Chapter 104: Balance of Terror

"Crusty old bastard."

The grumble of annoyance left her lips as she continued on with the inane task that had been left to her to deal with. Solon must have taken some perverse glee in ordering her to do the most pathetic and mentally gruelling jobs around the library. Quite why he thought she was wholly suited for this grunt work was beyond her.

One could talk about keeping up appearances, but she had never seen him do an ounce of work.

He just pointed at something and told her to do it instead.

A jerked movement ground her thoughts to a halt, she lowered her eyes and stared down at the ladder for a brief moment, eyeing it up for a few moments as she could have sworn it rattled in such a way that it wasn't supposed to or wasn't healthy to.

Silence stretched on for a few moments, her eyes closed and she let out an irritable sigh, raising her head back up and going to work on the shelf once more with the stack of books that she had been forced to lug up there.

This job was utterly beneath her and if the last several weeks of doing this had proven anything in her mind, it was that this monastery deserved to be burned down for the stupidity that was this library in the first place. There wasn't anything worth learning in this forsaken place and if she needed to listen to one more beast-spawn, wish her the blessings of the Fell Star…

Someone was going to die.

That was all there was to it. Someone would die and she was running out of the ability to care.

Worse with the smug face of Solon lurking around the corner and always congratulating her on what a diligent worker she was and how lucky they were to have such a faithful child of the Fell Star to help them with their work.

Weasel.

This whole plan, thus far, hadn't amounted to much and she was certain that she would have learned far more if she had been a student. Whatever information she was getting was always going to be far less than Solon, and what she got was rumours and hearsay at best. Most of which related to the gossip of children in relation to some bit of information or whatever.

So what did she care if the glowing haired freak was being made into a teacher?

What did that truly matter?

For one thing, she couldn't understand why everyone was so obsessed with them.

An exotic looking rat was still a rat at the end of the day.

From the way that their 'ally' had all but exploded at the news of this weirdo being in the Monastery, she would have assumed them to be something of a big deal, but they just spent their time walking around and insulting people in the same condescending manner she'd heard a hundred times over.

Though they did seem to be somewhat affiliated with the current host of the Fell Star, so perhaps that was worth looking further into…but it was hardly as though she could achieve much with her current guise. A student could have gotten close to them and asked some questions under the guise of some lovestruck puppy or just a curious child.

But no.

She had to be made into a Nun because it was easier.

Easier.

As if that was the reason, they just didn't trust her to do anything, all that training and they still treated her as though she was some sort of nuisance that they had to keep around for the sake of keeping an eye on her. It was humiliating in every definition of the word, she could do so much more than they thought of her.

The ladder creaked once more, she glared down at it and pulled her lips into a snarl.

This stupid place and its worn down technology.

They couldn't get rid of this eyesore fast enough, replace it with something worth keeping around.

…Admittedly, she didn't know what they could replace it with, but they could have turned it into a farm and it would still have been more valuable than anything on this forsaken continent.

Her hand caught the next book, pulling it close and then staring down at the cover.

She froze a half second later as she read the title, her neck creaked as she turned her gaze to the opposite side of the room and the shelves that reached from the next floor up and onto the ceiling. Narrowing onto the spot where the book was supposed to go, which wasn't where she currently was.

And she couldn't even just slot it in because otherwise 'Tomas' would fall on her like a parent chiding a small child and she would need to sit there and bear the humiliation of being spoken to in such a manner. She would be unable to answer back as Solon walked her through the whole process.

She just knew that he would speak to her as if she was a child as well if he did that.

Her eye twitched.

For a brief moment, she debated whether it would be worth just throwing the book across the room at the shelf and then calling it a day. There was a certain appealing notion about just giving up and ripping down this entire library and setting it on fire.

No, as much as she was sure that the scent of burning books would be very appealing to her for a short time, there was nothing else to be gained from it beyond her own small satisfaction and it wouldn't last before she had to run away. At which point, she was certain that the others would hold this over her forever, provided they didn't first kill her for doing something stupid.

Maybe that was their plan?

Seeing how much she could endure before she snapped and then just getting an excuse to get rid of her or something.

She wouldn't put it past them.

