“So, do you plan on explaining yourself yet?”
Parys stares into the ground, expression silent.
“She’s not going to be persuaded, clearly.” The blonde woman standing in front of her speaks with a uncomfortable casualness. “We need to up the ante.”
“Don’t you dare.” Shamir pushes the woman back. “If I catch you hitting a student on my watch, the next person getting impaled in the shoulder around here is you.”
Catherine eases up. “I was joking.”
There’s a clear tenseness between the two. If Parys had any willpower left, she’d almost find it amusing.
The cold prison floor she kneels on is lifeless and uncaring, and what little consciousness she has left is dedicated just to staying still, because her arms being tied behind her back isn’t allowing for any balance.
She’s still not sure what happened. Nobody seems to be willing to explain, beyond vague descriptions of a struggle, followed by Claude getting…
“Look, how do we even know she’s not another traitor?” Catherine raises her voice. “You don’t just stab someone out of sight from everyone else like that!”
Hurt? Killed? Did she kill him? She isn’t quite sure, but whenever she thinks about it for too long, her body collapses into nothing, so it’s not something she’s considered well. She’s also apparently been in a prison cell ever since, though for how long she isn’t sure, because all she can remember has been the nightmares.
It’s the only reason she wants her eyes to stay open. At least here, underground and away from all other life, she won’t see them.
“Would you like to say that to the Professor’s face?” Shamir crosses her arms. “If I didn’t already know full well how dense you are, I’d almost take your willingness for violence as being suspicious.”
Parys fails to keep herself steady, and crashes to the ground, her knee buckling her on her side.
“Oh, c’mon, again?” The blonde woman beside her taps the girl with her feet. “Up.”
She lays silent on the ground.
Catherine prepares to kick the girl in the gut. “I said up, you little—”
The deep grumble behind the woman stops her in her tracks.
“Jeralt.” Shamir sighs. “Thank you for getting here before she did something else stupid.”
The old man looks at Catherine, who’s slowly putting her foot back down. “No wonder my kid’s been wanting to beat the hell out of you recently.”
“I’ll deal with the problem knight.” Shamir gestures to her partner, who is now seething with rage. “Just get the girl out of here.”
With minimal effort, Jeralt picks the limp girl off the ground, and hauls her over his shoulder. It confuses her, not because she doesn’t realize she’s light, but because she could have sworn there were shackles keeping her tied to the ground, the only way she could explain how heavy she felt.
She doesn’t know where she’s going. It’s getting bright? But then, anything other than the place she was slotted in would seem bright to her, wouldn’t it. She would close her eyes to block it out, but when she tries for but a moment, her mind quickly conjures up images that remind her why she would rather her pupils sear. She sees stairs, followed by hearing bickering amongst a crowd.
And the sound of the professor, apparently, chasing near.
The large man sighs. “Kid, it’s bad manners to interrupt a prisoner escort.”
“Dad, what were they doing to her?” Her eyes have deep, dark circles underneath from lack of sleep, like this isn’t even the only thing she’s had to worry about recently. “Rhea wouldn’t tell me anything.”
“Nobody actually knows, especially since she was deep enough in the dungeons until today.” He shrugs, Parys’ lifeless body moving up with his shoulder. “Not like the other brat in your class has been keen to explain in much detail, either. That’s why she wants to see us all.”
“Just make sure she’s safe after all this, please.” The professor frowns, one far too heavy for her. Byleth can do that? Parys has never seen the corners of her mouth move much at all, before. How long has she been down there, to where changes like this can happen? “I don’t… want…”
“I know, kid.” The old man scritches at her hair with his free hand. “Probably just some bureaucratic nonsense that needs sorting out. She’ll be fine, I’ll make sure of it.”
She looks on worried, but, likely out of trust of her father, walks off.
“You’re lucky she cares so much, you know.” The father in question smirks. “Probably would’ve gotten your head lopped off by now if she wasn’t worried sick enough to do some digging.”
Parys remains silent.
“Yeah, yeah, this isn’t good small talk time.” He continues hauling her off, the lights around them fading softly as he moves indoors. “Just make sure to thank her once this all blows over.”
