The Beginning and The End
A child's voice whispers in the void.
I am That Which Is Behind Time.
I am Existence Eternal.
I am Being Beyond Being.
I am Sothis.
I am The Beginning.
A pause, in which a thousand years pass, and none.
Witness this Truth! the voice cries. It shall lead to other Truths, but only one you may Choose. Only one may you Bear. And only one you may Keep.
The rain shields the light of the sun, making the sky a shade of iron, mirrored below by the armor of knights on horses, helmed and armored with the finest metal the Imperial Guarda could supply. Men and women of the cavalry units file their mounts into cadres, with gloved hands tightening straps, and subdued voices muttering grim prayers or quiet, useless assurances. Overhead, the pegasi wheel in agitation, their riders straining to quiet their mounts excited by the scents of battle, the sharp tang of metal and the acrid one of fear. Infantry and archers line up behind calvary, with tense sergeants straining to control their soldiers’ behavior, veterans and recruits alike. Officers and messengers run back and forth through the ranks and argue with each other, a grim sign that battle is imminent.
Nemesis, the Black King, and his Army of The Elite was now approaching their position, according to the scouts. The Emperor and Lady Seiros herself had marshaled the bulk of the Imperial Army to meet the King of Liberation’s hordes here, on the Tailtean Plains, an empty windstruck land of grass and mud hunted clean by war.
The veterans in the ranks of the Imperial Guarda held no illusions. The man who could cleave mountains with his sword could only do one thing to human flesh. Death might be inevitable for those on the front lines, but they could possibly make their deaths mean something, rather than nothing. Yet each burned for the chance to not die, and perhaps even take out The Black King by themselves. It was a comforting delusion to muse about before the actual terror of combat, where all control and thought vanished. The recruits were besides themselves, some pasty white with fear and trembling, others quietly vomiting or voiding themselves in their armor without shame.
Suddenly, it is time. Lord Cichol and Lady Cethleann fly by on their magnificent mounts, a jet black wyvern and a pale white pegasus, and pause by each troop and company, blessing them in the Goddess' Holy Name. The more pious soldiers dutifully recite the Scripture of Seiros, but the veterans laugh and shout blasphemous obscenities back at the Lord and Lady. Order is quickly restored in the ranks by the caustic words of Lord Macuil, his hands flaming with his twin swords flashing as they float beside him, or the pitiless, inhuman gaze of Lord Indech, standing tall in his rusted plate armor with his shining magical longbow nocked and half-drawn.
Then she took to the field. Walking bright and tall like an emerald jewel come to life, the Lady Seiros herself walked silently through the ranks of her Holy Army.
Contrary to their braggadocio, most soldiers of the Imperial Guarda had never seen the Lady Seiros. She was a recluse, rumour said, given to constant holy prayer and meditation, or consultations with her husband, the Great Emperor Wilheim. So the stories told over the generations of endless war. Yet now she strode from the Emperor's vast and ornate command tent behind the front and slowly made a place for herself at the head of the Imperial Army, ignoring all comments or entreaties from her soldiers as she passed. A magnetic, fey brilliance seemed to surround this beautiful figure with a glowing sword sheathed at her hip and mighty reflective shield loosely held at her side, the golden dragon tiara on her head only heightening her splendor. Her pale green hair covered her ears and trailed down her back, unbraided, and wreathed a face flawless in fierce granite beauty. The effect on the army of thousands was immediate and electric as soldiers and officers alike spread the word.
The Goddess was with them. Lady Seiros would share the peril with her soldiers against the Black King. She would stand and bleed as one of them.
A mighty roar went up from the host, that was echoed by the Pegasi flights crying overhead.
Then another dull susurration of a roar, one tinged with finality and despair, responded back at the Imperial army across the dim shadows of the plain, through the rain that suddenly stabbed down like needles.
The Black King's horde had arrived. And even hundreds of yards away through sheets of mist and fog, the soldiers of the Imperial Guarda could see the ruby light of promised Death, the weapon of the Fell King Nemesis. The sword which could cut through anything.
The cheers of the Imperial Guarda sagged pitifully and died in throats. Some men and women in the ranks drew back in fear, yet shouts from the three Lords and Lady eased their burdens and calmed many hearts. Then the Lady Seiros stepped forward ahead of her troops, standing alone where all could see a glimpse of her, and regally drew her sword. Raising it, she wheeled about to face the Imperial army. The dim light beyond the clouds reflected on her blade and flashed it to a diamond brilliance, a matching beacon of bright hope to the red and dark glowing stain on the horizon. She raised her voice majestically to a note that every heart in the Imperial Guarda could hear.
