The next morning did not greet Byleth kindly. She rose up slowly from her bed, grabbing the back of her neck on her way to the washroom, while keeping one hand free to hide the fact that she also felt her head ringing like the hourly church bells.
It is a most peculiar sensation… Usually, I have no trouble slumbering, but this morning, I awoke with the most irritating pain in my neck.
“You too, huh?” asked Byleth as she looked at the mirror on the wall. She could see Sothis out of the corner of her eye, floating above the tiled floor. Sneaking away to wash up gave Byleth the perfect excuse to talk to Sothis without anyone thinking she was going crazy.
For as much attention as Rhea gives you and your father, you should ask her for more comfortable bedding.
“Right… I keep forgetting that you can feel almost everything I feel, for good and for ill.”
Do not forget things so casually! Your memory lapses mean that I must delay my own quest to recover my own memories, creating additional work for both of us!
Byleth kept quiet. She did not want to think of what Sothis would do or say to her if she mentioned experiencing the phrase “pain in the neck” literally and figuratively.
After washing and brushing her hair and putting on a new black uniform that didn’t include her favorite coat, Byleth went back to her office. Sothis had disappeared as a few of the priests and guards started their morning rounds, but Byleth could still hear her voice.
I am impressed by the growth of your students, but still, I fear for their safety. Why do we not let them rest and allow the knights to handle things?
“Some of the knights are patrolling the Sealed Forest to prevent any more of those soldiers in black from showing up,” said Byleth. “There’s much less of a chance of scaring people off in a forest than, say, sending a dozen armored guards to a village.”
But the knights will be present there in some capacity, will they not?
“Yes. My father is bringing a few of them with us. Unfortunately, there won’t be enough room for everyone to stay at the inn, so he and I will camp outside so that we can assess any danger as it arrives.”
I hope you will be able to alert them in time to react before the village gets overrun…
Jeralt entered the room with a black jacket in his hands, exchanging it for the folder sitting on the desk. “There you go, kid,” he said. “This was the last one the shop had in your size. Try to take it easy with your duels, and don’t let it rip apart like the last one, okay?”
“Yes, Father,” said Byleth. She found that her new jacket fit her perfectly without having to cut the sleeves to provide more mobility for her arms.
Jeralt scratched his head as he looked through the folder, which only had five sheets of paper inside. “Was this your whole lesson plan for today?”
“More or less. It shouldn’t take more than ninety minutes to get through the whole thing. Sometimes, when I finish early, I either improvise by taking questions from the class or sending them off to train. Today, though, I think we should skip the training step.”
“Good idea. No point in tiring those kids out before a big trip.”
Jeralt only had enough time to put the shuffled papers back into the folder when he heard a knock on the door.
“May I have a moment of your time, please, Professor?”
Jeralt opened the door and allowed Seteth to enter the office.
“I have spoken with Lady Rhea regarding your latest requests,” Seteth said to Byleth, “and she has approved of your petition to allow Constance von Nuvelle to temporarily join your class. While there is little purpose in teaching Constance any further as she has already completed her coursework at the academy, Professor Hanneman has vouched for her exceptional magic aptitude, and we feel that allowing her to assist you will help her put that knowledge toward something constructive.”
“Thank you, Seteth,” she responded, nodding at him and toward Jeralt, who already had one of his feet out the door.
“I’m gonna just go ahead and go,” said Jeralt. “Best not keep the little runts waiting.”
With the door closed behind them, Seteth felt more comfortable about approaching Byleth’s desk and speaking to her directly. “As for your request to bring Flayn with you…”
Byleth sat with her hands folded on the desk, unmoving. She was prepared for Seteth to reject her offer. Flayn’s welfare was the only issue on which she observed Seteth to be willing to overrule Rhea. The search for Flayn and the Death Knight was sure to have proceeded regardless of Seteth’s cries for help, but his involvement and desire to protect her at all costs heightened the urgency of the situation.
“That proposal has also been accepted.”
“Really?” Byleth wanted to reply in a manner that more accurately reflected her surprise, but she only found herself able to use the same semi-serious tone as Seteth.
“While I still have my reservations about this decision,” he said, “Lady Rhea and I agree that it would do Flayn some good to venture away from the monastery every once in a while, so long as she is adequately protected. In exchange, I ask that you allow me to accompany you when you go to speak with Hapi.”
“Where is she being held?” asked Byleth.
