Chapter 43: The Face of Death

At last, we meet again.

The Death Knight’s voice echoed as he spoke, but not in the same way one’s voice would carry when speaking in a nearly empty cavern. The effect made Monica’s entire body tingle as she was reminded of the eerie voice that crept into her nightmares, urging her to give up and lay down her life. Though his focus was mainly on Byleth, Monica thought she saw his glowing red eyes linger on her for a beat before he turned his attention to her professor. Did he really recognize her? And what did he want with Byleth?

You and I have a score to settle,” the Death Knight continued. “Come…show me more of what your sword is capable of.

“I’m not here to fight you,” said Byleth, “but I won’t let you hurt anyone else, either.”

If you do not slay me…then I will cut you and your friends down. Either way, someone among us will die tonight.

Everyone held their weapons tightly in preparation for the inevitable, but the wave of fear silently rattling Monica would not go away. As much as she wanted the Death Knight to pay for everything he put Flayn through, the urge to make a break for it and never look back won out, no matter how much her defiant grimace suggested otherwise.

The Death Knight chose not to wait for a response from his challengers. With his left hand on the reins of his horse and his right hand on his scythe, he charged forward, swinging wildly as he passed each fighter and not moving on to the next until he drew blood. The Death Knight’s weapon provided enough reach to keep Byleth and the others away from him, and the horse’s horned helmet gave him extra protection against frontal assaults, forcing his foes to scramble to find safe spots from which to launch a counterattack. Using one of the cavern walls as leverage to help her stand up again, Monica threw a trio of fireballs at the Death Knight to try to expose a weakness in his armor. Two of her fireballs fizzled into ash the instant they collided with his armor, and he sliced apart the third in mid-air without it ever reaching him.

How boring,” he said, the taunt made even more unsettling by the way his mask’s numerous pointy teeth refused to move.

Gripping his scythe with both hands, the Death Knight slashed at the air separating him and Monica. She barely had enough time to think about how he planned to hit her from several paces away, instinctively diving for cover when a barrage of black energy waves zoomed toward her, shredding the ground and kicking up a cloud of dust that obscured everyone’s vision. For a few moments, all they could see of the Death Knight were his eyes, and all he needed to do to track his prey was follow the lights from Vajra-Mushti and the Sword of the Creator.

“Damn…this guy’s a maniac!” said Balthus. “How are we supposed to get close enough to hit him?”

“Let me handle it,” said Byleth. “I’m the one he’s after.”

While her target was occupied with pinning down Balthus and Yuri, Byleth whipped her sword at the Death Knight, slicing off the tips of a few spikes on his left shoulder. A second strike clipped him on his right shoulder as he turned around to face her.

Yes…just like that.

The dust settled long enough for Byleth to get a clearer view of the Death Knight. The ferocity with which he swung his scythe to parry her sword was unlike anything she had ever seen, and she remembered why Edelgard warned her to avoid him in their first encounter at the Holy Mausoleum. Balthus, Yuri, and Monica took that opportunity to sneak away from the two combatants and try to heal up.

“Hey, guys…I have an idea,” Balthus whispered. “I’m gonna see if I can knock this guy off his horse while the professor’s busy. I just need a little boost so I can reach him.”

Yuri slapped his free hand against his forehead and groaned. “You can’t be serious.”

“I’m serious enough to do anything to turn this battle in our favor. All we need to do is get one good shot in to rattle him up a bit, yeah?”

“Good thinking, Balthus,” said Monica. “I’ll try to Rescue you if things get too dangerous, but we’ll need to think of a backup plan, and quick!”

“You mean an escape route? I’ve got it covered,” said Yuri.

As he scanned the area for a way out of the cavern, Yuri decided to go with Balthus’ plan first. Dropping down on his hands and knees after finding one of the Death Knight’s blind spots, he quietly beckoned for Balthus to run toward him at full speed. With a mighty leap off Yuri’s back, Balthus’ clawed fist crashed into the Death Knight’s back, throwing off a scythe swing that had slipped past Byleth’s defenses and would have sliced her throat open if it had been only a few inches closer.