"Soldiers of the Empire! Children of the Goddess! Darkness and Despair approach. Reject them! By the blood of the Creator, by the blessing of the Goddess, I will not forsake you! I will NEVER forsake you! Each of you who stands with me today is a Knight of Seiros, a Guardian of the Goddess! Though blood may flow, and flesh shall fail, your spirit, my spirit, and the spirit of the Goddess stand tall and eternal! She is the arbiter of every soul, the mother of all creation, and in my judgment, all who are with me now, in this moment, are...found...worthy!" A mighty renewed shout answers her call. "We stand together against the Bandit King, the Traitor King, the King of Thieves. Only one man, one mortal man, stands between us and eternal peace for our families! For the Empire!" A roar. "For Fodlan!" Another roar. "For Sothis!"
The final bellow from the Imperial Army shook the clouds of the raining sky, and as one, the Imperial Guarda leans forward into a charge against the hordes of Nemesis.
Sothis had indeed watched this battle, for this battle is still a part of her. She sees the charge of the Imperial calvary and pegasi break the front lines of the dark-armored barbarians and renegades, lances snapping as men and mounts scream their death cries. Well-disciplined and well-armed, the Imperials cleave through the horde’s ranks, splitting it with a flying wedge that threatens to break through the loose rear formations of the enemy army, bursting like deadly flower throughout their position. Imperial aerial units throw javelins or loose arrows at will down on hapless, defenseless men, raining death from the skies and dodging only occasional arrow shafts in return. Then the charge is broken in a flash of lava-bright light, the entire forward elements of the Imperial calvary falling apart like unstrung puppets before their cheering foes. Nemesis, the King of Liberation, is single handedly turning the rout with a mere snap of his wrist, a flick of his Sword. A Sword of bone, glowing like a sun, snatches Pegasi down from the sky, or blasts entire companies of soldiers into ash in a swirl of flames. Sothis is the Sword. She is Death. She is Destruction. She is Nemesis, a man unsurpassed in power or cruelty, a man killing an entire army, an entire Empire, by himself.
Sothis is Seiros, rushing to attack the one man she hates beyond all others. Nemesis, the Black King. She charges him with her infantry supporting her , heedless of safety, and they engage, as holy steel and corrupted bone crash, repeatedly, endlessly, while her loyal and faithful followers rush up to fight beside her and whisper her name with their dying voices. Men and women struggle and scream and die, but soon the mere mortals all avoid the Saint and the King as they struggle in their titanic duel, lest they are trampled underfoot carelessly by the mythical figures. The duel seems endless, with neither landing a blow, but then there is the moment the Lady has waited for, as Nemesis unchains his Sword, using it as a tremendous whip that can cleave stone, cut flesh...and miss as Seiros turns aside from the deadly bone links at the last possible moment. Nemesis is daunted, but fights on, trying to slash at Seiros yet again, but the green haired woman blocks his attack now, and wraps the links of the sword-whip, the vertebrae of her mother, onto her blessed blade. Giving a mighty pull of her sword, Seiros disarms Nemesis for the first and last time in his life, and the grey haired King is daunted as the red glowing sword leaves his hands. Seiros abandons her own weapons to rush forward to viciously beat the Black King with her fists and feet. Nemesis, his feral grin beneath his iron beard vanishing under the crunching blows, kicks, and chops of Lady Seiros, the Immaculate One, is battered into the mud, his armor stained with blood, his flesh battered beyond endurance.
The armies pause in their melee, and death struggles are halted, to witness Seiros pin the large man under her thighs, say something, then viciously stab the throat of the fallen King with a dagger. Caught up in her slaughter, the Lady Seiros shreds the old king's corpse apart with her knife until blood and viscera shine bright in the sunshafts through the clouds, her sobs and screams of unadulterated rage silencing the sounds of battle. Sothis lingers over the dead man, curious for a moment, then moves away to witness more.
Sothis sees the Imperial Guarda, or what is left of it, cheering the Lady Seiros as the sun breaks clear through the steel clouds in the sky, the rain finally ceasing. One age has passed and another begins. She lets her eye drift further, and so sees that some of Ten Elites are willing to take the knee before the victorious Empire, with others are spitefully swearing to fight on, regardless of their fates. Upon hearing the news in the Imperial command tent, the beaming Emperor Wilheim, his proud son Prince Lycanon, and the grinning Imperial Chancellor toast to Peace, their dreams of Empire crystallizing for the entirety of the continent-state of Fodlan.
Sothis floats above a dying woman, her mouth moving in a prayer only the Goddess can hear, who covers her bleeding, wounded daughter, while the Goddess listens to the despairing screams her husband as he abandons his wyvern, rushing to the side of his wife and child. Meanwhile, Lord Indech stands guard over some captured and wounded Elites, all with silver arrows from his bow, The Inexhaustible, sticking out from their bodies. The robed form of Lord Macuil hovers in the air in the distance with his arms folded, his bloody guardian swords still spinning in orbit around him, as he grimly regards entire ranks of ash and bone and armor, the results of his powerful magic.
