Chapter 77: Wool undone from very old eyes.
Goetia was surprised to find that he had nothing to say once Rhea had finished speaking. A part of him had genuinely wanted her to continue onwards, perhaps relaying yet more to the story of what she had done. Yet, once again, she left him feeling disappointed in her inability to do the very simple tasks that would benefit him.
Now he was left in silence, his mind working to understand the implications of what she had said. It had always been something he had known in the back of his mind, the fact Byleth was a Demi-Servant of a Divine Spirit combined with Rhea's very obvious infatuation with her progress was evident that she had some influence over the current state of affairs. Yet he had never once put into motion any plan to completely understand the mystery behind Byleth's creation.
Now he knew everything relating to Byleth's origins as well as where the naming convention of Sitri had come from.
It left him with a single truth that he dare not face, even thinking about it left him feeling a deep sense of nausea at the very concept. Yet, without any other form of stimulus he could not focus on anything other than the truth of the matter. Even the topic of what Rhea had been able to achieve as a mere novice alchemist, creating a series of homunculi that were apparently her first attempt at the matter taking place since she was Seiros - making her at least over a thousand years old - was a more appealing topic to discuss.
An exhale brought his attention across the room, Seteth bringing his hands up to his head and running them through his hair. The man seemed to bleed out apprehension, his hands paused at the top of his head, eyes closed and lips drawn into a thin line. After what amounted to nearly ten seconds of silence, he brought his hands down to his side and stared at Rhea, opening his eyes once more and showing a lack of emotion.
"...Would there ever have come a point where you told us this?" Even Goetia could tell that when Seteth said 'us' what he really meant was himself and Flayn. Probably the other two of their kind who remained, though Rhea had told him she wasn't sure whether or not they were still alive. "Where you explained to us what you had done? Surely you understand that if you had succeeded at any point, your actions would have been brought to the light."
Goetia looked from Seteth to Rhea, seeing what sort of reaction she had. She was resigned, there was grim acceptance in her eyes as she looked dead into Seteth's face without turning away. Apparently finding the confidence that she had lacked earlier, at the very least she was taking his advice to heart.
He just could not find himself to even revel in that meagre achievement at the moment.
She breathed out "If there had ever come a moment where I succeeded. I would have accepted whatever judgement the Goddess handed down to me. I did not commit these acts without an understanding of what they would entail and what the consequences would be." she spread her arms to either side of her "I committed the greatest sin I could in disobeying her…However, that did not even register as a concern."
Flayn pursed her lips "It did not even register as a concern? Were you that focused on your heresy?" there was accusation in her voice, Goetia did not care for the heresy one way or the other. Whatever private thoughts they held towards this was neither here nor there in his mind.
He instead turned to the one person in the room who had yet to speak, finding himself staring at Byleth as she maintained her calm mask of an expression, looking straight towards Rhea without wavering. Even Sothis floating above her shoulders was silent this time around, not an ounce of emotion to be seen on her face as she looked at Rhea.
"You and Seteth have been fortunate these many years." Rhea replied after a moment of thought, her own brows furrowing and her tone hardening. "Your slumber meant you avoided partaking in the gruelling passage of time for so long and Seteth taking watch over you meant he remained away from the world at large." bringing her hand up, she gestured to herself "The others departed, vanishing away into the world, out of apathy or exasperation, they washed their hands clean of Fodlan."
He looked back to Rhea, raising an eyebrow at her.
"I alone remained behind once more, even with the knowledge that some of my kin yet lived in the world, the task of rebuilding was never more pressing. There were none I could consult and none I could look to for support, whatever humans I thought I could share my burdens with were dead before I could so much as blink." Her eyes closed. "In spite of all of that, all of my dislike for humanity…it was mother - the Goddess - who created them and I could never once turn from that duty of protecting them, even from themselves."
…Goetia felt his lip curl.
When Rhea's eyes opened once again, they were full of fire. "I tried, for well over a thousand years I worked to bring order and stability to Fodlan, navigating the world even as humanity seemed bent on trying to wipe themselves out over petty little disputes. Arguing with me over what the Goddess would consider to be rightful worship." she almost spat the words now, anger rippling in her throat "Could you imagine the sheer arrogance of that? I knew I would not have the patience for it, to take command of Fodlan in such a way and keep some semblance of order in this continent was the very best I could manage."
"...The Crest system." Goetia felt like his mind was numbing now "That…was your doing, was it not?"
"A choice I made under the bitterest of minds." Rhea remarked with a cold tone, briefly surprising even him with how much venom came from her. "I propped up humans who had received blood stolen by the hands of savages." she waved her hand around "Granted blessing by the Goddess? The Ten Elites murdered my family and drained their blood for their own gain, turning their bones into weapons to slaughter yet more of their own people in pointless conquests of dominance!" she snarled, pointing down "What I wanted was to purge every trace of them and their families from the world, wiping out their bloodlines…instead I saw something to use."
"...So that is why the Heroes Relics are made from phantasmal bones." Goetia muttered out, Rhea jolted for a moment - not alone as both Seteth and Flayn looked at him in surprise - then her expression settled into one of indifference.
"I am not surprised you are aware. I have noticed there is very little that escapes your watchful eyes." Rhea's voice was clipped, perhaps she was angry or perhaps she was just in a foul mood. To say nothing of how Goetia himself was feeling right now. He couldn't describe it, like a vortex of emotions with one surfacing and then being dragged back down before he could even tell what it was in the first place.
"It was…hardly a surprise." He whispered back, though he was more speaking on reflex at this point. His mind still processing Rhea's words.
