One and the Same - AutumnVine - Fire Emblem: Fuukasetsugetsu (2023)

The time has come for you to give me an answer. Meet me at Seiros's false resting place, so we may settle our affairs before your holy revelation.

Byleth crumples the note as she closes her fist, taking a deep breath in anticipation.

To calm herself, she goes through her usual ritual before a battle; the maintenance of her weapon. For a mercenary, the tool they used to kill was of the highest importance, and neglecting its condition would only lead to an early grave.

She takes out exactly two bottles of oils, one big, one small, and places them on the ground beside herself. Next Byleth lays her sword in front of her - not the Sword of the Creator, but the steel blade her father left when he died - and carefully pulls the weapon from its sheath. She lays the leather portion on the floor while leaning the sword against her crossed legs for a second.

The smallest tincture she uncorks first, then dabs a decent amount on a cloth. This Byleth carefully runs lengthwise across the sword's blade, making sure to spread the oil evenly in a very thin coat. As the sword was already honed to a fine point, the substance would protect it until she needed to use a whetstone again.

Next she applies some of the other oil to a different cloth. This would go on the leather handle of the blade, preventing the hide from drying out and cracking. As she rubs it in, a slightly pungent odor rises upwards. To Byleth however, it was a familiar scent.

When both parts of her father's sword were properly cared for, Byleth puts everything away and rises to her feet. She sheathes and buckles the weapon back around her hips, then begins a series of stretches designed to warm up the body prior to battle.

She had a feeling it would come to that.

"Professor Eisner."

Outlined in the entrance of the Holy Mausoleum, the Flame Emperor cut an imposing figure. Slowly, they stride forward across the marble floor until they faced Byleth directly. An axe hung at their back.

"You kept me waiting," Byleth complains, her voice deadpan even if she wasn't serious. "Slipping a note under my door is bold, even for you."

"Stealing you away in the middle of the night would not have gone over better," is the masked man's response.

Byleth feels a little concerned that outright abduction was their first plan in order to meet again, but she didn't want to press the issue. Not when there was more to talk about. It would most likely end just as poorly anyway.

"You took a risk calling me here. I could have sold you out to the Church."

The Flame Emperor's red eyes narrow from behind the mask. "Perhaps. But you expressed a willingness to hear me out at Remire… and so I am willing to trust you now in turn."

"Even after what your allies did to my father?" Byleth states in a low voice, the venom more fake than real. She had to force this issue now. She needed the truth from the man himself.

"What happened to Captain Jeralt is infinitely regrettable," the Flame Emperor says. "And while you may not believe me, if I had known what Kronya was planning, I would have stopped her. I swear that to you."

Truthfully, Byleth already knew that he meant it, or else she would have never considered coming to this meeting at all.

"Then what are you asking of me?"

The Flame Emperor steps closer, the heavy sound of their boots echoing throughout the open space. "I intend to reforge this broken world, and I will not suffer any obstacle, or person, to stand in my way."

"And that would include me," Byleth guesses.

"Hence my reason for this meeting," the Flame Emperor says. "I wish to offer you, one final time, the chance to join my side."

Byleth lets the faintest flicker of amusement cross her face. "Even though you rejected me at Remire?"

For the first time in her company, the Flame Emperor sounds uncertain. "I… I could not believe you, not then. But after everything that has happened, perhaps now I could."

"I should trust you less."

"The same is true for myself as well. Yet I am willing to take this chance. Are you, Professor?"

That was a question for the ages, and having known it was coming, Byleth had thought extensively about it while she waited. It was undeniable that a part of herself was drawn to the enigmatic figure and the ideals he claimed to espouse. Despite hiding behind a mask, there was always a sense of honesty to his words and actions, something Byleth found refreshing. While his goals might have been vague, she could easily imagine herself believing in them.

But it wasn't that simple. And as Byleth swallows down her fears and exhales softly, she realizes this was a lot harder than she had expected.

"I can't," she says plainly.

She doesn't miss how the Flame Emperor's posture tenses. "May I ask why?" Even behind the distortion, their voice sounds pained.

"My allegiance already belongs elsewhere. And I cannot swear myself to two ideals at once."

"I see." Slowly, the Flame Emperor draws the axe from their back. "Then you will oppose me."

Byleth copies the action, pulling her father's sword from its sheath in one fluid motion. "I will."

