„You were supposed to love me until your very last breath, were you not?”, the emperor asks with ice in her voice.
Byleth cannot stand looking at her, at the pale skin covered in scars she earned by slaughtering civilians – children and adults alike. The eyes she once adored, spent countless hours indulging herself in; those violaceous eyes full of determination are now empty. The professor does not dare imagine what her former student might have seen on the battlefield, what she had watched herself and others inflict on innocent, and not-so-innocent souls, too.
The compassionate young woman from their time at the Garreg Mach monastery must have died on that fateful day. Edelgard had lifted the mask that shielded her identity from everyone else for almost a year and Byleth remembers the sharp rattle of that very same mask being tossed aside, falling to the ground.
“The Flame Emperor” she had called herself; a figure that now embodies only grief and terror in Byleth’s mind. Before this revelation, she could blame her father’s death – which certainly is not the only passing she was forced to endure during her stay as a professor at the monastery – on this enigmatic, masked figure whose costume she wished to tear apart and take her revenge. In her mind, the “Flame Emperor” was a dark, dark man on the edge of insanity.
Instead, it turned out the one person she learned to trust and rely on was the very figure she despised so much.
It is no surprise that Byleth chose to raise her sword against the girl; full of hatred and deep-rooted hurt. Edelgard still had hoped to have her dear teacher walk down the path of destruction alongside her and Hubert and it seemed her very spirit was crushed as her blade collided with Byleth’s. A miracle was what saved her from certain demise, a fatal pause in Byleth’s relentless assault that enabled her to escape. And just like that, the professor vanished without a trace. For five years.
“Supposed to love you…”, the green-haired woman speaks through gritted teeth, her grasp on the sword of creation tightening, “I put my faith in your cause, but you chose to betray me. Feelings do not matter any longer.”
Edelgard, her hair now combed up so gallant with heavy horns on her head and a face much more mature than the one Byleth had seen her flee with. Hardened, too, certainly. It would seem that the empress has not smiled in years, a stern frown underlining her serious look.
“And what will you do now, my teacher?”, Edelgard asks calmly.
The older woman takes a deep breath and steps back as she does so. She knows what she has to do; it is the duty she has to fulfill. For her own, for Sothis’ and all of Fódlan’s sake.
“Now, Edelgard von Hresvelg, I will strike you down.”, she slowly falls into an offensive stance – knees tilting slightly to the sides as her upper body leans in for an upcoming assault – and closes her eyes, “I will kill you.”
No waiting for a response, she dashes forward and winces slightly at the clang that echoes through the room as her blade collides with Edelgard’s. Had she not slept for five years prior to this very battle, she might have been strong enough to impale her former student here and now. However, her limbs are still heavy from neglect and her mind clouded by her own emotions.
“I must say… I’m surprised, professor.”, the pale girl admits in a steady voice, her face shielded by the grinding metal of their swords being pushed against another, “You abscond for half a decade and then turn up here, at the monastery and jump me in the chapel as if our last battle has taken place just the day before.”
With a desperate and frustrated screech, Byleth pulls back and tries to slash Edelgard’s sides, swinging her chain-like sword through the air with practiced expertise, aiming it at the girl’s hips only to miss by a hair’s length. Edelgard dodges her every hit – only barely – but remains steady on her feet. “I wanted to tear you apart.”, Byleth managed to say between heavy gasps, “I wanted you to suffer!”
Edelgard jumps aside, escaping another hit that could have ended easily ended her life.
“So I saw.”
She eyes her teacher carefully, watches her lose her grip on reality as her mind warps her back. There she stands, Byleth, her hair freshly re-pigmented with a clean shade of green that matches the archbishop’s. Terror sparkles in her usually cold eyes, rage burns within her chest as she watches herself having her heart shattered into pieces, watches herself jump into motion at Rhea’s angry command.
Byleth’s aggressive attacks begin to falter in accuracy and with every other half-hearted strike she falls back further.
A very foreign look settles on Edelgard’s face. Her professor – right before her eyes – ascends deeper and deeper into her traumatic memories and suddenly; briefly, the emperor feels like she’s a student again. The old, young – the foolish Edelgard who doodles her teacher’s face all over her notes, stares into her soulless eyes during the lectures and goes out of her way to enjoy a cup of tea with this endearingly secretive woman.
The Edelgard who would have laid her hands on the professor’s shoulders and would try to comfort her.
But she cannot do that now. They are enemies; maybe Byleth might seriously stab her to death if Edelgard dared to take another step in her general direction.
“Professor.”, she states.
The older woman shakes her head furiously as she turns to look the emperor in the eyes again, readjusting the hold on her sword once more. Her resolve, however, is faltering. Edelgard is everything she wants to eradicate from the top of this world and at the same time, she was once the only person who truly gained Byleth’s trust. Their time together used to be well-spent and very delightful. Why did it have to come to this?
“Professor, there is something you must know.”, Edelgard continues – and if some ill-willed demon is not playing her senses, she sees a brief expression of guilt flicker across the white-haired woman’s face, “I never wished for Captain Jeralt to come to any harm. And it certainly was not my intention to hurt you.”
While saying these peaceful, yes, even remorseful words, Edelgard also raises her sword with her arm extending straight forward. Its point lines up with Byleth’s eyes, so the professor, too, raises her own weapon.