"Hmph. Yes…I crafted the history to make it more useful to my own ends. Something that I could use to legitimise the power of crests in Fodlan." Rhea grunted as she continued onwards, her eyes flickering around the room "Even I was surprised by how effective it worked, lasting as long as it has…though once more, I was forced to watch humanity squabble over powers that were never meant for them in the first place."
"We were all there, Rhea." Seteth remarked before exhaling "This was not a choice you alone made-"
"You wanted to bury the relics, give them a proper funeral." Rhea dismissed his words instantly "That would have afforded them a great deal more respect than what they currently face. Being considered the prize trinkets for whatever family managed to obtain them over the years…" her voice was thick with derision, impossible to tell who exactly it was aimed at.
"Why return the Goddess?"
Those were the first words spoken by Byleth, the room as one turned towards the woman. Even through all of this, her expression might have still been considered to be a perfect mask, not an ounce of emotion. One would have very easily made the mistake that even in light of all these revelations, she was calm and collected. Goetia was not like most people, he could see her eyes.
He could see the turmoil within them, the confusion. In truth, Byleth was likely just as affected as the others in the room were, she was just much better at hiding it. Not as though he could say he didn't understand, in the space of a few minutes Byleth had learned of the truth behind her mothers birth and why Rhea had actually aided her as well. That was likely a shocking revelation for any human to face.
Rhea opened her mouth, then closed it again for a moment. After a full five seconds of silence - Goetia counted each and every one in his mind - she finally responded to the question posed.
"I grew tired of it." Her words were so casual that they almost slipped right past him, combined with the almost lackadaisical shrug of the shoulders that she gave, which quickly melted away into exhaustion. "In the beginning, I thought of myself as nothing more than a steward. The Goddess was the one who would govern Fodlan, my role was nothing more than a stand-in until she returned…so I had to ensure that there was still a country for her to return to. That was my role, I waited…She was the Goddess, I truly did believe she might have been able to return."
"But she didn't." Jeralt croaked out, his voice trembling with emotion. This time Rhea reacted, closing her eyes and nodding her head once in affirmation. "So you decided to brute force it…that's what my…that's who Sitri was."
"Yes. That is who Sitri was supposed to be." Rhea opened her eyes once more, this time full of a great deal more anguish in those bright green orbs of hers. "I created Sitri and her brethren to act as Vessels to the Goddess because I could no longer bare the burden of governing all of Fodlan, even in light of the creation of the Kingdom and the Alliance…they still looked to me for guidance on the ways of the Goddess."
The laughter that came next was like a jumbled puzzle, fractured and full of contradictory emotions. "Recent events made it clear that I was…a hypocrite. Though I stayed true to the role because…I had nothing else. I worked to ensure Fodlan would survive while making plans to return the Goddess to the world. When the Chalice of Beginnings failed, I looked to other methods to achieve this aim. Thus I turned to alchemy to simply create the body for the Goddess, yet I was rewarded with failure time after time."
With a long sigh, she lowered her head. "In truth, there came a point where I was disillusioned with my role. I have long since readied myself for the return of the Goddess…because it was my firm belief that she would have been able to finally bring complete and lasting peace to Fodlan. She…she would have the power to make the world whole once more." when it finally came back up, her expression was broken "Yet even in success…I am rewarded with failure for my crimes."
"A thousand years I watched over Fodlan, I kept humanity at a slower pace, ensuring that changes were gradual and accepted throughout the world first. The surge of technology had to be stemmed and research into Crests was controlled…everything I did was to try and prevent human nature taking control. To prevent struggles of power, and it worked." She remarked with a shrug "It worked. With few exceptions over the entire history of Fodlan…I kept peace."
She kept peace? Is that what she called what she was doing here?
His state of mind was hardly in the best place to-
"Don't give me that shit." The words of Jeralt, as something more reminiscent of a growl, silenced his thoughts and reminded him that the man was actually still in the room. Heavy thuds sounded out, Goetia glanced to the right and watched as the armoured man took two steps forwards and stopped, his right hand came upwards and stabbed a pointed finger in Rhea's direction, his expression nothing shy of thunderous. "Your holier than thou speeches might have meant something to me before I found out you turned my kid into a damn experiment!"
…Surprising as it was, Goetia was inclined to agree with the man. The entire nature of Byleth's existence now reminded him more of that of the Demi-Servant experiments of Chaldea. The act of creating a human life just to supplant their existence with someone who had already perished from this world. It was sickening enough to make the attempt with a human Soul from the Throne…but to sacrifice a human life for that of a Goddess?
He could not condone it…yet without that act, there would be no Byleth here today. He looked at her, seeing what sort of reaction she was having. He saw nothing, not immediately. Sothis remained present, yet she was still apparently trying to find her barings, her hands nursing her head, hiding her expression away from the world.
A subtle nudge towards them was all it required.
"You are both troubled by this."
It was his first sentence to the pair of them, simple and direct, he watched the exchange play out and felt the emotions swirl in Byleth's mind. Confusion, loss, irritation, frustration…it was as though he was staring at a canvas with too many colours poured over it. He could not guess what Sothis' current emotional state was, but she replied back to him soon enough.
"Clearly!" The Goddess snapped across the room, a shout that would have cut through the current speaking if anyone else could hear her. As it stood, Sothis immediately let out a breath and looked to the side. "Is this what your infinite wisdom could determine, Goetia? That I am troubled by this revelation? Trouble does not even begin to explain my current feelings on the matter!"
"You were the one who sought answers. Did you expect them to be anything less that horrifying?"
"You didn't give a damn about Sitri." Jeralt spat, his expression warped by anguish and fury as he continued to glare at Rhea, his voice cracked ever so slightly as he spoke. "Or my kid…you just used her to try and perform your fucking black magic shit!"