She isn't sure which one of them chooses to strike first, just that their weapons clash against each other in the space formerly between them. The strength behind the Flame Emperor's opening blow surprises Byleth, and she realizes that he was taking this just as seriously as she was.

It might very well be a fight to the death.

And so they began their duel in earnest. The Flame Emperor immediately switches to a combat form Byleth recognizes, and she adapts the intended stance to counter it. More than a simple warrior, he had clearly received a proper education in combat.

Far from some ordinary bandit, the Flame Emperor strikes out with a series of heavy but coordinated strikes. Raw strength forces Byleth backwards.

The advantage of fighting an axe-wielder with a sword was the use of thrusting attacks against an opponent that could not retaliate as easily. Only capable of wide swings, the Flame Emperor was forced on the defense whenever Byleth lashed out with her blade, hiding behind his shield to block each blow.

The disadvantage, however, was that when the Flame Emperor chose to be aggressive, Byleth had little choice but to play along, ducking out of the way of the axe on a razor-thin line between injury or death. All she needed was one good opening, but her opponent was reluctant to cede one to her.

One-on-one, the Ashen Demon was a force to be reckoned with on the battlefield. Very few warriors could stand even a minute against her, which means the Flame Emperor was of considerable skill to not only survive but also push back as well. Whoever they were, she couldn't help being impressed.

Still, she needed to bring this battle to a close, and quickly.

Byleth feints in one direction, then immediately strikes out in the other. As expected, the Flame Emperor manages to adjust their own swing mid-motion to counter the change in direction. With a single flicker of the Divine Pulse, Byleth pulls time backwards only for a few seconds, enough to turn her initial feint into a second one.

The Flame Emperor counters empty air as Byleth completes her initial attack. His weapon and shield fly out of his hands against the weight of the Ashen Demon's sword.

"Aghhh!" he groans as Byleth practically tackles him to the ground. The bulkiness of his armor only confirms his downfall, and she plants both knees on his shoulders and sits down on the false emperor's torso. He was, effectively, completely pinned.

"You never stood a chance against me," Byleth informs him, her voice as chilled as the emotion she delivers it with. Then her sword comes to rest at the Flame Emperor's throat. "And I cannot allow you to trample over the dreams of the one I believe in. Do you have any final words?"

Oddly enough, the Flame Emperor doesn't struggle or attempt to free himself. He only breathes heavily, his red eyes glaring from behind the mask.


The edge of the sword pushes closer. "Why what?"

"Why do you fight for a corrupt organization like the Church of Seiros?"

Byleth finds herself exhaling some of the breath she had been building up at the question. "What… the Church? What makes you think I owe my loyalty to them?"

"Are you not the Archbishop's attack dog?" the Flame Emperor replies, sounding as though he were sneering under the mask. "She treats you with such favor that anyone can reach this conclusion."

"I'm not loyal to the Church, or Rhea," Byleth bluntly says back. She shifts her weight a little to ease off her defeated opponent. "They're just an employer."

"Then who have you been talking about?" the Flame Emperor asks. Even the distortion of his voice couldn't hide the open confusion.

Supposing that she was just going to kill him anyway, Byleth decides there wasn't much harm in being honest with the Flame Emperor in these final moments. "Edelgard von Hresvelg."

The Flame Emperor's eyes were at the widest point she had ever seen them. "The imperial princess?"

"Hmmm… she's actually the emperor now," Byleth says. "And she doesn't really know how strongly I feel about her cause. Not yet."

"Why her?"

Byleth twists the end of her sword closer against her captive's neck. "I am about to take your life, and that's all you care about?"


"You would understand if you met her in person," Byleth tells him, not quite sure why she was answering this question at all. "There's no one else like her in the world."

Beneath her, the Flame Emperor had gone completely still. "Explain it to me. Please."

"You know that I'm a mercenary. I've sold my life for coin as long as I could hold a sword. The idea of loyalty beyond that… it had never crossed my mind."

Sighing, Byleth scratches at her head in frustration. She wasn't as eloquent with her words as she wanted to be, and for some reason really wanted to get this right - she owed the man she was about to kill that much at least.

"Edelgard is different. She's blunt, and opinionated, and sometimes kind of arrogant. But she's also the most genuine person I've ever met."

Byleth slowly pulls her sword away from the Flame Emperor's throat.