Her features tightened, turning back around to the shelf and then closing her eyes, a long suffering sigh escaped her as she started to climb back down the ladder. It would be easier to just get all of this over with and then think about all the ways she could get Solon back, the fantasy of doing something that he wasn't able to was just appealing, the sort of stricken face he would make.

Something shifted beneath her.

There was a single second, a cracking sound and then her weight slipped out.

Her balance fell backwards, her body tumbled in slow motion, eyes snapping down to the sight of the step breaking inwards. An internal scream ripped through her as she swore that she was going to find whomever left a faulty ladder here and then track them down and kill them for this humiliation.

She was in no danger, but it was the sight of her tumbling to the ground that was going to remain burning in her mind.

Especially because she would have to keep it a secret from Solon, or he would just mock her about it forever-

Her brain slowed down as she realised something.

She was still in the air.

It wasn't even that her accelerated thoughts had slowed time down.

She just froze in the air.

Her eyes flickered around, the books that tumbled down with her were still frozen at the moment of their drop.

It was as though time had-

Her breath caught in her throat, her eyes bulged wide at the implication of what had just happened.

Then her ears pricked at another sound.

Footsteps.

Unable to turn her head, she was forced to gaze at the wall as the sound of footsteps got louder and louder.

Her body started moving without her permission, flipping upright and then being lowered to the ground, her eyes tracked the movement of the books through the air, floating down from their positions and towards something.

When the invisible hand loosened from her body, she whipped around and took a half step back, though as quickly as the terror had gripped her, it abruptly vanished as she found herself staring - not at the Fell Star - at the tanned skin and moderately better dressed man with glowing golden hair. She felt the urge to punch them in the face for having her so terrified for a brief second.

His single arm moved out, gaze moving away from her and towards the book which came to rest in his grip. Eyeing the cover for a short moment and then giving a single hum. "Though it has been some time since I last stepped foot in this place, I believe that this particular novel goes upon a different shelf."

She suppressed a twitch at the comment, instead she offered a faux abashed smile. "Y-yes, I was just about to correct myself. I was rather silly in that I did not look through the pile of books before I started trying to sort them."

Red eyes remained on the book, his hand came away from it and allowed the tome to linger in the air before it abruptly took flight once more, surging across the room like an arrow and then slotting into a shelf on the first floor without warning. Her eyes snapped to it for a second, then back to the man.

"You didn't need to do that."

"No, but I would prefer your mind not be wandering to your duties while we speak."

While He what?

What did this fool have to say to her?

The flutter of pages stole her focus, she watched as the pile of books she had been about to sort started to move through the air under their own power, or so it seemed. She knew it was just levitation magic. It made sense, with only one arm he probably wasn't going to be doing any heavy lifting anytime soon, so he would need to do something to convince people he wasn't an invalid.

…Well, it was better than her doing it.

So she could at least hear out whatever drivel He were going to-

"This is a rather gruelling assignment, I quickly found it to be a task ill-suited for me."

She blinked, his words came from rather nowhere at all. Not that she disagreed with them, this whole place was beneath her. But she couldn't well come out and say something like that. Therefore, she just smiled and shook her head from side to side. "Whatever task I can do to aid those of the Monastery is worthwhile enough for me."

He sent her a blank gaze for half a second, then turned around.

The doors of the library shut rather abruptly, in that same moment she felt as though there was a subtle pinching sensation on the back of her neck. Not enough to really cause any discomfort, but enough that she was aware of it, a feeling like a hair being caught on something.

Her brows furrowed and her posture tightened, wearing a look of innocent confusion as she gazed from the doors and towards the man. "Is there something the matter?"

"I intent to speak with you in private and I very much doubt you would want Seiros stumbling upon us in the midst of our conversation. I, for one, would prefer not to watch her rip you to bloody ribbons before I get the chance to speak with you."

Her mind ground to a halt.

What did he just say?

What did he…He talked about Seiros as if-

…He knew.

He knew.

Taking a half step back, she continued with the facade as her eyes briefly danced about the room, he still wasn't looking at her. Which meant he was underestimating her, taking his eyes from her in such a way. But if he knew about Seiros and her, that meant he probably knew about Solon as well.