"I cared for Sitri as though she was my own!" Rhea did not take the insult well, responding to the raised voice with one of her own, her arms coming to her side and her hands clenched into fists. "Perhaps I did care for the others before her out of obligation! Yes, I brought them into the world and it was only right that I cared for them until they left…Sitri was different! Sitri was…I loved her! I loved her like she was my own!"
Jeralt pointed at Byleth "And you gave Byleth some weird…you…you just saw a chance and took it! You used her…" he growled, his throat rippling as though he was a wild animal, his eyes narrowed and teeth bared. "You just do that, don't you? Use people to get what you want!"
"What do you want me to tell you, Jeralt?" Rhea snapped back, spreading her arms wide "I never had any intention of placing mothers heart inside of Byleth until Sitri made the suggestion, even then I had no manner of knowing if it would work or not!" there was a brief pause before she lowered her arms back to her side. "...And did you truly believe you could have left without my knowing?"
That gave Jeralt pause, his brows furrowed "...What?"
"I was there when Byleth was born, Jeralt. I could see the way you had started to stare at me in recent weeks following the death of Sitri…your suspicion was well concealed but I have centuries of speaking with liars, you barely even rank amongst the greatest of them." She announced with confidence coming into her, finding traction as she spoke. "You truly believe that you could have left the Knights with a child - Sitri's Child - and I would remain ignorant to it?"
The man remained silent, taking a step backwards "You…knew?"
"Of course I knew. I knew and I let you go…" She exhaled, her eyes dropping "...You lost Sitri…and I lost both of you. I confess it had always been a desire of mine to see the Goddess return, even when you came before me with the Professor in tow…It remained a hope in my heart that she would awaken the Goddess heart and she would once more descend upon all of Fodlan again."
Jeralt crossed his arms over his chest, his expression once more hardened like set concrete. The man looked very close to shouting once more and Goetia very nearly believed that he did, though at the last second his body turned rigid and his eyes narrowed once more. "...Well you got your wish. I hope you're happy."
Rhea was many things in regards to this present situation, Goetia could tell at but a glance that 'happy' was most certainly not one of them. The phantasmal was not even pleased at the success she had been able to achieve, whatever efforts she had made have been rendered null and void with the simple fact that Sothis was, without a shadow of a doubt, beyond useless at this present moment in time.
It would have been amusing in any other situation to see the range of emotions that Rhea cycled through, but Goetia could not even bring himself to find enjoyment at watching her be left so dumbfounded. There was a toxic feeling deep inside his gut, taking enjoyment from this would achieve nothing and he was left with a premonition that if he derived amusement from this situation, something inside him would be fundamentally broken.
So he just remained silent, content to just stare at Rhea as she looked like she'd been slapped in the face. It was an accurate enough analogy, being reminded so vehemently of her single goal ending in failure after so long of striving towards it…
Once more, the parallels he drew disgusted him to no end.
"What is this?" Seteth spoke up now, his voice containing an edge as he stepped forwards with his arms raised slightly, there was a stance in his body like he had been preparing to move in between the pair of them. He looked first to Jeralt and then to Rhea, though Goetia could not see his expression Rhea still turned her head from the man, her features warped with…calling anguish would have been an understatement.
It was an expression of such deep sadness that Goetia felt his own lip curl, turning his head from her and to the side of the room. That expression on her face…he did not want to look upon it at all.
The silence came once again, then Seteth spoke in a slow tone of voice "...The Goddess awakened in Professor Eisner, didn't she?" that was then followed by a pause as the man clearly realised that something was wrong with that assessment "No…that is not something that would make sense. If that were true, then would she not have taken control?"
"She did." The words slipped from his mouth, turning his head back around "Sothis achieved possession during the encounter with S-" he cut himself off, briefly glancing towards Jeralt and then away once more. "...With the Demon God attacker, likely a result of stress being placed upon the host at the Divine Spirit working to ensure its own survival. Though Sothis found a way to relinquish control after several days."
He looked to Seteth, the man's expression cycling through several emotions before it settled into something that was a mixture of reverence and a grimace. He slowly turned his head towards Byleth and opened his mouth, words failed to escape before he closed his jaw once more.
Flayn, meanwhile, had an odd look about her. "Wait…that's who…but…" she furrowed her brows, looking more caught off guard than anything else "but then, why did she not recognise me?"
"Because she can't remember." Byleth answered instead, the woman looking dead into Flayn's eyes before she turned to him, the staring contest lasted but a brief moment before she returned her attention to the others in the room. Her eyes swept over each and every one of them before finally coming to a halt on Seteth himself. "Sothis can't remember anything before waking up inside me in Remire village."
She shrugged "She did not even know she was the Goddess of Fodlan until Abyss."
Seteth looked like he was lost for words, his expression twisted into disbelief of the highest order as he turned his full attention to Rhea, the silence that came upon the room could be best described as uneasy.
…He'd seen enough of this.
He turned on his heel, walking back the way he had come, he barely got a metre before Jeralt's voice cut through the air like an axe, his words sharp enough to promise pain if Goetia did not heed them. An amusing effort at a time that was hardly amusing to him in the least. Right now, he wanted to be as far away from this little spat as possible, he didn't even want to be in the same room as Rhea right now.
"Where do you think you're going?"
"What business is it of yours?" He replied back, looking over his shoulder and staring at the man with furrowed brows. Jeralt wasn't facing him, instead he had his back to Goetia and his arms crossed over his chest. "You have gotten what you came here for, my presence was barely required."
That was an open ended statement, Goetia knew many things. He knew things that this man would not even begin to be capable of imagining in however many centuries he was old. Did he truly believe that he was somehow entitled to whatever information Goetia had managed to scrounge up over the brief intervals that he had granted a modicum of his time to Sothis?