“Just north of the monastery, there is a building that the church refers to as a ‘housing station for wayward souls’. It is a place where those who have strayed from the goddess’ light are given a chance to redeem themselves. They remain there until enough time has passed for them to complete their penance and rejoin society, for the safety of themselves and others.”
“So, it’s like a prison, then?”
Seteth responded to Byleth’s blunt reply by clearing his throat. “Yes, I suppose that is the simpler term for it. A similar building exists to the south of the monastery, but neither is owned or directly operated by the Church of Seiros. Truth be told, when the knights brought Hapi to us following her alleged assault on Larkspur, we were left with few viable alternatives.” He took a seat in one of the chairs facing Byleth’s desk, thankful to have a chance to sit down and relax. “At first, we considered allowing her to stay at one of the houses in town and observing her in secret. This plan fell through when we thought about the likely objections from those who would be uncomfortable having an alleged criminal and beast controller in their midst. Sending her home also proved difficult because she did not want to tell us where she lived. The guards who brought her to us assumed by her dark complexion that she was from Duscur, which sadly no longer exists as an independent entity. The land once known as Duscur has been under the control of House Kleiman of Faerghus for the last four years. If one were to accept that assumption as correct, it would take us days, maybe even weeks, to determine whether she has any family there.”
“The men who fought alongside us in the Sealed Forest claim that she is from a place called Timotheos,” said Byleth. “Can you tell me anything about it?”
“The Timotheans are generally reclusive in nature. Few of them ever venture far outside their home village at a time for anything other than purchasing essential supplies – Hapi being one of the obvious exceptions, of course. It seems that it is far easier to find one’s way out of Timotheos than it is to get inside, as absurd as such a notion might sound to you.”
“Considering everything I’ve seen in the last several moons, a hidden village seems normal by comparison.”
Byleth got up from her chair and retrieved the Sword of the Creator from the corner where Jeralt’s custom poleaxe rested. She didn’t think they’d encounter any enemies on their way to the offsite prison, but she didn’t intend to leave it behind for any reason when an ordinary sword would have worked just as well.
“If you are ready to go,” said Seteth, “then meet me outside the northeast gate.”
Byleth arrived at the gate a few minutes before Seteth, who had to stop by the audience chamber of the cathedral to inform Rhea of their impending trip. Byleth expected Seteth to fly over the walls of the monastery on the back of a wyvern she had seen him use during his nightly sky patrols, He considered it unnecessary since the “housing station for wayward souls” was only a twenty-minute walk away. Several houses of slate and granite lined the cobblestone road leading north. Together, they lacked the density for the area to be considered a proper town like the houses to the south of the monastery, but they were close enough to the monastery that there was less of a chance of them being attacked by bandits or monsters.
The prison itself was a plain-looking outpost that rested at the crossroads between Garreg Mach to the south, Magdred Way to the west, and House Charon’s domain to the east. It was easy for Byleth and Seteth to tell how close they were getting – the space between the houses and trees gradually increased, for none but the truly adventurous were willing to live or set up shop near any building that regularly housed the criminal element, no matter how secure it was.
The three men patrolling the front gate were dressed in blue and white, and the coat-of-arms on their armor beheld the white lion, the symbol of the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus. They hailed Seteth as he approached while mostly ignoring Byleth.
“Greetings, sir!” said one. “What brings you all the way out here?”
“We represent the Church of Seiros,” said Seteth, “and we wish to speak with a specific individual being held at this location.”
“Which one?” asked another.
“I am unsure whether or not it is an alias, but she goes by the name of Hapi.”
“I think I know who you’re talking about,” said the first soldier. “You can go in, but, uh…someone of your station will need an escort. Right this way, please.”
Seteth followed the third Faerghus soldier into the outpost. The soldier took a look at Byleth and stopped her before she could enter. “Hold on there, missy,” he said, his sneer just barely visible through the opening in his helmet. “Are you sure you’re really from the Church of Seiros?”
“Yes, I am,” said Byleth.
“Yeah? Then why aren’t you wearing any robes like your boss here?”
“I’m a teacher at the Officers Academy. The dress code is very…relaxed.”
And Seteth isn’t my boss…Archbishop Rhea is, she would have added, had Seteth not been standing next to her.
The soldier stopped short of waving her in when he saw the sword on her belt. “I’ll have to ask you to leave that outside,” he ordered. “No weapons are allowed in or around the facility other than by authorized personnel.”