How many had he told?

How many knew?

Was he just waiting for her outside the door?

"I'm…I'm afraid I'm not sure what you're talking about-"

Something rippled over her skin, like she was doused with cold water.

Her hands flew up and her eyes shot wide, watching as the illusion that cloaked her body peeled away. Cream skin replaced by pale grey, mundane robes gave way to tight dark leathers. Her head snapped up and looked at the man, neither one of them said anything for half a moment.

"I have little interest in entertaining this charade for the time being, though it will depend on you."

Red eyes narrowed at her, then his head inclined a touch. "Though I admit my surprise, the last time I did this, you made an effort to assassinate me…I'm curious, what has caused you to stay your hand this time around?"

What were they talking about?

Last time-

No, nevermind.

He tore away her disguise.

She had to get away quickly, but that would cause her to burst through the entire Monastery looking like this. Unless she killed a monk and stole their clothes, that would certainly work. Just cover up her head with a hood and then she could get away long enough to call for help.

It just meant she had to deal with this one quickly.

Her eyes narrowed.

He was a talented mage, but it was close rank.

She could rush them and catch them before he unleashed a spell, but that didn't take away the possibility that he had help. His affiliation with the dragon…he called her Seiros, which meant he knew what the Archbishop was.

Tightening her jaw, Kronya glared at them.

Then pushed off the ground and rushed forwards, clenching her hand into a fist-

"You no doubt feel the subtle pinch on the back of your neck."

Her fist froze a half centimetre from the eyes of the man, still regarding her with a bored unblinking gaze. The lack of fear annoyed her, but not nearly as much as the sudden pinch increased to a point where it was painful, but beyond that were his words. She thrust her right hand forwards, grabbing them by the collar and dragging them to her eye level.

"Get whatever magic off me or-"

"You will do what?"

His hand clasped around her wrist, she hadn't even seen it move-

His grip clamped down on her like a vice, her eyes widened at the force as agony shot through her arm, biting back a scream as he pulled her hand away from them like it was nothing, her other limb flew up, clawing away at his tanned fingers. Already she could feel tears building up in the corner of her eyes.

It was going to break.

Her wrist was going to break.

He was going to break her wrist-

She was abruptly thrown onto her back, blinking twice and taking the opportunity for what it was, scrambling away to get some distance from them. Her breath came out unevenly, her eyes lingered on them for a moment before chancing a glance to her numb limb, her throat closed up as she stared at the marks on her hand.

The indentations in the leather where they had pressed inwards.

…Kronya didn't even want to know what it looked like underneath.

A gasp escaped her, left hand flying up to the back of her neck as the sensation turned into a sharp sting, like something was being forced into her nape, yet she found nothing there. But it didn't stop the agony, the sharp pin prick which burned hotter and hotter and hotter-

It stopped.

She took in a gasp and fell forwards, slumping onto her shoulder and pulling her wounded arm close to her chest, breathing in through clenched teeth as the tears started to stream down her cheeks. It hurt, and not just the pain, it was everything.

…Was she going to die?

Raising her head, she looked through blurry eyes at the man, his expression unchanged as they stared down.

Something about that gaze of theirs was familiar.

In a haunting way.

"Hmph. So you do feel pain in a similar fashion to ordinary humans? Good. That makes this process much simpler for me."

He took a step forward.

She rolled back away from them, thudding into the wooden desk behind her.

"Do you believe distance will save you, or do you act in the same animalistic manner of your peers?" The cold words kept on coming, speaking in a detached clinical manner, like she heard from those in the science division.

He didn't even sound as though he were enjoying it, just that he were bored.

"Regardless, understand that distance will afford you no salvation. From the moment I entered this room, your life was in the palm of my hand. Whether you live through these next few minutes or not is entirely dependent on what answers you provide me."

"Y-you-" She spat back, feeling the faint burning creep in through her skin once again, the tears pricked her eyes once more. "W-what did you-"

"Hm? Oh, the pain." He muttered with a wave of his hand. "A minor curse, unrelated to the actual danger, but merely to alert you of the presence. A localised activation of pain receptors in your nape. Though the true harm is the spell beneath it."