Once this all blows over. Parys doesn’t quite understand why she finds that so discomforting, why she was able to feel her stomach again after so long, only to find it churning over in hatred of the idea. Perhaps she doesn’t anticipate that time coming for her. Perhaps she just doesn’t want to live long enough to find it.
“Is the other brat already in there?”
“Yes, sir.” A guard for what she thinks is the Archbishop’s chamber responds with a step. “He came on his own.”
“Good, less kids to wrangle up.” Jeralt tries to drop her to her feet, though he’s clearly spending energy making sure she still stands. “Let’s go. Don’t make too much of an embarrassment out of yourself, now.”
The doors swing open. Certainly enough, she sees Lady Rhea, alongside what she vaguely recalls as being her brother standing directly beside. Parys gets all of two steps forward before her knee buckles once more, and with a loud crash she falls, her eyesight quickly losing sight of them and instead seeing—
“Ehehe…” He sounds meek, which is usually not a good sign. “Thaaaat’d be me.”
There’s silence between them. Parys’ vision is too blurred for her to know if it’s out of fear, or deep thought.
“They really didn’t tell you much down there, huh.” There’s a weak laugh coming from him. It might be because of the context, but she thinks his upper body has bandages wrapped all around it, so that might be the most he can laugh. “What kind chaperones.”
“Do you think we ought to treat prisoners with kindness?” That angry voice is new? Maybe that was the brother?
“And what was her crime, exactly? I don’t remember giving many details on that, especially not to you.”
“I see the hole that was in your shoulder, and I see enough to know what happened, child.”
“Oh, and that explains her having the exact same hole, does it?” Seems that made him have enough power in his lungs to get angry, at least. “What master sleuthing from the Archbishop’s right hand man!”
“D—” His voice hitches, as if he had never even considered to look at her. “Do you dare doubt the church!?”
“You know what I think’s happening?” Claude speaks through gritted teeth, his voice boiling over. “I think your knights just made a guess as to which noble’s more disposable, didn’t they? Tell me, without the fear of my old man’s political power, you think they’d have taken me instead?”
“You talk too much for someone in front of authority, you little—”
The Archbishop’s voice bellows in echos, and it grinds the argument to a halt.
“I will now be testing something, Seteth.” She steps closer to Parys, the small taps of her gentle walking clashing with her decisive tone. “Do not interrupt me.”
“But Lady Rhea—” He immediately stops, and while she can’t turn her head to see, she’s confident there’s a heavy glare in his direction. “V-very well.”
There’s more silence. She doesn’t know to interpret it at first, and the more she’s opting to consider it the more she preferred the shouting to all the things her mind keeps wanting to say, until she suddenly feels a hand pressed to her arm. It feels strangely cold, too cold in her mind to be from a human. Perhaps her thoughts have gotten so vivid that she has hallucinations. Such a thing has happened to her before, back when she was trapped and alone.
“The warmth of Chevalier…”
Hang on. Is that Rhea’s hand?
“L-Lady Rhea?” The brother seems as confused as she is.
“Seteth.” Indeed, if the closeness of this voice is any indicator, that is the Archbishop’s hand resting on her. “Do you recall how historians referred to those with a Major Crest of Chevalier?”
“As hot-blooded, I believe.”
“Yes, though not because of anger.” She’s speaking so oddly softly, for how harsh and cold she was before. “Because of warmth. A unique kind, that even fevers could not hold similarities to.”
“I suppose this student has such warmth?”
“Indeed–and I have good authority from Professor Hanneman that there was no… artificial interference causing such. This is deep within her very blood, held from the moment she was born.”
She’s not quite sure what any of this means. She’s confident ‘artificial interference’ doesn’t mean nice things in terms of crests, but is that something that happens? Surely, people don’t just have crests thrown into them willy-nilly?
“Now, I was not told of her punishment until recently.” Rhea’s hand leaves, and the sound of her footsteps back are heard. “I will be finding out why that is on my own terms–but until then, I must make it official that a mere student, who cannot possibly be a traitor like Tomas was, should not be treated like this. Am I clear on that, Seteth?”
“I…” Stuttering like a man blatantly caught in his own tongue, he gulps, already in the midst of walking off. “Of course, Lady Rhea. I will inform the executioner immediately.”