Do not interrupt me,” the Death Knight growled as he shook Balthus off him, sending him tumbling to the ground in front of Byleth and landing hard on his back. Monica quickly pulled Balthus out of the fray when another scythe attack threatened to sever his arm, and she lamented that she couldn’t pull him and Byleth at the same time. “That hit barely slowed him down at all!” she observed.

Byleth retracted her sword’s whip form and circled around the Death Knight to regroup with Yuri, Monica, and Balthus. “What do we do now?” she asked.

“Follow my lead,” said Yuri. “Professor, make sure the Death Knight keeps his focus on you and that sword of yours.”


The group disappeared into one of the exits while the Death Knight chased after them on his horse. Although he was faster than them, he had trouble navigating the twists and turns of the caverns separating the monastery and Abyss at high speeds. Sometimes when Yuri and Balthus turned a corner, they would slow down to ensure they didn’t get too far ahead of their target. Byleth had even more trouble hitting the Death Knight while she was trying to run away from him, but her distraction served its purpose of keeping him away from the others. Monica wanted to trust Yuri’s navigational instincts even as she worried that they were going even deeper into the cave that led them to Abyss.

Following one last sharp left turn after several minutes of running while dodging obstacles and semi-fresh corpses, Yuri led the party through an iron gate that resembled the one separating the residential and commercial areas of Abyss. Their chase had taken them to an empty arena, where the benches in the rear half were protected from the front and back by layers of steel fencing, and the circle in the center had several sets of footprints impressed every which way in the dirt, suggesting the occurrence of a recent fight. Byleth was the last of the four to enter, and when she did, Yuri signaled for everyone to hide behind the arch until the Death Knight passed through.

“Now, Balthus! Shut it!”

On Yuri’s command, Balthus pulled down a lever next to him, causing the gate next to him to slam shut. A few more unseen gates closed in the distance, trapping the five combatants in the arena. The Death Knight turned toward his opponents and laughed, saying, “If it is your wish to make this battleground your coffin, then so be it.

“You really think that’s how it’s gonna turn out, huh?” said Balthus. “You won’t talk so tough once we smash that armor of yours!”

Byleth looked down at the Sword of the Creator. Some of the teeth on its segmented blade had cracked from clashing with the Death Knight’s scythe and spiked armor. While she hated that the materials needed to keep her sword in peak condition were rare and expensive, she liked that it helped her defeat enemies that would have given her trouble with an ordinary sword. The nubs that once were menacing spikes on the Death Knight’s shoulders proved to her that even a warrior with his fearsome reputation had his weaknesses. All she needed to do was keep pushing until one of them fell.

“Everyone, spread out!” she shouted as the Death Knight resumed his assault. “The fewer of us he can hit at once, the better.”

The rest of the group followed Byleth’s command, forming a circle just out of reach of the Death Knight’s scythe and gradually luring him away from the gate controls by attacking him in sequence. When his back was turned to Byleth, she whipped her sword at him, shaving more bits of metal from his armor.

“Hmm…I missed,” she said.

“What do you mean, Professor?” asked Monica. “That looked like a pretty solid hit to me.”

“I know. I was aiming for his helmet. We might be able to throw him off his game if we can cause enough damage to it. I also have my suspicion about who’s behind that mask, and I think this is the best way to confirm it.”

Monica nodded. She saw no way to safely get close enough to hit the Death Knight with her new sword, so she hung back and aimed the last of her spells at his head. One of Monica’s fireballs sailed off target as she narrowly dodged a fierce scythe swing, but the second one struck the masked warrior right in the face.

Over by the steel fences, Yuri and Balthus watched the two girls fight and tried to analyze their strategy. “It looks like the professor and his pupil managed to find this Death Knight’s weakness,” said Yuri. “I’ll try to draw him back over this way. We have to keep him contained in this arena at all costs. Balthus, I’ll need y—”

Yuri quickly turned around when he heard the inner fence rattling behind him. “What the hell are you doing now?”