He stopped walking, eyes glowing bright red as his shadow cast over her.

"That being the small wire I have tied around your Medulla."

Was she supposed to know what that was-?

"Your brainstem."

Th-they were lying, right?

"All I need do is tighten my hold like so and…"

He didn't move, he didn't so much as twitch.

But she felt her body lock up, her arms slumped down and she dropped to the floor, her eyes remained wide.

Her mouth opened to speak.

Except it didn't open.

T-this was a joke, right? This wasn't real.

There was no way this was real.

"You are no doubt experiencing a great deal of fear from your sudden loss of motor functions. Understand that this is nothing more than a demonstration, I can return function of your body to you at a moment's notice…but should you prove unsatisfying when it comes to information, I shall slash your brainstem entirely to a point where I cannot repair it."

T-they would do what?

But wouldn't that mean-?

Her eyes widened further, remaining locked onto the gaze and searching for any sign of a lie in his face. Desperately searching for something that would reveal he had just cast some sort of spell to paralyse her. She was met with an indifferent gaze, he didn't even blink. Just kept staring at her as though she was nothing to them.

"It should go without saying that in that scenario, you will die." A beat, he made a small noise. "Suffice to say that your absence will hardly be missed. I could dump your corpse at the feet of Seiros and I suspect she would be rather jubilant about it, more so when I unveil my suspicions regarding Tomas. I am certain you can understand how events will transpire from there."

…She was going to die?

"Now that I have explained it all, perhaps you might be inclined to avoid embarrassing yourself with futile attempts at struggle."

Everything flooded back to her, but she didn't dare move.

He was still looking down at her and the threat lingered in her mind, that helplessness about being unable to do anything. She could just wait here…no, she couldn't. Because she couldn't do anything to stop this monster. She couldn't escape because he would probably get her before she could even move.

She was scared.

She didn't want to feel that again.

"Now. Are you an Agarthan?"

Her head bounced up and down before he could even finish the question, she heard enough to give them an answer.

"Good. That clarifies things." His posture straightened. "I will open this dialogue by informing you that I do not care what manner of conflict you are currently engaged with against Rhea. The civil wars of humans mean nothing to me, I've elected to ignore Tomas as long as I have because I did not care. He was human enough for me to turn a blind eye."

He knew about Tomas?

But then why didn't he do anything-?

"At least until I learned about what Sothis is." His gaze narrowed immediately. "...How much do you know about your people's history?"

Why was he asking her this?

Why did he even want to know in the first place-

"Answer in a timely manner. My patience is not infinite and sooner or later, someone will eventually notice the bounded field around the Library."

Her eyes shot wide, realising what that would mean for her.

The history of her people?!

She didn't know all that much about their history at all!

She only knew what everyone else knew!

Would that even be enough?

"Perhaps you need incentive-"

"W-wait! Wait!" She blurted out as loud as she could, holding out her uninjured hand and waving to them. He didn't say anything, but the lack of agony she felt at least told her he was listening to her. "J-just give me a second! I'll answer, I'll answer!"

"Then do so."

"T-the Fell Star!" Reciting what she knew was difficult, her mind was scrambled from pain and panic. "She came from the stars and then turned us into thralls! When we didn't want to serve her anymore, she wiped us all out and forced us into hiding-"

"The first generation, you mean."

"E-eh?"

"So Seiros was correct." He hummed, turning his gaze from her and to the side, his hand moved up and cupped his chin.

They…they already knew?

T-then did that mean she didn't have anything else to tell them?

…Did that mean he were going to-?

"Why have you stopped?"

She jerked, her eyes swung up to see his gaze upon her once more, irritation building up into his expression. "B-but don't you already know-"

"You believe I would trust the account of Seiros?" He sounded disgusted by the notion. "She is a dangerously biased source, not that I expect different from you, but at least from the two of you, I can extract a close truth of what occurred. Now continue on and spare no details, as you recall them."

Belatedly, she nodded her head. "A-alright…the…The Gods tried to help us but were killed in the final battle, The Fell Star buried the world in a great ocean and forced us to retreat to the old cities. W-we only emerged when she started over and replaced us again with her own copies of what we were! The children of the beasts! Th-that's all I know!"

