Byleth groaned, her head spinning as her consciousness finally started to return to her. She blinked slowly, trying to adjust properly to where she was and what exactly was going on. Sitting up was a slow and painful process, but it was the only way she could quickly get her bearings. She put forth the effort to heave her heavy body upwards even if only partially, leaning against the wall as her head swiveled around.
She was in the nurse's office, seemingly alone except for the eternal presence of Sothis. The tiny Goddess had her head pressed against the bed, sitting in a chair to Byleth's right. The position didn't look very comfortable and she quite easily stirred the moment she felt movement, releasing a large yawn before taking note of Byleth's new state. "Oh? You've finally awoken? Good, I've been positively bored out of my mind waiting for you to wake up. And I was ever so kind as to wait. Sitting here so you would not be frightened when you awoke. I could have been watching students dance around their feelings for one another, so be grateful!"
Byleth smiled, reaching out to pat Sothis's head, the hint of a smirk quirking the corners of her mouth upwards. "How sweet, you were worried about me."
"I was no such thing!" Sothis hissed, her hair practically bristling like the fur of a cat. She almost immediately began to sulk, looking considerably bitter. Though, honestly, it looked more like she was sulking because she'd been caught red-handed.
Byleth retracted her hand, pushing out her body into a stretch. Her back popped rather loudly, producing a wince from both herself and Sothis. "What day is it even?" She asked her tinier companion. The last thing she could remember was that fight, as terrible and fierce as it was. She'd need to start practicing again more frequently to get her skills up to par, just in case something like this happened again.
Of course, she'd also need to check on her students and make sure everyone was alright. She didn't know how long she'd been out for, and she absolutely dreaded the idea that something had happened to one of her precious students when she was absent.
"Worry not, it's only been a couple of days since you fell. Magical exhaustion, your father explained it away as something normal for you and Manuela's had you sleeping it off in the nurse's office ever since you and the little ones returned. Rhea has been positively fretting, but your father continued to reassure them it was normal. Ironically, you were hurt the least but you've had the longest stay. Regarding what day it is, well, it's the same day as when you woke up completely doped up on medicine and called Edelgard an angel upon seeing her. And also then proceeded to describe her using the word 'rawr'." Sothis' smile turned into a sadistic grin.
"I'm sorry, what?" Byleth's expression was completely blank as she looked at Sothis for a long, silent second. Internally she was screaming, her thoughts a mixture of her wondering what else she'd done and why Sothis hadn't the thought in her head to stop her before Byleth said something they'd both come to regret.
"Oh, cease with your perpetual worrying. It was actually rather smooth. You spent half of the time flirting with Edelgard and the other half giving her genuinely good life advice. I'm completely clueless as to what kind of medicine Manuela gave you. Whatever it was had the interesting side effect of making you act like you were drunk. You were quite bold," Sothis said. She was having way too much fun while Byleth was contemplating faking her death and leaving Fodlan forever. She didn't care where they went afterward as long as she was as far from Edelgard as physically possible.
The door of the nurse's office opened and whoever was walking in was greeted by Byleth's mortified groan. Fortunately, it was just Jeralt, who very quickly perked up upon seeing Byleth awake. "Glad to see you finally up, kiddo. It was quite a pain trying to explain what had happened. Especially when the children kept trampling over anything I tried to report with their panic. You know, you gave them all quite the scare," he said as he took the empty seat to Byleth's right.
"I'm currently being informed of just that, yes," Byleth said, glancing towards the seat that was full to her, but likely empty to her father.
Jeralt let out a clipped laugh when he saw the darting of Byleth's gaze. "Yeah, I can imagine. I would hope you're being chewed out, all things considered. My office is completely out of note cards and I need to buy a new bottle of ink."
"Wow, getting called out." Byleth couldn't help but smile at the way Sothis started turning scarlet. This was nothing compared to the embarrassment Byleth was feeling, not to mention the added amount she was going to feel every time she got within five feet of Edelgard now. She'd have no sympathy for Sothis, who didn't stop her from making a fool of herself. Karmic retribution and all that. "I've also been informed of acting a bit of a fool in front of Edelgard, so that's fun, I guess."