"I have already said as much, yes."
Jeralts form tensed "...And how long were you going to keep that to yourself?"
"If Byleth did not see the need in speaking to you about her newfound status, then I have even less reason to discuss it with you." He countered just as quickly, right now he was more irritated than anything else. Perhaps Jeralt was entitled to some answers on account of it being his daughter that was affected. "If you question my lack of answering, recall that I have spoken with you for a total length of time amounting to just over one hour. I see precious little reason to inform you of anything, especially in regards to your own family who could just as easily seek counsel on their problems."
With nothing else to say, Goetia continued his walk.
"Most would be more boastful about speaking to the Goddess."
"Do you boast of every instantace you see a fly?" He shot back "The act of meeting a Goddess is as memorable to me as you strolling down the streets and encountering a stray cat. An encounter that you consider to be an amusing diversion before you continue on your way without even sparing it a second glance." he turned around, facing Jeralt fully as the man looked over his shoulder. "I have no reason to believe you were not aware of the situation with Byleth. Even then, what would you have had me do?"
Jeralts silence was telling.
"...You have my pity for what has been done to your daughter. It is truly disgusting to me what Rhea has done." He remarked after a moment of silence. These words were genuine. To become what Byleth had been made into was not a fate he would have wished upon any human. It was a cruel and vicious thing Rhea had done, certainly one that left him disappointed and…
Even this dragon was closer to understanding humanity than he was.
Jeralt clicked his tongue and looked away.
With no one else seemingly wishing to say anything, Goetia turned on his heel and resumed his escape. Whether or not Byleth was taken from the monastery by Jeralt at this point was out of his hands.
He just wanted to be anywhere else but here.
Goetia's departure was without fanfare, as though to counter the manner in which he had arrived. It was telling, at least to Byleth, that he didn't even bother to teleport out of the room or do another of his strange magical spells to leave. He just walked up to the door, pulled it open and then stepped out of the room.
She found herself staring at the shut door for a few moments, then turned her attention back towards Rhea, or was she supposed to call her Seiros now?, staring at the green haired woman and studying her expression. It was always difficult for her to tell what people were feeling on account of not paying that much attention to the emotions around her at the time, she didn't get close enough to people for that to be something that happened.
All the same, there was a lot going on here that she wasn't sure how she was supposed to respond to. Her life had barely had anything close to complications before and now she was being dogpiled by revelation after revelation without end, some of which related to her and some of which related to her father.
Speaking of which, she shot him a glance and internally hummed. He was still visibly angry. It made sense to her from a logical standpoint, he had known her mother for longer than she had. Obviously he would have been troubled by the reason behind her birth. At the same time it was…something that Byleth couldn't find herself empathising with.
It was as though she was only a minor role in the room, despite the topic of conversation all coming back to her it was never actually directed towards her. It was all either about Rhea, Sitri or Sothis. She might as well have not even been present for the way in which everyone was speaking. Though she could tell that her father was at least troubled on her behalf, Byleth didn't really have the chance to think long enough about what was going on to even have an understanding of what she was supposed to be feeling at the moment.
Though there was one thing that did occur to her.
She looked to Rhea "Did you only accept me because of Sothis?"
Rhea started, turning her head towards her and staring at her for a few moments. Then she nodded her head once. "I suppose that goes without saying at this point…but yes. I had initially hoped to keep you around once Jeralt had been returned to the knights…though the capacity of your position was always something I had not given much consideration to." she admitted, looking rather tired. "Alois making the recommendation for you to become a Professor seemed a convenient excuse."
A convenient excuse.
She looked down.
"...Though it might mean very little now, you have done exceedingly well in your role thus far." Rhea offered, it was a weak praise on her part and the fact even Byleth could tell she was just saying it so there was something to say was telling.
"...If Sothis took control…what were you going to tell Jeralt?"
She'd never experienced a room turn as silent as it did before, it was like every ounce of noise had been sucked from the room faster than anyone could have accounted for. At the same time, it was like an invisible force settled around them, not strong enough to be considered a push but something now resting on your shoulders with the bare minimum force to alert you that it existed.
It was like the tension of a battlefield, just without all the death.
"Make no mistake, this is a battle of a different kind." The comment from Sothis behind her was surprisingly welcome. Byleth could understand that sort of analogy, it just meant this was a field of combat she wasn't trained for. Yet, at least. "And I doubt there shall be any winners here…not for you or I, certainly not for your father and most definitely not Seiros."
There was a lack of emotion in Sothis, but the fact that she had not even bothered to hide the trembling in her voice was alarming. She was clearly caught off guard by the words just as Byleth had been. However, the fact remained that this was all something Sothis had worked towards and now Byleth found that she had been dragged right into the sight of the archers with her.
Rhea had yet to speak, now finding the room turning to her as one, with Flayn giving her an especially piercing look, a rather strong expression for someone who had the appearance of a rather young girl, easily the same sort of stature as Lysithea. Though Byleth was now getting the idea that those of lesser heights were hiding fierce personalities behind their small statures.
Lysithea went without saying.
Flayn? Flayn reminded her of wild berries. Pretty to look at, rather small and mundane in nature. Then if you tried to eat them on account of thinking they were harmless, you ended up dead.
If her earlier comments had been anything to go by, she was rather incensed by recent developments.
Certainly it ran in the complete opposite direction to Seteth's indifference, though it was indifference born of misery. She'd seen that reaction in the faces of plenty of other mercenaries. Normally those on guard duty outside, stood in thick mud while it was hammering it down with rain. They were cold, they were wet and they were miserable, long since past the point of complaining and now taking the hits with resignation. That was Seteth right now.