"...I see."

What was that?

What was that supposed to mean?

What did that mean!?

Did that mean he was done with her now?

His eyes shifted towards her own once more, narrowing slightly. "It seems as though you are telling the truth. I was curious if you would lie to me…Hmph. You value your own life more than that of your comrades? It is fortunate for your people that I am not currently aligned against them. Else your weak will would have sealed their fate."

Her breath came out in pants, the finality with which he spoke was all she could really hear.

"Th-there's lots more I can tell you-!"

"Tomas is the older of the two of you."

It felt like her heart stopped beating at his flippant tone.

"I suspect he would have a great deal more information available to me that you have…Letting you leave here now is a loose end that I am unsure I am willing to entertain, all things considered."

Bringing up a hand, he gestured to himself. "This treatment is nothing more than a result of your own actions. Our first meeting was coloured with your attempted assassination of me for merely inquiring about your race. Admittedly, you are clearly a private people, but I believe humans would call this turnabout as being fair play?"

"W-what are you even-but I never-"

"Oh, yes, you would not remember it, would you?" His mutter was almost careless, a face as though they'd only just remembered that little detail. Red eyes glowed, her mind burned as images and memories suddenly flooded back into her head.

Her left hand flew up, clasping at the front of her temple while a groan escaped her lips.

They came back with such clarity that it was a shudder to think how she had even forgotten-

Memories rooted themselves in her mind, she froze up the second they were truly cemented. A shuddering of her pupils, her shaking gaze pulled itself up from the ground and towards the man, looking right into his face with a sudden horrifying clarity.

They had met before.

…He knew from the very second she met.

There had never been a moment where she or Solon had them fooled.

"I…you…but…"

A short grunt from them. "I suppose this would seem a rather traumatising experience for you, but remain on task for the time being. There will be time enough later for you to compartmentalise the sheer scope of your inferiority to me, or not. The choice remains yours."

There was a short pause, then a faint hum. "Though, yes…you claimed you told me all you know about the history of your people. Then claim that there is more you can tell me? Which means you are either lying, or you were attempting to withhold information under the mistaken impression that I did not have other methods of finding it out…Kronya."

She never told them her name.

How did they-?

His hand crashed into her head, forcing it against the face of the wooden desk until she heard the creak of wood, her free limb flew up, the only one that worked, and desperately beat away at the grip against her face, to no avail. It wouldn't budge.

She knew what it did to her wrist.

If he did that to her head-

No.

No.

No.

She didn't want that.

She didn't want to die.

"I'm sorry! Please don't kill me! I'm sorry! I don't want to die! I don't want to die!"

She didn't care about all of this nonsense anymore, she didn't want to be in this worthless place risking her life for those who didn't even care about her. She just wanted to go back home. This wasn't fair! What did she do to deserve this?!

"Silence."

The word reverberated through her very being, her jaw snapped shut without any conscious effort from her. Nothing more than muffled noises escaped her now shut throat, her tear flooded eyes sent a desperate hazy look towards the man with her life literally in the palm of his hand, making out barely narrowed eyes.

"...Someone has altered your mental processes. Sections of your mind have been erased…not even I can restore them. Clearly they had dismissed you as a lost cause by now, or a failsafe in the event of an encounter with me? Curious…No, they show no sign of attempting restoration. It appears they have been permanently severed now."

She didn't understand what they were talking about.

Her muffled screams continued, her eyes closed as her body trembled.

"...Solon, is it? Hmmm." Another faint hum, sounding almost impressed. "All else is blocked from me. Tearing your mind to shreds might afford me the chance to find the information…but I lack the motivation for such a task. I care little for your people."

His hand pulled away from her head sharply, she fell face first onto the ground, smacking her head off the floorboards, not that she registered the pain. She was too busy trying to come up with a reason as to why they couldn't kill her. She didn't understand half of what they had been talking about, but she knew enough to infer they knew more than she did.

"...No. You would probably be more useful to keep around, as opposed to Tomas - or Solon - given that he appears to be the sort who would be willing to die for a cause. You, on the other hand, are the type who would value their own life…Not that I shall complain about it. Given that it suits my purposes."