“You might think of me as a fool as much as I am a murderer. Yet, I always imagined my reign over an united kingdom with you by my side. As my partner, my dearest friend. I intended to gift you my father’s ring and dreamed of you handing me your father’s ring as well.”, Edelgard’s face darkens as she lets the sword in her hand waver, her grip loosening ever so slightly, “I wanted you to walk with me. You chose not to, and I understand your decision. I cannot regret what I have done until now, however, if I must allow myself to face my own emotions, then this is the way I feel; I am sorry for doing this to you, my teacher.”
And with that, she suddenly snaps back to her cold persona and lunges at Byleth with newfound focus. Just in time, the older woman manages to parry the attack. She raises her leg to kick the emperor in the stomach, making her stumble back a few steps.
Quickly, she jumps forward and passes Edelgard, using the hilt of her sword to incapacitate her right arm as she sends the emperor falling to the ground with another kick. She picks up the woman’s blade only to toss it aside.
“So this is your way of apologizing?”, Byleth sighs, “Trying to kill me with a surprise blow?”
On the ground, Edelgard does her best to regain a sense of direction as the professor’s attack has left her quite dizzy.
“You left me for that sorry excuse of an archbishop!”, Edelgard cries out, furiously, scurrying back onto her feet, “You were supposed to love me, professor. And only me! Why did you defy me!?”
For a second, Byleth is taken aback. It seems that there is a swell of emotion hiding under that cold lid she put atop her troubles, after all. Tears glisten in her dead eyes and across her face, a tale of loss and unimaginable pain begins to write itself.
“And I did love you, Edelgard…”, she whispers, suddenly longing for Sothis’ presence so the girl could talk some sense into her. She must not get soft in this situation, not when she has this dirty traitor practically at her mercy, at the tip of her blade. All she needs to do is strike. And yet, she falters.
“But it’s impossible for me to follow someone who is willing to slaughter millions for the sake of becoming a self-righteous emperor ruling over every part of Fódlan. And certainly not my father’s murderer!”
Through her sadness, the cold emperor scoffs in disbelief. Byleth tries to see this beloved Edelgard in the woman’s face, searches for a trace of the loving girl she fell in love with many years ago; however, her search does not bear any fruit. Unsurprising, and still utterly tragic.
“Self-righteous, you say.”, the white-haired woman repeats her teacher’s words and seems to reconsider for a moment. Her gaze locks onto her sword that lies motionlessly at the professor’s feet, robbed of its glory, looking like a simple, rusted peace of metal in the shadows the moonlight casts upon them.
“I might give you a choice. As your former teacher, not as your enemy.”, Byleth states.
Surprised, Edelgards raises her head and searches for deceit in those endless pools of green that she is faced with. There appears to be none. She scoffs anyways; “When I made you choose, you left me. And now you wish for me to make a choice? Do you expect me to decide in your favor?”
The older woman shakes her head no. All the anger, the hatred inside her, these passionate flames are quenched for the moment. As much as she wants to be blinded by hate, she is unable to deny her heart to feel when it – for a change – so desperately wishes to.
Edelgard waits for her to continue.
“I could kill you right here and now. Cut through your flesh with a sacred sword. Or I could let you run off to your dirty army and chop of your head on the battlefield with a rusty axe.”
The emperor chuckles at the suggestion and the sound unexpectedly makes Byleth blush in a very slight nuance of pink. It seems this very cackle used to accompany her during their tea parties; only falling from Edelgard’s lips once in a while but all the same, never was it dishonest.
“You are certain that you desire to slaughter me.”, Edelgard speaks and takes a step towards the professor who, mostly by instinct, whips out her weapon again and nestles it against the side of the emperor’s neck, “And still, I am standing. I am given a choice. Tell me, do you by any chance regret betraying me?”
Her question is followed by a deafening silence. Surely, it could not possible for this to be true, Byleth knows so. Those words – though said with nothing but disregard – sting deep within her unmoving heart.
She cannot help but think back to the moment they had met. If not for Sothis’ intervention, Byleth would have died that day, slain by a despicable bandit. Well, one who was under Edelgard’s command and still, Byleth knew that the emperor certainly had not anticipated dragging mere strangers into this battle.
“I…”, she breathes, too carefully, “Even if my past connection to you might hold me back now… Should you choose to live now, I will not hesitate when we meet again.”
Snarling, Edelgard shakes her head, probably thinking to herself how pathetic that just sounded.
“Then, shall we meet again, my teacher.”
A short nod from Byleth’s side follows that statement. She turns away, her sword sharply caressing Edelgard's throat for a brief second. The metal refrains from cutting through her pale skin, even if it could easily slash the muscles underneath. Her shoulders are weighing heavy on her sides, seemingly pulling her down into the ground, into the abyss that lies beneath this earth.
Edelgard watches her leave the chapel and her heartbeat slows with every step her teacher takes, getting further and further away from her. One of them was supposed to end up dead tonight, however their personal feelings – even through all the agony and hatred – got in their way one last time.
They are no longer lovers.
No longer friends.
Not teacher and student.
Like Seiros and Nemesis, they are now forced to be mortal enemies. And Edelgard decides to close her heart, free herself from all and any emotion.
For her own goals, she will prevail.
She will go on.