"You're focusing on the others too much." Sothis remarked, Byleth figured she was right but she didn't know what she was supposed to do instead of that. She couldn't make heads nor tails of what her own reaction was even supposed to be and now she was being confronted with the fact her entire family had practically been made…
Made in the same way someone makes a sword or a spear, or armour.
Except her mother hadn't been made very well, there were chips in the blade and the tang was apparently too weak. It was her own way of explaining what happened but it still didn't register with her in that capacity. It didn't feel right to just go around making people like it was some sort of hobby.
Rhea still hadn't answered the question, it must have been a relatively short time since she asked, otherwise the silence must have dragged on for quite a length of time. The fact that her expression was still frozen, she'd seen those same sort of faces in the people she'd fought, moments before they were dealt a fatal blow.
When she finally spoke, her voice came out as a quiet whisper "I…do not know."
She didn't know?
Byleth didn't quite understand what she meant there, soon finding herself blinking twice in confusion, though she doubted it showed on her face. That was always a slight problem with her, never really showing what she felt. But she just stared incomprehensibly at the Archbishop, the woman who had promised her all the answers she wanted.
And she just said 'I don't know' to perhaps one of the most important ones.
"...You don't know?" She parroted the words back, Rhea looked very close to turning her head but held herself firm. Making sure to keep eye contact with her for as long as she could. "...Why not?"
"...Because the thought had not occurred to me." Rhea replied honestly, then chanced a look to the left. Her composure shattered instantly, replaced by a look of hurt as she quickly turned her eyes to the side and clenched them shut, biting her lower lip hard enough to draw blood. The substance dribbled down her chin and dropped down onto the dress, staining it.
Slowly but surely, Byleth turned her head in the direction that Rhea had been looking for the reaction. Finding herself staring at an expression she had never once seen in her father before. She wasn't sure what it meant either, a look so out of place that it was like a fish swimming on land.
His eyes were wide, his lips parted and his arms hanging limply by his side. It was an expression she'd never encountered before, there was a deep burning inside her chest when she saw that look.
She didn't like it at all, she didn't like the fact that he was making it and she certainly didn't like the fact he was making it over the question. A pang of regret shot through her at the fact she had even posed it in the first place, soon followed by anger directed towards the Archbishop for being unable to provide an answer, something that led to this expression, this haunted look on Jeralts face.
"Y-you…" Jeralt's voice cracked, Byleth felt her own burning feelings intensify further at how the voice sounded. There wasn't a hint of the confident and commanding tone of the man to be found anywhere in those words. They were brittle, as though the next ones spoken would shatter into nothing and he would let slip…something, perhaps a scream or a cry but it would have been one full of emotion.
Something better suited for…anyone but Jeralt.
"You…were gonna take my child from me…" He continued onwards, still looking at Rhea as though she was something else entirely. "T-then if I asked…you were gonna just…shrug your shoulders at me?" he tapped his index finger against his breastplate, blinking repeatedly as though he wasn't quite understanding what he had just been told, in truth, Byleth didn't either.
"...I…" Rhea opened her mouth to say something, then she slowly closed it again, turning her eyes to the floor and saying no more.
Not that she needed to in this instance, Byleth had already been given the answer she needed. Ironic though it might have been, coming in the form of a non-answer, the silence still said more than enough of what Rhea's plan had been if she had succeeded.
There wasn't one.
She didn't have any more questions, she didn't have anything else she might have wanted to say and even if she had, Byleth doubted she would have been able to muster the strength to speak about anything in this moment. All she could think about was the fact the woman in front of her had been trusted by her father once and had been planning to stab him in the back the entire time they knew one another.
No one said anything. Not her, not Rhea, not Sothis, Not Jeralt, not Flayn and Seteth. The entire room descended into a chilling silence as though they'd just watched an execution. With the mood in the room, that was something that Byleth likened it to. An execution.
She internally announced her plans to leave the room, Sothis didn't make a response to her. The Goddess having vanished from sight and even receding into her mind as far as she could. Well beyond the point where Byleth would have been able to sense her lingering, her head was about as empty as it had been in a long time. With deliberate movements, Byleth turned on her heel, ignoring the way it scraped against the stone flooring with a sharp noise. Seemingly jolting the others with the swiftness of her actions. Through it all, Byleth said nothing as she walked towards the door, no one made a move to stop her.
Just shy of the door, she paused and looked around behind her, focusing on Jeralt and seeing him remaining rooted on the ground with his attention fixed solely on Rhea, neither one of them had moved from their spaces even as the room had focused its attention onto her as she made her sudden retreat.
"Are you coming, Father?" She called out to him, not even getting anything that could have been conceived as a response. A small part of her briefly debated whether or not she had accidentally frozen time, though it was quickly disproven as Flayn looked between the two of them, her eyes wide and words on the tip of her tongue. Whatever she was going to say would remain a mystery, soon closing her mouth and clenching her hands by her side, staring at the floor.
Jeralt let out a sharp intake of breath, opening his mouth and looking as though he was going to speak. Then he closed his jaw. His expression lost all manner of emotion upon it, wearing a perfect mask. It might have worked, were it not for the fact there was a faint build up of tears in the corner of his eyes. He remained standing there for a good few seconds, easily long enough to be considered worrisome, Byleth was about to call out to him again when he turned on his heel and walked towards her.
Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say he stomped, if he pressed his boots into the ground any harder, Byleth was certain he was going to end up putting his foot through the floor. He moved with such purpose behind him that he had crossed the threshold of the door before anyone even realised what was going on, it was a surprise to her that Jeralt even bothered opening it up rather than just walking through the wooden fixture.