“That sword is an important relic to the church,” said Seteth. “The archbishop herself has authorized Byleth here to carry it with her at all times. If it were to get lost or stolen, the consequences could prove disastrous.”
“I feel like I could get in big trouble for simply accepting you at your word. Anyone could come here claiming to act on behalf of Archbishop Rhea, and we’d be on the hook if anything bad happens.”
“Your caution is understandable. We only wish to speak with Hapi for a few moments, and then we will be on our way.”
The soldier sighed. “Fine. Follow me.”
Byleth and Seteth followed him down the east corridor toward the prisoners’ cells. Half of the half-dozen cells on their left were empty as their occupants were being led back from the mess hall after eating breakfast. They recognized two of the inmates on the right side as remnants of the Western Church. One had his head bowed in prayer while his neighbor quickly tried to hide the fist she wanted to shake at Seteth as he walked by. Byleth didn’t know if they were involved in the plot to disrupt the annual Rite of Rebirth, but she paid them no attention as she focused on her target – a young woman with dark skin and red hair, wearing a black blouse and light-blue slacks.
“Hey, Hapi!” their escort called out to her. “You’ve got visitors!”
The soldier walked back to Byleth and Seteth and whispered in their ears. “She’s all yours. Try to keep a safe distance, alright? I’m sure you’ve both heard the rumors.”
The duo approached Hapi’s cell and waited for her to stand up and dust herself off. She stared and frowned at them for a moment, paying more attention to Byleth than to Seteth. “Hey,” she said.
“Hi,” said Byleth.
“Good morning, Hapi,” said Seteth, speaking the loudest between the three of them. “I am Seteth, and this is Byleth. We are from the Church of Seiros, and–”
Hapi cut Seteth’s introduction off with a dismissive hand wave. “Sorry…gonna have to stop you right there,” she said. “The church is the last group of people I want to talk to right now. I already had one unpleasant encounter with your knights when they threw me in here. What more do you want from me? I don’t have any weapons or money. Look!”
The sullen red-haired girl held up her arms, which were adorned with a pair of metal wrist cuffs that glowed with a faint blue light as she moved them around. She grunted in discomfort as she lowered her arms and tried futilely to remove her shackles.
“We did not come here to condemn you,” said Seteth. “We are simply here to ask some questions of you.”
“Questions? That’s a first,” said Hapi. “Will it get me out of here any faster?”
“As long as you cooperate, you will not be held here any longer than necessary.”
“A simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ would have been enough.”
Seteth took a deep breath, inhaling and exhaling with his nose. He wanted to try to make everyone, including himself, feel at ease with the current situation. “We are currently investigating a pair of monster attack incidents that recently occurred within the vicinity of Garreg Mach Monastery, and we hoped that you could give us any information that can help us figure out what happened.”
“Wait…the church got attacked, too?” Hapi’s surprise quickly faded as she went back to looking and feeling stressed out. “Let me guess…you think that was my fault too, don’t you?”
“We are not accusing you of anything, Hapi.”
“Okay…can I leave, then?”
Byleth noticed Seteth’s breathing get heavier, so she pulled him aside to talk to him outside of Hapi’s hearing range. They were unable to find total privacy with the two captured Western Church priests looking at them. “Maybe we should try taking an indirect approach with this one,” she suggested.
“How so?” asked Seteth.
“We don’t know for sure if she was involved in the Garreg Mach attack. She seems just as surprised by it as we were. Let’s focus on finding out what she knows about Larkspur.”
“All right, Professor. I shall allow you to begin this round of questioning.”
While Byleth and Seteth had their backs turned to her, Hapi tried closing her eyes and breathing through her nose as Seteth did to try to calm herself down. Her concentration broke when Byleth turned around and called out her name.
“Hm? Huh? What?” She gripped the cell door bars to show them that she was paying attention…or at least trying to.
“I think we may have gotten ahead of ourselves here,” said Byleth, “so let’s back up a few steps. How did you discover Larkspur Town?”
“Well, I was looking for someone to appraise some weird rocks I found on a treasure hunt,” said Hapi. “A guy promised me some good money for one of them, and that gave me enough for a couple days’ worth of food.”
“Is treasure hunting something you do for a living?”
Hapi shook her head. “Not really. It’s just a hobby of mine. It’s not very exciting or profitable, but it’s a lot less stressful than hunting monsters or demonic beasts.”
“Were you in Larkspur when the attack occurred?” asked Seteth.