Balthus, who had climbed a few feet off the ground and onto the fence with the help of Vajra-Mushti, said, “I think I figured out why my attack didn’t work last time. If I had a height advantage, I’d have an easier time jumping him.”

“Just try not to fall or get yourself impaled on those spikes, got it?”

Such was the plan – Yuri would use his Relic to employ a hit-and-run strategy to draw their target close enough for Balthus to pounce upon. Once his target was in range, Balthus kicked off the top of the fence and leapt at the distracted Death Knight, punching him in the face and knocking him off his horse. While he had lost some of his mobility after being forcibly dismounted, his killing intent had only grown following the end of their chase. His strikes became fiercer, with a particular focus on his enemies’ upper bodies to keep them away from him and protect himself from another blow to the head. His moans and groans got louder as the fight wore on, suggesting that Balthus’ strike had taken its toll on him.

The Death Knight’s horse refused to sit idly by as its master faced trouble. Byleth and her allies were forced to dart back and forth to avoid both the rider and his mount, lest they be trampled or gored by the horse’s horned helmet. It took a while for another opening to present itself amidst the flurry of sparks from everyone’s clashing weapons, as none were willing to concede any ground. Byleth felt the full force of the Death Knight’s scythe, but just as he dropped his guard, she mustered enough strength to counter his attack with one of her own, using the Sword of the Creator to split his mask open.

With a baleful howl, the Death Knight fell to the ground and dropped his scythe to cover his face as the two uneven halves of his mask collapsed next to him. Monica hurried over to Byleth to try to heal her and slow down the bleeding before she passed out, and then turned around and stared in shock as she got a closer look at the unmasked blond man wearing the Death Knight’s armor.

Professor Jeritza?!” she shrieked.

The man who answered to the name Jeritza slowly stood up, but he did not turn around until he had collected the pieces of his Death Knight mask.

“Wait a sec…this guy in the scary skull mask who just tried to kill us used to be your teacher?” asked Balthus, taking off his gauntlets and scratching his head.

“Not exactly,” said Monica. “He used to be the combat instructor at the academy. Few people could match his skill with a sword.”

“Those days are behind me,” said Jeritza. In contrast to the murderous warrior Monica and the others fought not too long ago, Jeritza looked and sounded sad. “Now, I am merely a warrior who hunts for sport…to experience the thrill of combat.”

“Hey, I can relate,” said Balthus. “But, uh…what are you doing down here, anyway?”

Jeritza turned to Byleth as she sheathed the Sword of the Creator, whose upper edges had nearly been sheared off during the fight. “That sword… It calls out to me…no. It calls out to him.”

“Then I guess you’ve figured out why we had to draw you in here, right?” said Yuri.

“Yes… The demon within me… He kills without remorse, and his bloodlust cannot be satiated. If you wish to destroy him, then you must also cut me down.”

Monica’s head began to throb as she tried to process the revelation of Jeritza being the infamous Death Knight. In her previous year at the academy, she remembered seeing him keep to himself on the training grounds, rarely interacting with the other teachers. What could he have been doing all that time when no one was watching? Could he have discovered Abyss before the professor and I?

“I told you, I didn’t come here to fight you,” said Byleth. She approached Jeritza with her hands away from her weapon to show him that she was no longer a threat, but the others kept their distance out of concern that his Death Knight side would arise to start their battle anew. “I just want to ask you a few questions.”

“Then get on with it,” he said.

“Okay… Why did you—I mean, why did the Death Knight kidnap Flayn?”

Jeritza stared silently at Byleth for a moment.

“Well?” Unsatisfied with his lack of response, Byleth folded her arms and stared back at him.

“I…do not know.”

“What do you mean, ‘you don’t know’? People don’t just go around kidnapping others for no reason!” said Monica.