Jeralt nodded, trying not to smile while failing miserably. "I remember Claude saying something about you waking up earlier and being completely out of it. At some point, Hilda came along and dragged him out of the room before he could grill you for answers to his endless stream of questions. So apparently the next best thing was going to me and trying to see if I'd tell him why you're so powerful, who you learned magic from, and what kinds of spells you were using. Not to mention where you were born and where you grew up. He was really fixated on those two."
Byleth nodded, tilting her head slightly to the right, imploring him to continue in her silent way. "I told him if he wanted answers, he'd have to best me in a bout of hand to hand comment."
That little comment was actually enough to force a laugh out of Byleth. It was just such a warm, familiar kind of feeling. It was exactly one of the things both her father and Robin used to tell little boys whenever they came running along, looking to steal Byleth or Morrigan's attention. Begging for dates and kisses, even as little kids.
That stopped when Byleth started to get older. Her personality started to… change, for lack of better words. Change in ways others often looked at with fear or distaste. As a child, her general lack of expression could easily be passed off as her being shy or reserved. It could easily be called cute, and meek girls were attractive in a lot of the places she visited. As she got older and older though, an aura of elegance came to join that lack of expression. It stopped seeming cute and kind of shy, and instead started to become intimidating. That was the point strangers stopped really liking her, and the title of "Ashen Demon" started to become a bit more widespread.
Despite the number of times 'emotionless rock' had been thrown at her like an insult, she had to force out her next question between bouts of giggles. "What did he say?" She could only smile wider when a fond expression slipped across her father's face.
"He asked if poison was allowed. The little dastard was grinning, but part of me thinks he was being serious. Part of me wonders if he knew how serious I was being. Those Deers..."
"Of course he was being serious. Claude is a mess!"
"But we still love him?"
The pair fell into a comfortable silence, one that was familiar and familial. Jeralt knew Byleth, he knew her and her inner workings well. Regardless of being separated for a good chunk of time during her childhood, he loved her more than anything in the world. She was the last thing he had left of her mother, the only person left he couldn't afford to lose. In his own words, she was his most precious treasure, more valuable than any amount of coin some idiot tried to offer Jeralt for Byleth's hand, or her life.
He loved her, and he knew that she loved her students. She didn't need to say they were her children, he already knew that because he was Jeralt. The one person on the face of the whole earth who could read Byleth with ease and without fail.
He'd never been wrong, yet.
Which was probably why he started grinning in a way that set the hair on Byleth's arms standing straight up. "So, about Edelgard." Oh, she did not like where this was going.
"Don't. Save it. Please. Anything but that, I just don't want to talk about it right now. Please, just pick any other topic." She drew into herself slightly, turning her gaze towards the far wall while Sothis gave her a cattish grin. She refused to look at her father who gave her a look of confused worry. She refused to look at Sothis, whose expression instantly went from a grin to a softer look of sympathetic understanding when the full extent of Byleth's tone finally sunk in. Byleth didn't want to feel their gazes, so she waited until those gazes softened into something else before she turned back to either of them.
Or in the case of her father, hardened. "If you'd like to change topics, then might I recommend hexing the door?" He offered. Byleth paused for a moment before nodding. She gave a quick glance at Sothis who stood up and closed the door her father had left open. The Goddess kept her palm pressed to the door while Byleth muttered a couple of words. The familiar spell muted all sound and locked the door tight. Inside the room was a familiar silence and Jeralt visibly relaxed when he recognized it.
"Got a couple of updates regarding our men, as well as what I've learned about Those Who Slither. I think that's what you and the spies are calling them." His nose wrinkled up. "Not really the best name..." He leaned back in his chair slightly, looking like he wanted a strong drink. Byleth had never been good with alcohol, so while she couldn't say she wished for the same, she could at least say she sympathized.
His pause was an obvious indicator that her father was giving her the decision on what to talk about first. She pondered this for a moment, before a thought struck her. "Start by talking about our men, especially if it's something bad. No one's been hurt, have they?" While it would have been hard for anyone else to pick it out of such a clinical tone, Jeralt was able to snatch tidbits of distressed worry in his daughter's voice.
He could, at the very least, ease her worries regarding anyone being hurt, but unfortunately, he still didn't have any good news.
