyalty to his home, and to the Emperor he was still sworn to serve. It was hard to see him like that, knowing that Edelgard, her friend, had done this to him. It was true that the two had never gotten along, that Ferdinand was little more than a pest to her even when he was trying his hardest to challenge her as an equal, but nobody had expected this kind of cruelty from her. And even Ferdinand had nothing to say other than it was her orders, and if she had deemed him unfit, it was her right to do as she pleased now from her position on the throne. That did not sit well with Dorothea at all, and her heart ached for him even if she wouldn't ever admit it aloud.

"I don't want to fight a war. I'll admit that much. This has been my home for awhile. I don't want to see it, or the people in it, come to harm. I can say that safely, and with conviction. Anything after that... It's... hard." Dorothea admitted after a long, painful pause, and she found it almost impossible to look up to see the expressions of the people around her. She felt Bernadetta sitting close to her, offering her comfort now in a bizarre but grateful turn, and even Petra had reached out to lay her hand over hers in an effort to likewise give her support. Only Raine and Caspar were keeping themselves apart, either out of respect or simply because they did not know what to do, but she didn't mind. It wasn't as if they were the only ones. And she sighed as she shook her head and murmured, "Edie was my friend. I thought I knew her. Obviously, I didn't. That alone is hard enough to deal with. All of this is just... extra hurt to sift through. I don't know her motives. Or her ideals. Or her."

Raine was quiet for a moment, drinking in the honesty and feeling herself aching for Dorothea's clear inability to make a choice, as well as her feeling of guilt for never really knowing the young woman she had called a friend. Still, she did admit some of what Dorothea said was confusing, as she wondered at the multitude of letters that had been sent out to all of the Black Eagles. She had even heard of manifestos that had been sent far and wide from the Kingdom to the Alliance, and so it made little sense that Dorothea didn't know as much as she was saying. She did not want to suspect the singer of lying, but she had to ask the nagging question, and she tried her best to be gentle and soft when she asked her quietly, "Did you not read her letter?"

"No. I haven't had the courage to open it." Dorothea laughed again as she answered the professor, and she shook her head in wonder at her cowardice. She had simply put it on her bed and stared at it, wondering at its contents and knowing she couldn't open it just yet. Not with the threat of the Empire marching on Garreg Mach. How could she? What if it what was inside was compelling enough for her to throw her sword behind Edelgard's advancing army? What if it wasn't? What was she supposed to do? It made her ache and wince and shudder all at once, and she was learning quickly that despite all her bravado, despite her willingness to learn to fight... She wasn't a soldier at heart. She didn't have the stomach for it. She never had, and never would. There was just too much hurt, too much devastation, for war to be something she could find justified. "I don't want to know what she has to say to me. Not... Not yet. It's too soon. It must sound pretty cowardly, huh?"

"No. You two were friends, Dorothea. It's natural to be conflicted about this. I think all of us are feeling the same way right now, at least on some level." Bernadetta spoke up to the surprise of almost everyone, but she didn't seem to mind the looks she got as she instead sat up straight and offered a small, somewhat awkward smile to her friend in response to her words. She squeezed her arm comfortingly, her eyes earnest as she continued as if the two of them were alone and there were no prying eyes to watch, or ears to overhear them, "It's okay to not be sure of things. At least... That's what I think now. Professor and Petra gave me some good advice. I think you could use it, too. When you make your decision... Make sure it's a decision you want to make. Not one you feel like you have to, for whatever reason there could be. Make it your choice. Not anybody else's, or for anybody's reasons. So long as you do that... I think you, and everyone else, will be okay."

"A decision I want to make...? That's interesting advice." Dorothea mused with a furrowed brow, and she turned to look at both Petra and Raine with slightly narrowed, but thoughtful eyes. It was not a concept she had really considered. It wasn't as if she had any real reason beyond fishing for a husband to have come to the monastery in the first place. She was not a noble, and though she was not exactly a commoner any longer, she still had to be looking out for her future prospects. There was nothing really tying her to the Empire in terms of familial, or even political loyalty, unlike her many friends. Her voice could be used anywhere. But the thought of a decision that she wished to make for her own sake made her take pause, and she spoke slowly as she again looked from Petra to Raine and back again, "I can already guess what you intend to do, Petra... You won't return to help the Empire, no matter what it is Edie says or does. But... What about you, Professor? You're going to stay and defend Garreg Mach... but what about after? If war spreads?"