“I was simply told to take the girl and bring my soldiers to ‘provide a distraction.’ I do not follow orders from just anyone…but this was a command that not even the Death Knight could refuse.”

“Who gave the order?” asked Byleth. “Was it the Flame Emperor?”

This time, Jeritza’s response was forceful and direct. “No.”

Byleth had only seen the Flame Emperor once—after she and the other Black Eagles had followed the lead of a wounded Manuela into a strange dungeon beneath Jeritza’s old office. After they had put the Death Knight’s soldiers to rout, the Flame Emperor suddenly appeared to relieve him of his duties before leaving with a cryptic warning about their intent to “reforge the world”. Most of the Church of Seiros’ elite members were convinced that the Flame Emperor had ordered Flayn’s kidnapping, and by extension the grotesque ritual to steal her blood that led to the deadly attacks on Garreg Mach and in Remire Village and Varley territory. Unlike the Death Knight, no one had reported any sights of the Flame Emperor among the enemy’s forces during the Remire invasion.

“Then who was it?” asked Monica.

“A disgusting maggot of a man. He did not give me his name… He said I had no need of it. Before I could get my hands on him, he vanished.”

“Maggots, huh? That doesn’t exactly narrow it down,” said Yuri, earning him a cold stare from Jeritza.

“What about Remire? Someone told us that the Death Knight appeared while we were defending the village,” said Byleth.

“I was drawn to the sounds of battle and carnage,” said Jeritza. “Alas, no one could provide me with the duel I desire. Nothing but weaklings and fleas…how boring.”

Jeritza picked his scythe up again and held it close to his chest as the other four watched for him to make any sudden moves. Monica was the first to break eye contact, turning to Byleth and tugging on her torn jacket.

“What do you think we should do about Jeritza, Professor?” she whispered, her voice slightly wavering at the sight of Jeritza’s weapon. “We don’t know who he was fighting in Remire, but he just admitted to kidnapping Flayn. Should we turn him in to Lady Rhea?”

“I don’t know if that’s the best idea,” said Byleth. “If we bring him back to the monastery, it could stir up a lot of painful memories in Flayn and Seteth. We need to keep him as far away from them as possible.”

While Byleth explained her reasoning, Monica worried about Flayn and wondered whose face she saw on the day of her kidnapping – Jeritza’s, or the Death Knight’s.

“Also, Lady Rhea doesn’t show any mercy against enemies of the church,” Byleth added. “She wouldn’t waste any time condemning him, just like she did with the Western Church priests who tried to rob the Holy Mausoleum. If she did kill him, we’d run the risk of drawing the attention of the Flame Emperor, and we don’t know what they’re capable of or their reason for opposing the church.”

“But what if we let him go?” asked Monica. “What if his Death Knight side awakens and there’s no one around to stop him? Many more people could be killed!”

“I hate to say it, but right now, the church and my students take priority. That especially includes you, Monica. Even though you joined us late, you’re still a valued member of the Black Eagles, and I don’t want to lose you or anyone else.”

Byleth and Monica returned their attention to Jeritza, who tightened his grip on his scythe.

“What?” he asked.

“I stand by my earlier declaration,” said Byleth. “I’m not going to kill you here. But,” she added, slowly walking toward him, “for your own safety and everyone else’s, I don’t want you to set foot on the monastery again. Do I make myself clear?”

The arena fell silent for a few seconds as everyone waited for Jeritza’s response. Byleth didn’t know if she had the authority to forbid anyone from trespassing on what most people considered sacred ground, but in Rhea’s absence, she believed it was worth a shot if a successful bluff would minimize casualties overall.

“You are a strange woman,” he said, “but you are also the first to give me a decent fight in a long time. I will leave for now…but one day, we will finish our duel. Then, and only then, will I truly be satisfied…”

Jeritza, realizing that he was still trapped in the arena, rode toward the nearest exit and waited for Balthus to open the gate. With nowhere to store the pieces of his broken mask, he tried his best to carry them in his left hand along with his scythe as he slowly rode away, looking at the group one last time before disappearing into the darkness.