At the rate he was moving, she was certain he would have been capable of doing something like that.
She made to step outside, then a voice called out.
The only reason she stopped was because it was Flayn's voice, perhaps she would have stopped if it was Seteth's. Certainly not for Rhea, she wasn't even going to turn around and look at the woman. Nonetheless, she did pause and incline her head ever so slightly to inform the young girl she was listening to her, though she did not speak her affirmations.
"I…" Flayn's words died on her lips, or presumably so. Trailing off into a silence once more before the girl seemingly mustered up the strength to finish the sentence. "I am…so sorry."
"...You didn't do anything." Her voice was toneless, an apology from Flayn didn't mean anything to her because Flayn had done nothing to her. There was nothing for her to feel guilty about as she was not a guilty party. Perhaps Flayn just wanted someone to say it or perhaps she felt sorry for her, Byleth didn't know and she couldn't bring herself to care about the specifics right now. All she knew was the fact that whatever had occurred, had affected her life from the very beginning and it was something that originated right here. "You don't need to apologise."
Flayn made a small noise "I know but…all the same…I am so very sorry about what has been done to you." What was worse was that she genuinely sounded guilty, there was true remorse in her words. She didn't deserve to be feeling like that, you didn't apologise to someone for something that you had no part in and had no way of knowing about in the first place. It was why she'd stopped Ashe from apologising for Lonato's behaviour.
Being related to someone does not carry their sins over to you.
Or drinking tabs, in Jeralt's case.
The principle remained the same.
"...Flayn. Seteth." She returned her attention to the door, stepping out of the room with those parting words. Sparing none for Rhea, she had no idea what she was supposed to feel about the woman now. Especially with the reveal of what her birth had been intended to be versus what it currently was. There was a lot she needed to sort out and she wasn't sure she would be able to figure it out all at once.
Whatever happened in the room in her absence would go unknown, she didn't much care for that at the moment. Though it was clear that Seteth and Flayn were none too pleased with what they had heard, something that Byleth was…
She didn't know how to feel, but the fact they had been similarly troubled or disgusted by it was rather pleasing to her. Maybe not in a vindictive sense but more than enough that she and Jeralt weren't the only ones who felt like the situation was wrong.
As for right now, she was content in following Jeralt as he moved through the corridors to his own room. The speed at which he was covering the distance made Byleth think he was going to break out into a sprint, it was at least fast enough that she had to briefly jog to catch up with him.
Even when she did catch up with the man, Jeralt did not slow his pace in the least as he closed in on his assigned room. His turn was sharp, almost a full ninety degrees, as he came up to the door and placed the flat of his hand against it. With a grunt, he shoved it forwards. Byleth heard a sound of tearing wood, soon followed by splinters clattering onto the floor as Jeralt shoved the door open and all but destroyed the lock.
She could tell he was angry, if it hadn't been obvious before.
The man stomped into the room, moving to the centre and then going still. She followed him inside and watched his back, staring at the man as the sound of his breathing soon filled the air, deep breaths in and out that were a clear sign of him trying to control his temper. Whether or not it was working was difficult to tell, especially because the speed and rhythm of his breathing never shifted.
"...Father?" Another call to the man, this time his breathing did slow but it clearly took a great deal of effort on his part. Taking in a single, long and unbroken breath, before he exhaled once again. She would have followed up by asking him 'Are you alright?' but she held herself back from asking something that held a fairly obvious answer.
He turned back around, his face trembling as he was clearly caught between whether or not he wanted to yell. After a good few seconds, he clenched his eyes shut with such force that it dragged the rest of his face along as well, scrunching it up tight.
She remained silent all the while, partially caught between gratitude that she wouldn't be asked questions she didn't know the answers to at the moment and partially out of awe at the range of emotion she had seen from her father in the past thirty or so minutes, something that eclipsed the twenty years she had known him. Not that he had been as bad as her, but his face was always some variation of a scowl.
He went slack, his features falling and his breathing slowing to a regular pattern. His eyes slowly opened themselves up. Byleth had expected to see some sort of burning rage inside of them, perhaps some deep seated anger or maybe betrayal. Instead they were just…empty.
A look better suited to her than to him.
Like he'd lost all passion in that one moment. Her lips tightened, expression shifting nearly imperceptibly as she beheld this new look of his. Feeling no small amount of trepidation at it, something she couldn't quite describe since her abduction at the hands of the Demon Sitri. It wasn't excitement, but she felt completely focused on what was in front of her, as though she could not take her eyes off of it.
Was this what fear was?
By all accounts, it made sense but she'd never really experienced it before. Sure, she had experienced surprise and concern but never fear to this extent. Nor could she make sense of why she was feeling fear now of all times. This wasn't a battlefield, her life was not in danger and yet she was…scared of that expression on his face?
Why? Because it was so unusual?
"Pack your things. We are leaving."
It took her a second to realise that Jeralt had spoken, mainly because he had delivered the command without a trace of emotion in his words. As though he had completely cut them away. She found herself blinking at him in confusion, he turned away from her before she had a chance to inquire further, moving on with his speech and not giving her a chance to get a word in.
Provided she was even capable of that.
"I'll speak with some of the mercenaries I have contacts with down in the town." Jeralt remarked, moving towards the drawers and pulling them open. "There isn't a fire for me to take advantage of this time and I doubt that Rhea will do something so stupid as to try and stop us leaving…but clearly I don't know her as well as I thought I did."
He moved away from the desk, taking with him a small portion of papers and going across to the other side of the room.