"No, no casualties of any kind." He paused for a moment, trying to figure out the right words to explain the situation properly. She knew he was working out a way to dance around the subject as to not upset her, which only left Byleth more worried. "Sothis explained to me how the whole broken time thing happened, and how she'd tried to fix it. She also explained the situation so far and we discovered a couple of roadblocks because of it."
Oh, that was never a good word on her father's tongue.
"Some places like Ylisse only skipped ahead a couple of months, and some places are even lagging behind by a day or two. Nothing too terrible for the most part. Of course, there's also Elibe, which jumped ahead a full 20 years, but Sothis has been trying to figure out how to deal with that. So far, I don't really think it's the continents that are our biggest worries since I've actually gotten some reports from Elibe courtesy of Anna." Jeralt visibly shivered when he said her name, pulling out some paper and handing them to Byleth.
Byleth cringed a little as she took the distinctly heavy stack of papers. It was a menagerie of reports, some with handwriting she recognized and others with handwriting she didn't. On the very top was Marc's beautiful if not chaotic and hard to read writing. "Are Hector and Eliwood alright?" She asked, rather than reading the papers herself. It was better to hear it from her father.
He seemed to notice a nervous energy in the way she shifted about, so he held out his hands in a placating gesture. "Easy, easy. They're fine. Hector very nearly died, but it looks like you made a good call sending that letter to Mor- I mean Marc. Not to mention that potion actually managed to keep Eliwood's wife alive. Roy grew up happy and healthy. While they're currently in something of a mess, it looks like Marc is helping them enough by taking your place on the battlefield. It should be over within the next couple of months, at which point they've promised to send aid."
"And that's where we finally hit the problem?" Byleth asked, quietly noting the way her father's brow twitched together for half a second in agitation.
"Unfortunately, yes. It's the 'coming to help' part that's starting to look like it won't be happening. The ocean is all kinds of messed up. Time is apparently completely lost at sea, joke intended. A lot of sailors have reported creatures that look like Sea Dragons trying to forcibly steer boats away from certain areas that are more distorted than others. Unfortunately, they seem to be the only ones with any concept of what's distorted or not, and they're busy trying to fix everything. So our backup is stuck without any kind of escort to get here on time." Jeralt paused at the flash of recognition in Byleth's eyes quickly followed by confusion.
"The Sea Dragons are special, though for the life of me I can't remember why. They never became tyrants like the dragons who tried to rule Ylisse. I think that's part of why they never turned feral either, they didn't need to be punished. Though I couldn't tell you why I think that. I think they also exist outside the typical flow of time. They can fix the broken time in the ocean and hopefully play escort, but I don't know how much they'll actually be able to help."
Jeralt nodded at Byleth's words, sighing heavily. "And that's the problem. Fodlan is completely isolated then. Cut off on all sides by broken time, it's impossible to get through. While a couple of those who left especially early were able to get through, no one else is going to be able to get here until it's fixed. Sothis already told me she doesn't have the energy to fix it yet, so we're entirely on our own..."
Byleth's lips quirked downwards as she thought of green-haired dragons and borrowed time. "No, I don't think that's necessarily true. There are some exceptions. Rare exceptions, but they're here and there. They'll arrive on time. But what are our other options to get everyone here?" Byleth asked, glancing at both Sothis and Jeralt.
"Well, I've been talking to the Annas. As much as I hate being around Annas." Once again, Jeralt shivered as though he was suppressing a bad memory before he continued. "They said they're willing to bring us a couple of groups. The Annas have already figured out a way past this time mess. Because they're Annas. We'll either need to wait for The Anna who's willing to do it for free, or we'll have to pay outrageous prices to any other Annas."
Byleth flinched, she should have already known the answer really. It didn't matter who you were or what relation you had to them, the Annas would bleed just about anyone dry for certain "products". Even Byleth, who had Annas in debt to her, couldn't rely on that to try and get much more than a single person across this time sea. The Anna was a different beast entirely. She was more magnanimous, but her personality was downright unbearable. Less obsessed with money and more flamboyant; a terrifying eldritch monster was the first image that came to mind whenever Byleth so much as felt her encroaching presence.