Parys’ head spins once more.
Well, it could probably have gone worse!
Okay, he’d prefer to still have some degree of control over his right shoulder. He’s been told it’ll heal up by the end of the Ethereal Moon, which, hey, that’s pretty good considering there was a big hole that Marianne could see right through when she caught up, and he’s still really confident that him and Parys are getting some kind of punishment since they both missed a mission, but step one of Operation Don’t Let His New Best Friend Get Punished By The State, as best as he can tell, has been a total success. Hooray! Job well done, and so on.
Problem: Parys clearly doesn’t know what the hell is going on and is now spiraling after discovering she was going to be executed. In fact, she didn’t even realize he didn’t bleed out, which, cool, that means she was isolated from everything for two weeks with nobody explaining anything to her! Amazing! No trauma could possibly come from that, definitely not!
If Claude von Reigan was not in front of the one woman who wouldn’t hesitate to slice his throat for blasphemy, boy would he have so much to say about the church right now!
“…Is there an issue?”
“O-oh, it’s nothing.” He pretends to wince, realizing she definitely saw how mad he was. “Just, eh, rolled my shoulder wrong, is all.”
She glares intently for a moment, but turns back to Parys, who, outside of entering and exiting various forms of heavy sweating, has been lying down unmoving the entire time.
“Come, child.” She attempts to hold the girl up, placing her in a sitting position. “I apologize for the miscommunication on the part of our staff.”
Parys, like she has been the entire time she’s been here, doesn’t speak a word. Without a smile on her face, she looks horrified, like a zombie with no further thoughts to behold.
Rather than try to push a conversation that’ll never take hold, Rhea looks behind, to the Teach’s old man. “I take it she was not treated well, then.”
“First thing I even saw was…” Jeralt thinks through his words, then sighs in frustration. “I believe you ought to speak with Lady Catherine after this, let’s just say.”
“I see.” She’s got that face one makes when you need to act neutral, but you’re visibly annoyed. If nothing else, guess he has the one woman that matters on his side. “I suppose given the circumstances, everyone is on edge, but this remains unacceptable behavior against this poor girl.”
Sounding like an absolute croak, unsurprising if she really hasn’t spoken once since then, Parys’ mouth opens up.
“So they truly hadn’t spoken even a single meaningful word to her.” Actually, now the Archbishop’s face is contorting more to a genuine pity. “There was an incident involving the man you knew as Tomas, recently, one that has made the knights on high alert. As you had both been injured, through wounds likely caused by a lance you only had, they had made far too harsh a judgement call.”
Parys’ mouth opens, as if she wants to speak, but no words come out, not even a squeak, like her mind’s racing too quickly for her to hold even the first word together, her lips desperately moving to change the intended start, before eventually giving up entirely.
“Lady Rhea, if I may.”
“Of course, Jeralt.” The woman looks up, realizing the poor girl isn’t exactly going to say much more. “You said you had obtained information regarding this incidient?”
“That I have. Though I don’t know how this had been given to my daughter—”
—Jeralt glares over at him for a split second, that thing you totally do when you don’t know who caused something—
“—she did come across a letter, sent to this monastery with no name, with heavy relation to the sudden mission this incident occurred during.”
Jeralt whips out the letter in question, the critical part two of Claude’s plan. While he’s still kind of internally hitting himself for not blacking out that last letter in the pile, it’s pretty convenient for now, being objective proof that a certain family is an enemy of the enemy of the church.
“Uh, my kid told me it’d be bad manners to say the name that’s on here, but here goes.” Well, at least he’s trying on that end, as he unfolds it to squint. “Ahem. ‘We are aware that there is a student with a hidden identity in your school that bears suspicious resemblance to… the name in question. We’re disgusted that such supposed believers would allow, this student, to live such a gross and fallible life within their own very walls, and we have decided to treat this as proof that the Goddess is no longer on your side.’”
Parys’ eyes stare holes into the ground, and if he wasn’t afraid interrupting this might ruin the plan, Claude would really want to ask that she at least gets her hands untied so she can at least block her ears out.