“Uh, are you sure that’s a good idea, Professor?” asked Balthus. “Just letting the Death Knight loose like that?”

“I didn’t have any good options,” said Byleth. “We can only keep him down here for so long. If I didn’t have a class to teach, I’d keep an eye on him myself to make sure he’s not a threat to anyone else.”

“He seems to be more interested in you and that sword of yours,” said Yuri. “In any case, you should watch your back the next time you leave the monastery.”

“I always do.”

Monica tried to muster the strength to stay awake as she followed the rest of the group out of the arena and hopefully toward daylight. She hoped she would never have to face Jeritza again in direct combat. It was a testament to his strength that it took all four of them to break through his defenses and unmask him. No wonder he kept to himself all the time, she thought.

Yuri and Balthus eventually stopped walking, although how far away they were from the surface was a mystery. “Well, pals, it looks like this is where we gotta part ways,” said Balthus. “I know you two have gotta be drained after fighting two battles in one night. Goddess knows I could use some shut-eye myself.”

“Yes. I think I’ll be fine after a good night’s sleep,” said Monica. Or two, she almost added before thinking better of it. “Thank you for showing us around Abyss. I only wish we could have had more time to explore.”

“No worries. Say…the next time you see your dad, could you put in a good word for me? And, uh…try not to tell him about our little scrap earlier, yeah?”

Monica and Byleth continued their journey toward the surface, covering themselves with their arms as their torn clothes could no longer protect them from the cold. They also did little to protect them from the keen eyes of Seteth and Edelgard, who awaited them in the back alley as they emerged from the entrance to Abyss.

“Professor! Monica! What happened?” asked Edelgard as she walked up to inspect their wounds, trying the best she could to mask her discomfort. “You’ve been gone for hours!”

“We wanted to follow up on the rumors of the whereabouts of the Death Knight,” said Byleth.

Seteth folded his arms and frowned at the duo, less concerned about hiding his disapproval of their trip into Abyss. “And what, pray tell, prompted you to go off-site to investigate on your own, putting yourself and one of your charges in danger?”

“Even though they were only rumors, we couldn’t discount the possibility of one of them having some truth to it. That’s why we went down this tunnel – to see if he had found another place to hide underneath the monastery.”

“From the look of it,” said Edelgard, “I would say that he has. What exactly was he doing down there?”

“I don’t know. We were on our way back from our investigation,” said Monica, trying not to give away too much about her trip too soon, “when he suddenly came out of nowhere and attacked us. I’ve seen my share of scary sights before, but he was entirely on a higher level! I thought for sure that he was going to kill me!”

“Well, you’re safe now, and that’s what matters most. You can tell me more about it once you’ve taken some time to recover.”

“If what you both say is true,” said Seteth, “then we must secure this area immediately to ensure that no one gets in or out…especially not the Death Knight.”

“That won’t be necessary, Seteth,” said Byleth.

“How can you be so certain?”

“He left not long after we battled him.”

As far as Byleth was concerned, it was the truth. She chose not to include the part of the story where she talked the man behind the Death Knight’s mask out of returning to the monastery. Not even she believed it worked.

“Was the Flame Emperor with him?” asked Edelgard.

Byleth and Monica shook their heads. Monica had no idea what the Flame Emperor looked like, but she felt she would have recognized them right away had anyone else accompanied Jeritza during their battle.

“In any event, Professor, I need you to report everything you discovered to Lady Rhea as soon as possible,” said Seteth. “And you, Monica, should get some rest. I believe you and Miss Eisner have had more than enough excitement for one night.”

Monica agreed with Seteth and Edelgard without protest. Treading into unfamiliar territory was one thing. Surviving an encounter with the Death Knight and discovering his identity was another. She was far too tired to divulge the full details of her trip to Abyss to anyone, so she went back to her room to write down as much as she could about her journey before falling asleep.

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