Byleth didn't dislike her by any means. She was a family... friend? No, no, she didn't want to think about The Anna in relation to her family. That always made her feel sick and her head started spinning in ways that only started to make sense the more and more memories Byleth was able to glean from Sothis. Either way, The Anna was usually willing to afford Byleth a lot of services for free, but the problem was that it often took her forever to get to any one place and she usually needed to be attracted by something. Byleth didn't know exactly what attracted her, but it was seemingly random. So, relying on her for this was considerably out of the question.
"I don't think the Annas are going to be an option in that case. It'll be too late by the time The Anna gets here, and we certainly don't have the kind of money to pay a regular Anna to do any special services for us. Least of all that. It took actual blackmail trying to get them to consider transporting Avalon, and it still ended up being Morrigan doing it. We especially don't have the kind of money to spare when I need to outfit my students for the worst-case scenario. Is there anything else to report?" Byleth's seemingly innocent question resulted in a long pause from her father which set her nerves on edge.
"I'm not sure if you already know this or not, but the people you're trying to fight have some pretty strong advantages. They've got their claws pretty deep in all three of Fodlan's greater powers, especially the Empire." Jeralt shuffled around until he pulled out a couple more papers for her to look at later. "These are all the reports that came in while you were out."
She picked up some of the papers that were dropped into her lap on top of the preexisting ones, squinting at the fine print. She needed new reading glasses, her last set ended up getting ruined some time before the resetting began. Most of the papers didn't account for that, they were probably from lower-level spies and consultants that hadn't gained enough trust to travel up the totem pole, yet. However, there were some letters sprinkled in here or there that were very obviously from a seat of power and knowledge. Old friends who knew this game well. Those were the one that actually told her something.
"Huh," she muttered to herself as she flipped through the papers. "Looks like things are about to become interesting." She toyed with the paper for a little while longer before setting it down with a heavy sigh. "I need to check on the children, but I know that at least the two of you are going to yell at me if I try to get out of bed. So, I'm going back to sleep. Don't wake me up unless it's important."
How interesting. She hadn't expected a letter from Asugi. Cunning little ninja, getting here so soon. Some dragons that bore the blessings of time (Naga and her own descendants) could so easily shirk the damage done to the seas. Byleth had no doubt that the children of Future Past could do the same, their own travels through time benefiting their sensitivity to it. She couldn't help but wonder if one had played escort in the case of Asugi, and if anyone else had come along with them.
She'd already gotten word about a couple of her connections from Tellius arriving. While they weren't the heroes of old, many were at least the descendants of them. Dragon Laguz, who hail from the line of Eda, or dear friends, who came from the lines of Nailah and Rafiel. Only herons could use galdrs, or so the people of Tellius thought prior to the peace between Beorc and Laguz. While considerably rare, some other Laguz and even some Beorc could learn galdrs. Byleth couldn't help wondering if it would be worth it trying to have one teach Dorothea.
Finally, there was a trio of three she knew with complete confidence would be arriving soon. Just give it a little more time and she'd have her spymasters.
Sothis sputtered when Byleth flopped backward, allowing her head to hit the pillow. "Wha- Hey!" she glared, but Byleth paid her no mind. She wanted to go see her children, but that wouldn't be an option with these two very carefully watching (or in Sothis' case leering) over her to ensure she didn't injure herself further. "I haven't gotten the chance to scold you yet! You fool, you absolute idiot, wake up and let me berate you!" There was also that. Byleth was also making a conscious effort to try and escape that.
It seemed her only option was sleep.
For possibly the first time in her life, she was actually able to force herself into falling asleep.
If there was one thing Giaus had learned in the last couple of weeks, it was that he was an idiot. Truly, he was a fool. He shouldn't have ever become attached to idiot children, no matter how good they seemed as apprentices. No matter how endearing they could become in spite of their 'emotionless' appearance. Thieves work alone, he should have reminded himself of that, but it was already too late. He saw the letter and he jumped on the nearest boat with the intention of doing the job requested of him.
Spying wasn't hard, not as hard as stealing. At least in his own opinion.
But he just had to have the terrible foresight to place himself on this boat. This one particular boat, rocking back and forth on the open sea for hours at a time with no entertainment. Now he was suffering for his decision. Now he was stuck.
Stuck on a boat with Morgan, Morrigan, and a Satan Wyvern.
That was the only word he could use to describe this particular wyvern. Demonic. A monstrosity crafted by the hands of a God for their most beloved and benevolent demon. Truthfully, it was the perfect fit of a beast for someone like Byleth.