“Yeah. Not too long after I’d finished eating dinner, the alarm bells sounded, and the guards called for everyone to get inside as quickly as possible. By the time I made it to the inn, a few of the monsters had already breached the walls and started attacking people.”
“Did you see what any of these creatures looked like?”
“I don’t know…something vaguely human, maybe? Parts of it looked human, anyway. It had a human head and torso, but its arms and legs were too big and bulky, and it lumbered around on all fours. It was gross.”
How unsettling… The demonic beasts we have encountered so far bore little resemblance to anything that could be considered human. An incomplete transformation, perhaps? Or could we be dealing with a new type of adversary?
“They didn’t stop at the gates, though,” Hapi continued. “One of them went straight for the inn. I attacked it with magic to scare it away until the guards showed up. When we finally killed that thing, it felt like everyone in the room turned on me instantly. They accused me of luring the beasts to the town with my ‘dark powers’ and ordered for me to be arrested on the spot.” She continued to fidget with her cuffs, cursing under her breath about being unable to remove them. “It’s not the first time I’ve been called ‘cursed’…or the first time I’ve been locked up. They didn’t even let me explain myself before I got dragged off to this boring place. I was trying to stop those damn things from killing people, and this is the thanks I get?”
Byleth, noticing Hapi’s growing agitation, waited for her to let go of the bars before approaching. “Even if the folks from Larkspur are afraid of you, I still think you did a good thing trying to help them out,” she said. “I’m sure Myron would be proud of you if he knew what you did.”
“Hold on, Blue…did you say you know Myron?”
Byleth nodded, content with the thought that the other men in the Sealed Forest were telling the truth about their origins. She wasn’t sure what to make of Hapi’s new nickname for her, or what caused her to choose that instead of something like ‘Bebe’ or ‘Lettie’. The closest thing she could think of was her hair, which had a bluish-green tint to it. Byleth dismissed the notion as irrelevant as she still had more important work to do. “I did,” she told Hapi. “He was worried about you.”
“Oh…well, I wish I could tell him I was okay, but I’m not,” Hapi responded. “I’m cold, my bed is stiff, and I haven’t had a decent meal in weeks.”
“Right now, we’re working to defeat the fiends behind these attacks. I don’t know how soon I’ll see Myron again, but I’ll let him know that we’ve spoken to you and that you aren’t currently in any danger.”
“Okay.” Hapi sat back down on her cot and tried to make herself feel comfortable with the limited space in her cell. “Hey, Blue, and uh…Seth, was it?”
“Seteth,” they both said.
“Right. Uh…why aren’t you guys backing away from me? Most people do when they find out about my powers.” Hapi pointed to the empty cells across from and adjacent to her. “That’s the only reason I can think of for those soldiers separating me from the other prisoners.”
“You haven’t given us a reason to be afraid of you yet,” said Byleth.
“And considering the fact that you have not yet tried to use your powers since your incarceration,” said Seteth, “I am confident that you will not be a danger to others.”
“It’s not like I could use them right now even if I wanted to,” said Hapi. “Thanks for the vote of confidence anyway…I think.”
“And we are grateful for you having lent your time to us. I sincerely hope that this incident has not negatively colored your impression of the church.”
“I won’t speak for the others, but…you two seem okay.”
Byleth and Seteth nodded at each other before turning back toward Hapi, who had her arms folded and her back pressed against the cold, stony interior of her cell. “I’m afraid that’s all the time we have for now. I have to prepare for a trip early tomorrow morning – one that should hopefully bring an end to these monster attacks. Until then…please hang in there, okay, Hapi?”
“I’ll try,” said Hapi. “See ya.”
On their way out of the prison outpost, Byleth and Seteth stopped near the entrance to the cell area when the two Western Church priests called out to them. “Don’t you have anything to say to us?” asked the man in the cell closest to Hapi.
“Yes! It has been more than three months since the attack on the Holy Mausoleum!” said the woman in the neighboring cell. “Why does the Central Church see fit to punish all of the Western Church for the actions of a handful of sneak-thieves?”
“My colleague and I have been faithful followers of the goddess for years since we took the vows. We admit to being at the monastery on the day of the Rite of Rebirth, but many of us returned straight to the Western Church following our pilgrimage. There are multiple eyewitnesses who can attest to this!”
Seteth turned to the two priests and told them, “After a thorough investigation into the situation, the archbishop has determined that the corruption in the Western branch of the Church of Seiros is too widespread to allow you to return.”