"I won't pretend to understand politics. But I do know how awful the world is out there, and how it has hurt my students. Edelgard wants to make things better. And with the way she talks about Crests, and the nobility, and the Church… I believe her.

"I may be her teacher, but I am learning just as much from her as she is from me. When the year ends, I want to go with her back to Enbarr. She wants me to guide her, and I don't want to leave her side."

The Flame Emperor's breath calms as he speaks. "It sounds as though you would do much for her."

"I would do anything for her," Byleth makes clear. Then she puts a hand to the bottom of the Flame Emperor's mask. "And that includes eliminating you. Let me look upon your face before I do so."

Except a gauntlet-clad hand comes to rest at her wrist, stopping her.

"Please, I beg of you… do not," the Flame Emperor pleads.

"Why does it matter?"

"Because I do not want to ruin the perfect image you have in your head."

There was a wavering quality to the defeated emperor's voice, and it does give Byleth pause. She puts her sword fully on the ground, then takes both of the Flame Emperor's hands - the same ones she had dreamt of holding so many times before.

A million little details suddenly make sense for Byleth. The passion, the anger, the determination... all of it shared, all for a cause more righteous than she could ever have envisioned. What remained was simply for her to put the pieces together and let it click into place.

How had she not seen it until now?

"I meant what I said. No matter what, I would follow my emperor to the ends of the earth."

"Even knowing everything she has done? What she would do?"

"Then it sounds like she needs my help more than I ever realized."

Slowly, Byleth moves her hands to bring the Flame Emperor's palms upwards, to the cheeks of her mask. With a nod of approval, she watches as they pull the white porcelain away from their helmet - enigmatic no more.

"Hello, my teacher," Edelgard says in greeting, shimmering wetness at the corner of her eyes, sheepishness in her voice.

"Hello, Edelgard," Byleth replies back. "Can I just say that I feel very foolish right now?"

Laughter rises up from the Flame Emperor's chest. "That makes two of us," Edelgard says in agreement.

Byleth carefully lifts herself up so she was no longer pinning her student to the ground. She holds out a hand for Edelgard, who takes it, dropping the mask onto the floor as she rises to stand alongside her. A pained look quickly erases the smile the latter wore.

"Professor… I-"

"I'm sorry for threatening to kill you," Byleth interrupts with purpose.

Edelgard shakes her head. "I am the one who should be apologizing, Professor. There is so much I must beg your forgiveness for."

"True, you are in an unbelievable amount of trouble right now," Byleth says. She smiles at the red expression on Edelgard's face. "But this has been a very overwhelming half-hour, and I might need a break before you spill the rest of your secrets to me."

"Of course, my teacher. I didn't intend to overwhelm you." Still, Edelgard couldn't hide that she was biting down slightly on her lower lip, a rare sign of her nervousness.

Byleth tilts her head, feeling curious. "You seem to have a question for me."

"Yes…" Edelgard hesitates. "Was everything you said true?"

"Do you not believe me?"

"N-No, I do. Rather, I am… left with the impression that it isn't the whole truth."

Thinking it over, Byleth easily concedes that was a fair conclusion - she was keeping another aspect from Edelgard. So in light of putting everything out in the open, Byleth smiles, leans forward, and gives her student a deep kiss on the lips.

Edelgard makes a surprised noise but doesn't break off the kiss. Instead, she snakes an arm around Byleth's waist in order to pull her closer.

The kiss was soft, and pleasant, and a hell of a lot warmer than Byleth expected. She was used to chaste pecks or reluctant neckings in her short history of liaisons, but this was something else altogether. Judging by the way Edelgard was pressing against her as hard as she could, the feeling was mutual.

Both their faces were flushed when they finally break it off, and not a hint of regret was anywhere to be seen. Rather, neither wished to step away from the other, not when they were so close after so long.

"Does that answer your question?" Byleth asks, smiling knowingly.

Edelgard nods, her voice seemingly still caught in the back of her throat. She takes a moment to regain her composure, joining her teacher with the same smile. For them, down in the Holy Mausoleum's depths, the world seemed only big enough to hold them both and no one else. On the outside, nothing further gave a hint of mattering.

And right now, that was perfectly okay for the two of them.

One and the Same - AutumnVine - Fire Emblem: Fuukasetsugetsu (1)

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