Currently, Gaius was stuck in a too-small cabin with the beast, trapped in a corner while it slept, each shuddering breath sending chills through his form. Gaius was curled up in his corner, knees pressed to his chest while he prayed to every God he knew that the thing wouldn't wake up. Pressed into the crevasses of the room just so his foot wouldn't brush against so much as its tail.
Now, Avalon was a wonderfully tame wyvern and an absolute treat to be around in the eyes of Cherche and Byleth. Positively adorable, as she'd once described the wyvern when she was teaching both Byleth and Gerome to ride. And she wasn't entirely wrong. The child of every Shepard, including Gaius' own, was essentially on the wyverns 'protect with your life' list and Avalon was very much willing to take that vow to the extreme. As the descendant of the Magic Tribe as well as the Sky Tribe, it truly did seem like some God had intervened in personally handpicking her for Byleth. Gaius had never seen a wyvern so large. Or so dangerous.
Unfortunately, not everyone was as lucky as the children. Even if they were considered family to Byleth, Avalon was a different level of critical entirely. He wasn't sure if Avalon liked or hated him, but he had distinctly horrifying nightmares about meeting the wyvern. The feral fiend had rammed him to the ground and decided to sit on him for hours the first time they met. No one could get her off without risking personal injury to Gaius. It always took either Morrigan or Byleth herself to convince the wyvern to do anything it didn't want to, and even then Byleth was the only one who could force the beast to action with complete certainty.
Gaius had only been having similar experiences ever since he'd gotten on this boat, being used like some kind of teddy bear by the creature. Risen were less terrifying than that wyvern, and this was a belief that Gaius would take to his grave. Which he'd be entering fairly soon if the monstrosity woke up. He'd managed to wiggle out of its grasp but he was still trapped in the corner.
Anything to keep it pacified, the captain had said after being physically bullied into taking the wyvern on board. Did Morrigan know what bribes were, or was she just that much like Byleth by now?
The wyvern made a strange noise and Gaius decided to pray harder. It shifted in its sleep, sprawling out slightly so the tip of its tail brushed against his toes, but the monster did not rouse. Gaius swallowed hard, trying to keep his fingers from shivering.
The creature was a pale thing. Not in the sickly kind of sense, more in the spectral and haunting kind of way. It was so much larger than the average wyvern, with an elegantly sloped neck that ended in a head which was sharper and more angular than the average wyvern as well. Its eyes, a deep shade of violet, sparked and gleamed with intelligence beyond that of the average wyvern. With powerful jaws and talons that could snap a man's sword in half with little effort, Gaius sometimes wondered if it would sprout a second set of legs and finally become a true dragon. It was intelligent enough.
Really it was no wonder she picked it. From what he'd heard, that idiotic child had tamed it under the guidance of Cherche. Or at least, she tried. His stupid apprentice, the people caring for Wyvern Valley had originally slotted the creature for death due to the issue it was causing. She nursed it back to health, fought it for dominance, and the creature was bound to her will with a loyalty that went far beyond anything he'd ever seen.
The reason for their willingness to kill it? Avalon wasn't a normal wyvern, as he'd already stated. As a descendant of a cross tribe pairing, her ancestors had originally been part of the Sky Tribe like every other Wyvern in Ylisse and Valm. However, at some point in her line, recently given how slowly dragons and wyverns age, this particular wyvern had a Magic Tribe ancestor.
It showed, it showed so terrifyingly in the near-perfect immunity Avalon had to magical attacks. She brushed them off with an easy kind of grace that her kin did not share. On top of that, Gaius was convinced he'd seen spells emerging from the figure of the wyvern when Byleth was absolutely not riding it. So it was quite literally a wizard lizard. Fun.
The creature was at least half a size larger than a typical wyvern, if not twice the size of one. The pale scales covering her body were almost translucent, taking on a silver sheen that made the thing glow under certain kinds of light. In the sun it was almost beautiful. Under the moonlight, it was outright ominous and haunting. It was made all the scarier by the spattering of ebony black scales that dotted parts of its body, often glowing in terrifying ways when the light danced across them.