"We'll have to go far, kid." He grunted, barely even pausing to see what her reaction was. Or perhaps he didn't care for it right now, if he had Byleth figured he might have noticed how shocked she was at the statements he was giving. "I'm sure that there is work for us in Dagda or maybe even Brigid. Could always try one of the other foreign nations, don't know too much about them - even now - but I'm sure a sellsword can find work there."
"Leaving?" She found her voice, being able to utter a single word and stop Jeralt in his tracks. The man exhaled.
"Yeah. Leaving." He frowned. "You'll probably have to announce your resignation, I'll give you enough time to say goodbye to the brats, don't worry, but we'll have to be gone within the next couple of hours." the frown deepened into a scowl "As far away from this cursed place as we can possibly get."
…She would have to say goodbye to the students?
She'd probably never see them again either.
And with that mission coming up, how many of them would end up dead without her? Would they even still go on it without her?
"I…" She opened her mouth, but Jeralt was already walking once again, pulling open drawers and looking at the contents inside, grabbing whatever was in there - clothes and small cloths - and tossing it out and onto the closest thing that they could be put on. In this case, his bed.
"We can talk more about where we're going to go after we're on the road." Jeralt continued onwards, waving a hand in her direction. "Go and get your stuff, kid. We're gonna need to be quick."
She remained rooted on the spot. Staring at him with wide eyes as he tore the room apart and grabbed whatever wasn't nailed down. Apparently she had been stood there for some time, as he stopped working and sent her an odd look, as though he didn't understand what she was doing.
"Come on, kid. What are you still standing around here for?"
In spite of all her problems that had newly arisen with Rhea, how unusual this current situation was for her…
"I don't want to go."
If Jeralt hadn't been looking at her as though she was an idiot before, he certainly was now. His brows furrowing and his features twisting in puzzlement. "Huh? What the heck are you…" Straightening himself out, he frowned at her with a rather heavy look, though it still contained that confusion. "What are you talking about?"
"I don't want to leave the Blue Lions."
"The Blue Lio-" He cut himself off before he could finish the sentence, going ramrod as he widened his eyes, all but gaping at her now as though she was the biggest idiot he had ever seen in his life. She might well have been if she still wanted to stick around after all had been said and done. "Are you-those noble brats?!" The man growled "Are you-did you not hear what was said? About what Rhea did, about what she planned to do, and you still want to stick around here because of a few spoiled kids?"
Maybe she really was an idiot, but she didn't want to leave just yet. Besides, she had been hired to educate these teenagers to the best of her ability. She had never fallen short of completing a contract yet and she was in no mood to start doing that sort of thing now.
It might well have been an excuse, but it was one that she latched onto like a barnacle latched onto the hull of a ship.
As expected, her father was still staring at her, arms dropping to his side and then eyes narrowing. "This is…this is her isn't it?" he growled out, pointed at the side of his own head "She's messing with you up here, making you stay around-"
She frowned "Sothis didn't know either. She has said nothing to me on the matter."
"And I'm supposed to believe that?"
"She gave me my body back."
Jeralt closed his mouth, clearly he couldn't find an argument against that sort of thing. Looking away from her and towards the ground for a moment, clicking his tongue in frustration.
"...I can't explain it." Those were her honest words, something that she didn't know she would ever feel before. There was commitment in it…also some strange feeling that if she stepped away from them now, then she would always regret it. Perhaps she just wanted to see how they would turn out in the end…the starts she had made, the small relationships she had been fostering. She…she'd never had something like that before. "But…I don't want to go."
Jeralt raised his head back up, looking dead into her eyes.
"...Fine." He exhaled, though he didn't look pleased. "I'm staying for you kid, but if there ever comes a moment when you…" he waved his hand "Just…know that I'm always ready to leave."
She knew and she was thankful for that, even if she couldn't show it beyond a nod of the head. She was happy he cared so much for her. There was also sorrow at how it clearly affected him to stay behind in a place where he clearly wasn't comfortable.
…Maybe she was being a little too greedy.
"To be invested in the future of the children so much shows that you care deeply." Sothis remarked for the first time in a while. "Besides, the answers we sought were never destined to be…agreeable in nature. All the signs had pointed to it…however…" she could hear a long sigh from the Goddess "I…have much to think on. Do not be surprised if I go through intervals of absence…"
Naturally. Byleth felt much the same way.
This wasn't something that could be understood in a single afternoon.
The day had only just begun and she already felt drained.
AN: Yep, we got the answers we wanted at long last.
And they were about as grim as we all expected.
Rhea could only see the end goal, the return of the Goddess, and clearly forgot that this was someones child she was going to poach. No idea what she would have said to Jeralt on the matter.
'Just borrowing your kid for my mom real quick, I'll have them back, maybe, probably, nah, I probably won't. Soz.'
Omake: Parental Guidance.
Her only companion in this void existence drummed his hands on his knees, a grim expression on his face as he beheld the world beneath him. The silence did not last long before he closed his eyes and exhaled.
Gradually, his head turned towards her and emerald eyes flashed open with concern for a moment before they closed. His lips drawing themselves so tight it looked as though he might end up splitting his skin, though he eventually relented with his expression dropping rather swiftly. Instead replaced by a look of exhaustion.
"...Yeah." He exhaled, the words lingered in the silence for a few moments, seemingly echoing around them before they were followed. "That was…I'm…"
She smiled at him, raising her hand ever so slightly "You do not need to say a word, Roman." his grimace only seemed to worsen at her tone, perhaps that was because she was resigned to such things at this point. However, she knew Rhea. She'd known Rhea from the moment she was born to the moment she died.
"Heh…I guess I'm not very good at that sort of thing." Roman muttered back, letting out an awkward chuckle that was a touch self-deprecating as he reached up and ran a hand along the back of his neck, loosening another sigh from his throat. "Whenever I say something I end up saying the wrong thing, then when I don't say anything it turns out that was the wrong decision as well."