"I was a mercenary for all of my life before I came here. Had you asked me before I came here, I would have told you I'd have fought for whichever side I was hired to fight for. Now... I'm a professor. It's true that my immediate loyalty is to my students, my house... but overall..." Raine cast a long look about her surroundings, seeing beyond Bernadetta's room and to the monastery as a whole without much need to imagine it. It was the closest thing she had had to a home in her whole lifetime. There was really no other way to explain it. She had always lived on the road, in tents, inns, or out in the woods themselves, and the monastery had been the first place, the only place, to offer her permanent shelter. It was true, that only several weeks ago, she had planned to flee from it... but circumstances had changed since then.

Raine's eyes hardened, and her hand instinctively reached for the handle of her blade to squeeze down on it for the feeling of security it gave to her with its weight. She felt no fear, despite the fact that she knew Imperial troops were marching as they spoke for Garreg Mach. No, she was not afraid at all for the battle that was to come. Her concern was only for the students, for the non-combatants of the monastery, and the threat they were under through absolutely no fault of their own. She would fight. There was no question to be had of that. And she spoke quietly, but clearly to answer Dorothea's question, "I intend to stay and fight for the monastery. For those who can't fight, and have no reason to be set upon. Should we lose, and war breaks out... I will continue to fight against the Empire with everything that I have. For myself, for those the Empire intends to trample on, and for those that have already been lost to cause us to come to this point."

Dorothea winced, and she had to look away as she thought of the dead who had been sacrificed only to further the ambitions of the Empire. Captain Jeralt. The citizens of Remire. The students in the monastery... How many more deaths would it take, before all was said and done? The mere thought made her sick to her stomach. It would be beyond count. Rivers of blood would flow before there was an end to it. She knew Edelgard's sense of ambition, if nothing else... She would not stop. Not until everything had been done to her complete satisfaction. That would mean not only tearing down the Church of Seiros, but the Alliance, and the Kingdom as well. The entirety of Fódlan would be razed to the ground if she wished for it, and that was something Dorothea was painfully aware of. "I... I see... I wish I was as capable of your conviction, Professor. I really do."

"As cold as it may sound, Dorothea, I wish you never have to be like me. I'm not motivated by any sort of ideal, or wish to be a hero. It's nothing at all that selfless." Raine replied with a shake of her head, and her smile was weak and bitter when Dorothea looked up at her in confusion at her words. But it was true, and she felt a dark, angry pulse somewhere deep within that had made her stand still and silent back inside of the Holy Tomb when she had watched Dimitri kill soldier after soldier with nothing but his bare hands in his rage to get to Edelgard. True, that anger had been paired with fear, with concern and pain, but it had been there all the same. She wanted vengeance. She wanted it so badly that she could almost taste it. Her anger at Solon and at Kronya almost felt like trifles compared to what she felt now... and she hated herself for it as she continued quietly, "I want revenge on the Empire for what they've taken from me, and from my students. That is what motivates me to fight. I don't want you to feel that kind of thing if I can prevent it. It isn't an emotion I want to feel. It isn't a way I want to live. Living for vengeance... It's ugly. It's cold. It's lonely. It won't bring back my father. It won't bring back the dead. Nor will it give me peace, when all is said and done. But it's something I can draw from... and I'll need that in the coming days."

"You say that you're not motivated by an ideal, or a wish to be a hero, but I don't think that's really true, Professor. You wouldn't think twice to check on any of us, to caution or guide us, if you didn't have our best interests in mind." Dorothea felt her lips quirking upwards without her consent at Raine's contradictory words and actions, and for a moment, she felt herself calm. It was true enough that the woman in front of her felt rage, felt bloodlust, but she was tempering it beneath wisdom, and acting out of compassion first and foremost despite her own emotions. She had come to them first, rather than hiding herself away, and it was only out of her own good will that she had done it. She had no loyalty to any of them. If anything, she should have been suspicious rather than kind, and Dorothea knew that well. "Perhaps you don't want to be a hero, but... You are certainly acting like one right now. I think I see why your house loves you so much... and why you were able to beat us so handily in the Battle of the Eagle and Lion. You're an inspiration. Like a pebble that starts a landslide. You're that kind of person."

"I... I don't think that's at all accurate..."