She felt something wash over her.

She flinched and coiled herself tighter, bracing for the pain.

…Nothing happened.

Why did nothing happen?

Her eyes slowly pulled themselves open, flicking around as she realised that she wasn't dead and the agony that she had previously been in was nothing more than an unpleasant memory. "I…I'm…I'm alive?"

"For the time being."

She flinched at the tone, her head snapped up to the man - the monster - as it gazed down at them with the same unblinking gaze. Her legs snapped up, she launched herself in the opposite direction from them, rolling across the desk and onto the floor behind it, putting cover between herself and the monster.

There came an irritated sigh. "Line of sight will not change this outcome. You should be thankful I am allowing you to live."

She wasn't getting out from under this desk.

Kronya clenched her hands into fists, working her jaw from side to side as she eventually mustered up the strength to call back to them. "Why?"

"Because killing you is beneath my interest. Your one crime against me is thus far born of a misunderstanding and I would hardly wish to run through that fiasco a second time. I suspected you would respond better to force and was naturally proven correct."

A faint sound, sounding rather smug.

"Now that we have established the sheer difference in our existence, you naturally understand the alternative that comes from refusing the deal I am about to offer you."

Deal?

What did they mean by 'a deal'?

"What…what sort of deal?"

She was terrified about the prospect, but the implication would be that she would get to live.

As long as she got to live…then that made it alright, didn't it?

"The type that will keep you alive and out of the sights of Seiros for an extended period of time. At least until you choose when to out yourself, rather, it shall not come from me whether or not your identity is revealed. It is something I will play no hand in."

That sounded far too generous.

No, it was too good to be true.

He wanted something in exchange.

"...What do you want?"

"I know about your mission here, observation of Edelgard and the other students. Assessing the strength of Sothis and such. That much I care little for, so long as it remains observation…rather, if there comes a time when the plans of your people stretch from beyond observation into direct action. You will inform me post-haste."

He wanted her to spy for them.

It meant betraying everyone she knew.

…Actually, it was a remarkably easy choice, everyone she knew either didn't like her or she didn't like them. They were all out for themselves, so why did it really matter that she would be fine with doing much of the same? It was clear this thing wasn't one of the Fell Star's beastial children.

She refused to admit that one of those things could possibly best her.

But its similarity with something else was right on the tip of her tongue but she just couldn't place it…

…Had they wiped her memories as well?

They must have done.

They…they wiped her memories in case she got captured?

…Did that mean they really had sent her out here to serve as some sort of decoy or sacrifice?

"...How do I know you mean what you say?"

Her throat felt dry, even through the solid wood separating them, it felt as though his gaze was burning holes into the back of her head. Controlling her breathing was difficult, the urge to break down into tears once again was building up inside her, but she just wanted to know that there was a chance she wasn't going to end up dying.

Just a single chance.

"Do you mean to imply my word alone-no, you likely place no value next to my words." An irritated scoffed, followed by a short silence. It remained that way for several agonising seconds before they spoke again. "The creation of a binding contract between the two of us will suffice. Consider it more of my foreign magic, but a breakage of either of our words will reflect upon our being. Rather, the one who breaks their word is the one who is punished accordingly."

That sounded like utter nonsense to her.

…But what other choice did she have?

"...A-alright…" Dragging herself forwards, she took in a shaky breath as she turned about, raising up and glancing over the desk in the direction of the monster. He remained unmoved from his spot, regarding her with a long stare. "I'll…I'll do it…I get to live if I do, right? You won't…"

"I have no reason to kill you." He gave a single reply. "Unlike Seiros, I hold no personal hatred against your faction. I have been little more than a bystander between this shadow war of yours. So long as it remains between yourself and Seiros…I will take no sides. Though personal action against those I have taken a personal interest in will result in appropriate reprisal."

That…

…That was going to be the best she got, wasn't it?

A slow nod of the head was all she gave, not trusting herself to speak anymore.

"Excellent. I am pleased to see that you saw reason." His hand came up, waving it across her general direction before he glanced down to his own limb, adjusting his collar for a moment. "I would rather avoid the tedious conversations that would arise from your sudden outing."