All of this was made so much worse by the fact this thing, this creature, this unholy monstrosity, could spit fire like its kin but was also venomous, unlike other wyverns. Gaius wouldn't doubt it was poisonous as well, but he wasn't going to lick the wyvern to try and find out.
Gaius would never understand how that woman managed to tame it, nor why she and Cherche both considered it to be cute.
Regardless, it had made itself the protector of the other wyverns at the time of its execution. It was for that very fact Avalon was originally going to be killed. Something so fierce and dangerous simply couldn't be allowed to make itself the protector, lest no wyverns ever be tamed again. The people running the operation decided to poison it, ignoring however hard Byleth had argued and begged for its life. She said she was the one who'd tame it, their problem would be solved. But even Cherche didn't want Byleth trying to tame a wyvern that dangerous and they weren't going to ask Jeralt for permission. He would have very vehemently said no if he knew what was going on at the time, but he was distracted with helping settle the mess Walhart's disappearance had made.
When the creature was poisoned, apparently it valued its life more than its honor, so it ran away. And Byleth ran away with it.
Legends say she earned its respect by healing it up to its full strength and then still being able to best it in single combat once it finished its recovery. Those were, of course, legends. Obviously, Gaius believed them.
Afterward, the wyvern became sickeningly loyal to his young protegee, following her around like some kind of puppy and constantly cooing at her while pressing its forehead against her cheek. Like an oversized cat, but with even more pointy bits. It, of course, doted on the children of the Shepherds too, mostly because Byleth saw them as family so the wyvern saw them as such too.
Gaius though? He didn't care what the Satan Wyvern thought. Who it saw as family and what kind of relationship it had to Byleth. He hated it. He wanted off of this stupid boat.
Unfortunately, he couldn't get off of this stupid boat. He was stuck on it with Morgan, Morrigan, and the Evil Wyvern.
Demonic monster beast. At least it still wasn't as scary as Morrigan. She, from Gaius' own personal experience, was much scarier than any wyvern. She had the unholy ability to turn into a dragon that was some kind of awful mixture between Tiki's dragon form and Grima, which had given Gaius a damn near heart attack when he stayed at the Plegia castle for a couple of weeks and woke up to a certain someone riding the back of such a monster. Because, of course, she could and she would.
The only thing scarier than Morrigan was Byleth because Morrigan actually listened to Byleth without question.
The only reason he hadn't jumped ship immediately upon discovery of who he'd be sailing with, vainly attempting to swim back before he was noticed, was because he was a sympathetic fool. Byleth needed him. Needed them. She was a proud and ferocious fighter, and an independent one at that. She resented the idea of asking for help. Well, no, resented might not have been the right word. She was proud and often refused to ask for help if she thought she could win all on her own. Often enough, she was right. She'd figure out a way to settle the score all by herself. Which was why it made it so chilling to receive her most recent letter requesting aid.
She never asked for help, not when she could gather new friends to fight whatever new foes she encountered. She only asked for the help of old friends when it was an old foe she was pitted against.
To Gaius, that meant one of two things. Either she was so terribly outmatched that she needed the help, or whatever foe she was facing was too old and too powerful to rely on those who weren't properly trained in the Byleth Eisner's School Of Combat, Magic, Leadership, and Fuck You. Those were the only two reasonable options he could think of as to why Byleth made the decision to call for help. He wasn't sure which worried him more...
Wait, he was sure. The idea that maybe it could possibly be both.
Either way, call it soft-hearted, but she was a friend asking for help and willing to pay him for it, too. He knew well enough she'd make good on whatever she promised him, so he figured it was well worth whatever risk he might be taking engaging an enemy she considered to be too powerful to handle alone. Even if it meant having to sit on a boat with Morrigan, Morgan, and Death Wyvern.
The door slammed open, jolting Gaius from his musings as well as jolting the wyvern from its sleep. He internally cringed as Morrigan walked into the room. "The Captain said we're going to be able to see land soon, which means we should also be docking soon. Get your stuff together," she said. Luckily the wyvern paid more attention to her than it did to Gaius, so he was able to deftly spring to his feet and avoid that thing's tail as he shot for the door.
"Right. I should probably go write up a report then!" Without any sense of remorse, he left Morrigan alone with that wyvern because for some reason she also thought it was cute. Crazy women, he was surrounded by crazy women. He missed his wife.