With a gentle chuckle, she shook her head from side to side "Such is the way of things, Roman. We cannot exist to please everyone, no matter how hard we might try." After a few seconds, she allowed a smile to come upon her lips "Though, if it brings you peace, I find your conversations rather heartwarming. Certainly a far cry from Jeralt's confidence."
Roman snorted, waving his hand in her and turning his head to try and hide the smile on his lips. "That's a pretty polite way of saying you like my nervous stuttering." Another silence came, then he turned back to her, this time showing a more genuine expression. "Thanks for the words though. It just felt as though I should say something…"
"Your offer your kindness freely, even when it is not required." Sitri replied with a shake of the head "It is something that warms my heart, I am sure that your friends back home miss it terribly."
"...Yeah." Roman made a pained face, smiling as best he could but it was brittle "But…maybe I'm a little happy they're still around to miss me, you know?" he glanced down to their feet, staring at something in particular. "...I'm a little worried about him, which is…something I never thought I would say."
Sitri turned her eyes to the blonde mop of glittery hair, the man who shared Romani Archman's face and - according to the doctor - shared his original personality as well. Though Sitri could hardly see any resemblance between the two beyond the physical. "He does seem to hold quite a lot of hatred in you…"
"I think he hates me a little too much." Roman pinched his hands together, then let them drop "It's a little painful but…I guess he had his reasons. Maybe I could have explained everything better?"
"Hindsight affects us all equally. Even those with foresight are not immune to its effects."
Romani spared her a glance and a wry smile "...No offence, but you said you were practically raised in a Monastery, how did you get so much wisdom?"
Sitri flashed him a smile "There was a library…"
"...Ah, right…yeah…I just forgot. He hasn't been back there in a while." Roman mused with a tone that was almost warm, inclining his head ever so slightly. "I think he found it comfortable there."
"Hmmm. I believe he might have done. Though…I think despite what he may claim, he enjoys the spark of the world rather than the solitude of himself." She paused for a moment, then flashed the doctor a coy smile "Speaking of spark…what did you think of that Dorothea girl? I thought she was rather nice."
Romani snorted, fighting back his laughter and shaking his head from side to side. "Not something I would ever think to see, I'll tell you that much. I think even by the standards of Chaldea, they would have found it rather peculiar." he paused for a moment, furrowing his brows "Though there was that whole mess with the Demon King of the Sixth Heaven…" he muttered quietly, Sitri furrowed her brows slightly before shaking her head.
"Nevermind all that, there is one thing that is pressing upon my mind…"
The doctor made a small noise, pressing her to continue.
"Song of Songs?"
The reaction was immediate, Romani flushed bright red and made a sputtering sound, emerald green eyes wildly darting around the black void of space in a desperate bid to avoid looking Sitri in the eye.
"T-that is-uhm…I-errr-!" After a few seconds of sputtering, and Sitri leaning forwards with a deeply amused expression on her face, crossing her arms behind her back and raising an eyebrow expectantly at him, the doctor eventually choked out a reply. "I just-it-Forget about that!"
"But I can't!" She whined immediately "Goetia is saying you wrote an erotic love song!" Now pointing at him, the doctor stepped aside as though her finger was spitting fire at his body, she simply tracked his movements. "You did! Did she love the song? Well? Did she?"
"She…erm…" After a few seconds, he slumped his shoulders in defeat "...Yes. She linked the song…"
"Don't start." Romani shot back in a tone that didn't have his heart in it, straightening himself once again and placing his hands on his hips, sending the green haired woman a challenging look of his own. "I bet you received your fair share of love songs."
Sitri deadpanned at him.
It was a blind stab in the dark and they both knew it.
"...Jeralt has a very lovely singing voice." She admitted after a second, Romani widened his eyes ever so slightly "And he can play the lute quite well, you know?" now she was putting more pride into her words, puffing out her chest. "I bet that Byleth can do that as well! In fact, I bet Byleth is an even better singer than Jeralt."
"How can you know that if you've never heard her sing?" Romani blurted back to her, then winced at how it clearly sounded to him. "A-anyway, I'm sure Goetia…uhm…might be able to sing?" he paused, sounding very unsure of himself, then shook his head "Regardless! I'm certain that Mash could have been able to sing flawlessly!"
Sitri waved her hand "Byleth would still be better."
"Are you really going to start this up again? It always ends the same way-"
"I'm just trying to educate you on why Byleth is clearly the superior child." Sitri remarked with a shrug of her shoulders "Besides, she's also the best candidate for Goetia-"
"This is clearly parental bias."
"Obviously." Sitri drawled back, then quirked her lip upwards "I am her parent, how could I not be biassed? Shouldn't you be biassed as well?"
"I don't need to boast on Goetia's behalf." Romani crossed his arms over his chest, shaking his head "He knows how good he is…He makes more than enough of a point to remind everyone else of it as well." he paused for a moment "The way he and Rhea talk to one another-"
Sitri made a noise like an angry cat "Don't try and set your son up with my mother!"
"Wha-I'm not trying to do that! I'm trying to get him a friend!"
"Liar! I can see it in your eyes! Your name literally means Romance! You're supporting them!"
"How did you get to this conclusion?!" Romani let out a panicked cry "I just think they'd be good friends!"
"Like those Achilles and Patroclus boys?"
"...How do you even…? Nevermind…you're thinking about this too strangely…besides, he's making good leaps and bounds with Flayn as well-"
"You're trying to add Flayn into it as well!? It makes perfect sense! A man with seven hundred wives would never be happy if his son only had one!"
"That has nothing to do with this!"