“‘This student has been fearful enough of the Goddess so as to even prefer falling off cliffs than face the fate that this student might deserve, and yet your walls act as a haven, protecting the sinners from any and all consequences.’” The old man speaks of this the same way he seems to speak of most scriptures when he has to say them out loud, with hints of scorn laced throughout “‘If we do not recieve, this student, before midnight on the Twenty-Third of the Red Wolf Moon, we will assume you are no longer worth saving, and we will take matters into our own hands.’”
“Twenty-Third of the Red Wolf Moon.” Rhea looks on, in thought. “So, the very same day as the incident?”
“Indeed, and while I feel like I’m getting a bit too old, since I don’t fully get what all of this means, my daughter seems confident, what with the cliff being mentioned and all,” Jeralt says, gesturing towards the girl on the ground, “that this girl here’s the student in question. More than likely, poor kid got scared she was getting kidnapped again and starting reliving something fierce.”
“Child, you… do not need to speak this answer out loud, but.” Rhea kneels back down, seeing that Parys has all but blanked her entire mind from the conversation. “Is it true?”
After a few moments’ silence, she nods, slowly.
“I see.” Rhea stands, a secret scorn crossing her eyes. “Do we have a name to attach to this student’s former family?”
“We do–just some low-end traders from the Alliance.” Jeralt shrugs, visibly annoyed thinking on about it. “Some of my men already seemed acquainted with them, and not in the kind sense. They’re notoriously luxurious for how little money they make, so who knows how they could afford any of this.”
“A group so overconfident in their hatred, that they believe refusing their own child’s rights is worth pointing a blade against their own very church that they supposedly swore so much love to…”
With her mouth having thoroughly forced itself into a grimace, Rhea has now stopped having her scorn be secret.
“Jeralt, I believe we will need to replan your schedule for this month.” Wow, she has EXTREMELY stopped, actually. Claude didn’t even know someone’s eyes could feel strong enough to light fires like that. “Ensure with Seteth that your missions become relocated close enough to this family to where you and your men can deal with them as you see fit.”
“Very well, Lady Rhea.”
For the first time to Claude’s ears, it doesn’t even sound like the old man has any resistance in his voice when saying that, as he casually walks off to explain the situation to others. Guess enough of his mercs hold grudges for him to not mind too much.
After a loud THUD of the doors behind them, the only ones left are Claude, Parys and the Archbishop. There’s still air in his lungs waiting to be sucked out, like he’s still pretty sure they’re getting horribly punished but he’s just not sure why, a thought process made worse by this woman’s face becoming utterly unreadable.
Years of having to see all the ways this church oppresses, both his people and others, won’t let him realize how far out of the woods he’s been. Even as he consciously understands that the situation calls for him and Parys to be safe, the part of his subconscious that taught him he’d be as good as dead without a dagger under his pillow is very much telling him otherwise.
“May I tell you a secret, children?”
“I do not understand humans, sometimes.” Rhea’s anger has all but washed off, that much is clear. “The very Church of Seiros is built upon worshipping a people that can change themselves, change their very world as they see fit.”
She sits alongside Parys, still lifeless and unmoving.
“And yet, all the terrible things humans seem to do, to other humans who do the same.” Her hand strokes at the girl’s hair, trying to wake her from her panic. “All in the name of a goddess who wouldn’t even mind it one bit. Is that not strange?”
“I sssssuppose it is.” Claude will absolutely admit to being completely flabbergasted right now.
“I do believe it is not best for me to say it like it is simply others’ doing, however.” Rhea looks close to her, trying to bring focus to her hazy eyes, genuine peaks in the woman’s voice. “I and my people had not only failed you, my child, but in doing so, we had missed the very enemy you had run from. I am so sorry for all of this.”
Parys tries to speak, her breath hitching.
“May I ask a question?”
“Where,” she speaks slowly, quietly, her eyes trying to hold on, “where am I?”
“You are in the monastery of Garreg Mach, my child. Free from anyone who could take you away.”
“May I ask another?”
Her head droops down.
“Am I imagining him next to me?”
Rhea’s face holds shock, and while she quickly moves back to neutral, he could have sworn he saw a tear trying to prickle at the corner of an eye.
“No.” She moves to hold her. “Claude is here with you. He is very much real.”
Parys, finally breaking free of her spell, starts to sob, a tiny smile crossing her face.