"No, I agree with Dorothea, Professor. Since you came here, things have changed a lot. Some for the better, some for the worse, but it's all changed... and we've all changed, too. If you weren't here, and this was all happening, maybe we would have made different choices. Maybe we'd be with Edelgard right now. But we aren't. I think that's because you're here." Caspar agreed with a nod, and he looked to Dorothea to trade a broad smile as he caught Raine's confused look and felt himself chuckle at it. She thought so little of herself. He didn't quite understand how it could be that way. She had done so much since coming to the monastery, and seemed intent on doing so much more. She truly was her fathers daughter, and it made him want to be more like her. He could understand more than ever why Petra had asked to join her house, and he laughed as he admitted aloud, "Y'know, I kind of wish I'd done what Petra had, and asked to be a Blue Lion now. You could have taught me a lot!"

"Professor has indeed taught me much. I am glad to be having of her guidance." Petra agreed with a nod, and Raine let out a tired breath as she realized she was readily outnumbered and very likely outmatched. They were not her students, at least three of four of them weren't, but they all certainly were stubborn in their own ways. They would have her beat if she chose to fought, and from the playful smiles playing around their faces at the sight of her uncertainty... She knew better than to try. Petra, sensing this, stood slowly from her perch on the edge of Bernadetta's cot and spoke gently, "I must go now. There is much to be doing. I still wish to speak to Ferdinand of his choices... but we shall fight together, as friends."

"As friends."

Dorothea agreed, and her words were echoed almost at once by both Caspar and Bernadetta the moment she spoke up. She smiled as she watched Petra and Raine take their leave with quiet goodbyes, and Caspar was quick to excuse himself as well once he realized that Dorothea had no intention of leaving with them. She wondered how he had known that, and reminded herself to remember that perhaps he was a bit more aware than she had previously thought... when it came to Bernadetta, at the very least. She hadn't been given a moment's chance to stop him or explain further once her name had left her lips before he had gone charging off, and his protectiveness made her smirk as the door closed behind him and left her and Bernadetta alone together. She sighed as she flopped back theatrically onto her friend's bed, and she closed her eyes as she mumbled, "Well, I guess that had to be enough social interaction for the whole year for you, huh, Bernie?"

"Uh-huh." Bernadetta agreed from somewhere below her, and Dorothea could well imagine the poor archer was sitting on the floor and again hugging her pillow to her chest for comfort. She felt her back against her knees, and she smiled despite herself at the physical contact that her classmate seemed to want despite being obviously exhausted by all that had happened, and in her own safe haven, no less. She let out a sigh of her own, and Dorothea felt the tickle of her plum-coloured hair on her legs as she shook her head, "Can you please tell Caspar never, ever to do that again? I know he just wanted to protect me or something, but... Yikes! That was almost worse than that time he lugged me over his shoulder to see the sunset!"

Those words succeeded in bringing Dorothea back into a sitting position within seconds, and she looked down at an unconcerned-looking Bernadetta despite the words that she had said that had instantly brought the singer to attention. This was the first she was hearing about such a thing, and she was both sorely disappointed, and sorely intrigued, by this news. It explained quite a bit, and made her want to know quite a bit more, and she practically bent herself in half to look down and over at the archer's face as she asked sharply, "Wait a second, Caspar did what?"

"Didn't I tell you? Caspar took me somewhere really pretty once to see the sunset, and when I asked him to take me there again because I couldn't find it on my own, he just picked me up like a piece of luggage and hauled me off! Again!" Bernadetta griped, and she shook her head as she wondered how in the world the young man had managed to do it twice to her without her being able to escape from him. The first time she could write off as it being so sudden, but the second was unforgivable, both for her and for him. It didn't matter that the view was absolutely spectacular, since the journey there had been anything but. "He has no tact! And no idea how to be gentle with a lady! I mean, I know I'm not much of a lady, and I'm definitely un-marriageable, but-"

"Bernie. I think you've missed a point. Or a dozen. You need to start over from the very beginning." Dorothea had to smother a laugh by pretending to cough, and she shook her head as she sunk down from the bed to join her friend on the floor. She felt good, better than she had almost the entire moon, and she chuckled to herself at her desperation for idle gossip. It made things feel normal again, even if it was anything but, but she needed that feeling if only to give her a break from the stress and the weight of what was coming. She playfully jostled her friend's shoulder with her own, a teasing smile crossing her face as she started, "I need to hear everything that happened between you and Caspar. From the very beginning. Don't leave a single detail out."

"Wh-Why? It's not important. He was just being... himself, I guess. He's loud and boisterous and totally unreasonable, but hasn't he always been that way?"

"Yes, Bernie. He has. But you still have a lot to learn about boys... I'll teach you. Sit down and listen carefully, okay? This might be long, but you obviously need to hear it..."