The priests’ faces went white with shock when they considered the implications. “Does this mean you intend to ex–”
“Your fates will be re-evaluated once a new bishop has been selected and thoroughly vetted,” said Seteth, stopping them before either could finish their thoughts and potentially rile up the other prisoners. “That is all I can say on the matter.”
Dissatisfied with Seteth’s proclamation, the priests went back to offering silent prayers to the goddess as he and Byleth left the outpost to return to Garreg Mach Monastery.
The walk back to the monastery felt longer than the walk to the prison. Suddenly, Byleth wished Seteth had brought his wyvern with them to hasten their trip back despite Jeralt never teaching her how to fly one. Seteth, walking with his hands behind his back the whole way, didn’t look like it bothered him at all. “What are your thoughts, Professor?” he asked.
“About Hapi? Or those two priests?” she asked back.
“I would not concern yourself with those two. Lady Rhea and I will deal with that situation when the time is right.”
Byleth waited until they passed the northern village to reply. “Personally, I think keeping her locked away would do more harm than good. I, for one, want to know how she got her so-called ‘curse’ and why she’s so afraid of her own powers.”
“Agreed. If someone were able to discover the origins of this curse and find a way to undo its harmful effects, then people would be less inclined to be afraid of Hapi, and she could continue to travel without much worry.” Seteth relaxed his walking stance as they approached the rear gate of the monastery and the guards saluted them. “I will speak with Lady Rhea on this matter, as well as the…other one. For now, Professor Byleth, I only ask that you prepare your students well for your journey to Remire. Rumors of an impending attack have already reached the village, so the villagers are anxious and in need of protection and guidance. We expect you to fulfill your duty with the same diligence you have thus far.”
“I understand,” said Byleth.
They entered the rear entrance to the cathedral and went back to their offices. Byleth estimated that Jeralt had a few minutes left to finish his lesson, giving her enough time to compose her letter to Myron’s messenger.
I spoke with Hapi today. She was grumpy, but is otherwise unharmed. She is currently in Church custody, but that may change by the time you read this as they negotiate her release.
Myson’s army may target Remire Village next. Send any help you can find.
Finally, a few of my students will visit Larkspur the same day. I will ask them to share with you any new information they discover about this incident.
Byleth looked through her desk for a generic seal to place on the envelope, but could only find seals with the Crest of Seiros on them. It was difficult for her to be discreet when there was nothing in her office she could use to denote she was acting outside her capacity as an employee of the church. She eventually gave up and folded the letter as small as possible and hid it inside her jacket where only she could reach it.
She spent the rest of the day alternating between crafting a new lesson plan for next week, re-examining her equipment, and listening to Jeralt talk about how much easier it was to teach her compared to the rest of her class, as he only had to worry about understanding and working around one person’s whims and desires.
When sunset came around, Byleth walked off to the market as soon as she had finished eating dinner. She worried that she had missed her chance to meet the messenger. After surveying the town, she saw a brown-haired boy, perhaps only a few years younger and a few inches shorter than Cyril, smashing a pair of knight dolls together outside the gate near Constance’s house. Byleth was mildly disappointed that the green-robed messenger she expected wasn’t closer to her or Myron’s age. Still, she hoped she could trust him to deliver her message as quickly and securely as possible. “Hi there,” she said. “Did Myron send you?”
The boy put away his figures and stood up. “Yeah. Got any news for me?”
Byleth placed the paper in his hand, along with twenty gold coins to pay for his trip. When he tried to open the letter to read its contents, she shook her head and told him, “Not here. Show it to Myron first.”
“Okay… What about the money?” the boy asked.
“That’s yours to keep.”
The messenger laughed as he pocketed his payment and Myron’s letter. “Thanks, lady! I’ll take good care of them!”
With his knight dolls in his left hand and a lit torch in his right, the boy walked off to the west, smiling.
I do not know about you, but I am astonished – both by the fact that the man from Timotheos is sending a child to collect a message for him, and that the child does not seem to be fazed in the slightest by venturing through a dark forest alone at this time of night!
“I know,” said Byleth, peering off in the distance and watching the messenger head toward what she hoped was his home. “When I was his age, Father would never let me wander off on my own at night, even with a weapon.”
Do you suppose the boy is capable enough of defending himself? Or that he knows of a shortcut to find his way home without being spotted?
“Whatever the case is, I hope he makes it back to Myron safely, and that Myron will act quickly on that message once he reads it. Many lives are at stake.”