“I think it would be wonderful to see you all exchanging gifts,” Byleth had said, one of those painfully rare smiles radiating out to kill any shred of resistance the three house leaders might have felt.
And so now, the three house leaders had a dilemma before their whole-grade meeting.
“Resurrecting the traditions of Saint Indech would be a wonderful way to bond,” Dimitri argued. “Personal, well-thought-out presents delivered on the day after the ball could make for quite the fun occasion.”
“It seems like quite the time commitment to find so many gifts, though. Not to mention money. There are much more pressing matters I’d prefer to focus on,” Edelgard replied. “It would be nice to do something, though. I’d hate to disappoint…” (the professor) “…anyone.”
“Well then,” Claude said, an evil-looking grin on his face. “It just so happens that I have a solution.”
He pulled up a sack filled with small slips of paper, each one emblazoned with a name. “Teach wants us members of different houses to get closer, right? What better way than leaving it all to fate?”
A sense of foreboding swept over his two counterparts, but neither of them argued. With a few nods, the deal was struck.
The Secret Saint exchange was in motion.
“Rule one!” Claude cried with a flourish towards the list written on the chalkboard. “Each of us will draw a single name. Until the ball has passed, nobody participating must know who you picked! It is a secret you must guard with your life.”
“Why?” Hilda asked, her hand half-raised lazily.
“Because this is a test. An ultimate exercise in how well you know your classmates, and if you don’t, then how well you can learn. The gifts you give must come from you and your heart!” Claude seemed oddly into this, in Hilda’s opinion. This was clearly a front for a scheme of some sort. Oh, well, too much effort to get to the bottom of it.
“Rule two,” Dimitri continued when it was clear that Claude had finished. “Each gift must be something that you make yourself. We understand that not everyone has equal means to purchase an expensive present, so it seems much fairer to take funds out of the equation. It doesn’t even need to be a physical object, as long as it’s a thoughtful, personalized gift.”
“If I get a cute girl, then does a date count?”
“Sylvain, it must be a thoughtful and personalized gift.”
“So is that a yes, or…”
“And the final rule,” interjected Edelgard, a sort of fire burning behind her eyes. “The reason you all must try your best, no matter who you may draw or who may draw you. The one who gives the ultimate gift, the one whose kindness and closeness to their fellow classmates surpasses that of all others, will win the prize of a month’s worth of extra training sessions from Professor Byleth in whatever area you wish!”
And just like that, even the students who had seemed to tune out the proceedings were suddenly alert and calculating. Nobody, no matter their temperament, could resist the lure of so much extra time with the Monastery’s most beloved teacher. Even Linhardt and Bernadetta’s faces had begun to show signs of interest.
Edelgard smiled. “The game is on, then. Take your name, and bring your best. Just don’t expect to defeat me!”
Hubert had already been banned by his Lady from throwing the contest in order to help her. Still, there was the chance that he would draw her name and be given the chance to spoil her with something as luxurious as she deserved.
Ferdinand drew a slip of paper, and broke into a grin as soon as he read the name. Leaping up and pointing at Edelgard, he cried, “Challenge accepted!”
Well, so much for that then. Hubert held back a grimace as he looked at the name that he had drawn. Did he really need to spend care and effort finding a gift for someone like that?
Sylvain groaned outwardly. He’d wanted a cute girl, not the exact opposite. “Hey,” he muttered, nudging Felix. “You want to trade?”
“I’m fine,” Felix replied, completely impassive.
“You got someone really easy, didn’t you? Come on, be a pal. You’re just going to get whoever a weapon or something anyway!”
“I can’t say who I got,” Felix said again, beginning to smirk a little. “Besides, I’m sure your name can’t be that bad. If it is, try asking Ingrid if she—”
He held back a sharp pause after gesturing to their other childhood friend. Ingrid had adopted a face and posture of pure evil triumph. Although she was not outwardly laughing maniacally, the shadow in her eyes (as Felix and Sylvain knew far too well) spoke of vengeance, justice, and dark deeds to come.
“On second thought,” Sylvain told Felix, “maybe it’d be best for me not to interfere with this stuff.”
Dorothea giggled at the despairing faces that some of her fellow students had adopted. “You don’t need to be so down, just focus on your strengths. I’m sure that whoever I get would love a concert or a dance---” She opened her paper. “Oh.” A homicidal aura suddenly bust forth from where she was sitting. “Oh, well then.”
Leonie’s pout, Claude’s smirk, and the absolute glee in Hilda’s eyes did little to dispel Marianne’s despair. She already felt sorry for whoever it was that she had gotten; nobody deserved a gift as awful and cursed as hers was sure to be.
“Cheer up,” Raphael told her with a soft nudge to her shoulder. “It’s a fun game! It’s all about making everyone happy!”
Marianne knew that he was right. This was a holy game, named for a Saint and designed to spread friendship and cheer. Gingerly, she opened the small piece of paper she’d drawn…
And her eyes widened.