Sothis is the retreating, scattering host of Nemesis, their hearts beating in terror to see their God-King fall as they flee to the north and east, away from the victorious Empire. She is a crushed flower, dead in the red mud of the trampled plain, along with so many others thoughtlessly destroyed this day. She is the silent blue mountains in the distance, witnessing the drama of these small creatures with her. She is three humanoids who stand on a sheltered cliff, who witnessed the battle, and now curse the failure of their plans and their hopes to restore their rightful station. She hears the shadowy figures vow revenge on herself and her daughter, and she wonders to hear such words as the dark ones disappear, teleporting far away from the world above with mighty magic. She is the Sun, giving light and warmth to Seiros who now cradles what remains of her Mother to her blood and tear stained cheek. She is the Sword, desperate to give her daughter reassurance, to tell her she is still here.
Seiros whispers to the Sword, and Sothis hears. "He's dead, Mother. Finally...you are avenged."
Sothis mourns for her daughter, who does not truly understand. She does not know that they will meet again, yet they have never been apart.
And Sothis feels another mourn with her as well, and she is comforted that there is at least someone else who understands this Truth alongside her.
Watching her daughter in the mud, cradling a bloody sword of bone, Sothis hears the Other within her speak.
Is this how it was?
"Come now, would I lie to you?" Sothis laughs the tinkling laugh of a little girl. "That would be rather difficult, you know."
Who are you?
Sothis tilts her head, considering the question as her braids sway. "I am that which is you. I am that which you were. And I am that which you are becoming."
A strange answer, yet I feel it is true.
Sothis smiles at the response. "It is good that you trust your feelings, for you will need to rely on them." Sothis regards the now time-frozen tableau before her, with Saint Seiros still kneeling in the mud, the dismembered corpse of Nemesis nearby. "These terrible events never end, you know. Not even I could stop them, even though I knew of them."
Then perhaps it is better not to know some things.
"Excuse me?" squeals Sothis indignantly. A small heel digs into the ground of the dreamscape beneath her. "I thought it was obvious, but apparently I have to paint you a picture! You WILL have to know what I know, and you WILL have to chin up and bear it!"
But I am mortal. This knowledge is not for me.
"Are you, and isn't it?" the child-goddess snaps back. The Other within is silent, but Sothis feels it pause, and consider. The Goddess nods to herself, humming an aimless tune as she wills herself to the sky, regarding the dwindling lives, now mere specks, now the ancient dust of history, beneath her. She twirls her vivid green hair as she waits for a response, for she realizes she cannot push too hard, lest the Other retreat away from her and the silence stretch on for years.
As it has happened so many times before.
Finally, an answer. I...I want to understand. I feel what is happening to you is happening to me. I think I am dreaming, but not dreaming.
"You see?" the child Goddess gives an encouraging smile, dancing in the sky. "It's not a bad thing, acknowledging Truths. Truths can be True simultaneously, you know. Every perspective teaches a lesson; you just have to take the time and effort to Know it. And once it is Known, it is not Forgotten."
Sothis was pleased to feel a flash of insight by the Other. And that is why you Witness.
Sothis smiles, and her smile and face and being now encompass all. The plain, mountains, and people fade into blackness.
But the Sword, the Sword of Nemesis, the Sword of the Creator, still remains, and glows an angry red, the color of spilled blood.
A small child's laugh, and a whisper, "I could never forget you. Byleth. The Ashen Demon."
Byleth. I had forgotten. I had forgotten...my name.
"Is it? Is it truly your Name?"
I am Sothis. I am Byleth.
I am a Goddess. I am a Demon. I am the demon Byleth. Byleth...
"BYLETH!" Jeralt called in a reville bellow. Byleth, a junior officer in her father’s mercenary company, snaps awake from her mat, struggling to stand, arm herself, and salute her father at the same time, failing at all three. While most mercenary companies were more casual, Jeralt insisted on a modicum of military discipline in his command. Including his daughter.
Chagrined at being caught asleep during muster, before a mission no less, Byleth sat up quickly from her pallet while scrubbing sleep scummed eyes with the back of her hand. Suddenly, a lumbering scarred figure in an orange tabard and patchwork plate armor was standing before her in the dim light of morning, regarding her plight with amusement.
Jeralt the Blade-Breaker, renowned mercenary of Fodlan, and Byleth's father, dad-smirked down at her with his battle scarred face, clearly enjoying the moment. "Pleasant dreams?" he drawled.
Byleth mentally groaned to herself, and to her shock and surprise thought she heard an echoing childlike whine in the back of her head.
"No sir," she grated, blinking her eyes up at the looming shadow of her father from the ground. "Not in the least."