They hesitated for a moment, then glanced to her. "It should go without saying that if you do make an effort to kill me as a means of breaking the geis between us, you will instantly die. In much the same way as if you were to reveal my existence to any of your allies. Merely continue about your business as you would have before this conversation."

She had only a moment to nod before she glanced down at herself and widened her eyes.

The pale skin was gone, as were the leathers, instead she was dressed in the simple robes of the cleric she had been before they stepped into the room. Her eyes snapped up as she watched the man moved towards her, flipping out a small roll of paper and holding it aloft.

It unfurled a moment later.

"I am rather thorough. Binding contracts are a speciality. You may take your time and read, I have made it legible enough for you."

…Again.

What choice did she have?

With trembling fingers, Kronya took the roll of parchment from the monster and glossed over it with her eyes.


It worked out much better than he had previously envisaged.

Rather, he would have expected her to be much more willing to die for her cause, perhaps in the same expectation he held for Tomas - or Solon, as was his true identity - but clearly the Kronya girl was made of a much more feeble will than the elderly fellow. Or they were just so desperately low on personnel that they could not rely on anyone.

That being said, the warding around her mind had been meticulous.

…Disturbingly so.

At the same time, it was as clinical as it was brutal, the same method of memory wiping that he had been before. Or rather, someone had lifted the memories right from her mind like pieces from a jigsaw puzzle. He had little doubt that when the time was necessary, they would merely return them to her again.

Was it difficult?

Reasonably?

But with the knowledge that the Agarthans were some cousin civilisation of the old Greeks, it was now much less nonsensical to believe that they were capable of performing such feats. Specifically if the domain of Sothis was related in some parts to the mind. Perhaps the lack of other Machine Gods had forced her to attempt to replicate their functionalities to seed the planets she visited?

…Possible.

Depending on the generation she came from, anything predating the Titans was beyond his capacity to fully comprehend.

He had never seen the very first generation of Machine Gods, he only knew of them through the records attributed by the later generations that come to the earth and the inherited functionalities. From that he could make guesswork on the powers that would have been attributed to the Goddess.

…It was disconcerting.

The very worst case scenario was that at her height, Sothis would have been generating enough magical energy to put her into the brackets of a Stellar Class Saint Graph.

Far beyond what even he would have been capable of, even if he had absorbed the bands of light and used them as fuel for himself, rather than for his Noble Phantasm. Fortunately, such a point was redundant now. With the knowledge of what became of Sothis now confirmed by the girl, he had a rough idea of what had transpired during the end of the first generation.

A massive war between the Agarthans - supported by their old Gods - and Sothis, naturally resulting in the eradication of most of the population and the loss of the Goddesses machine body, leaving her in a state where she could be bested, or rather, where her mind could be directly attacked and then dispersed.

Really, the Agarthans had picked their moment well.

If Sothis had focused all of her higher functions into her avatar and said avatar was still recovering from the massive expenditure of magical energy, something that he knew full well the length of time it would take to recover from, then it left Sothis in a precarious situation where any human would have been able to destroy her.

Not that it mattered now.

Or rather, not that the origins of her state mattered.

What he needed to do is observe what she would do with the knowledge of what she was, or rather, ensure that she maintained her current outlook on life. Rejecting her divinity and her status was nothing short of the highest priority. He needed to keep Sothis as weak as she was, because the alternative was disturbing.

…Humans would never accept the perfect world they offered, or rather, it went against everything he knew that they would like.

…It wasn't the world that Mash would want.

And he wasn't prepared to subject the humanity of Fodlan to the rule of a Machine God, it was utter madness.

There was a simple solution to all of it.

…He didn't entertain it.

The cowards way out, he supposed.

No, he would maintain his stance.

Sothis had declared her intentions to remain in a limited fashion to avoid being forced into a state where she would look down on humanity as being insects beneath her notice, which is most certainly how she would see them as a Machine God. Especially given that she had already exterminated their entire race once before, considering the simple solution to just be a restart of her entire arrival.

This was an unfortunate situation to be sure, but it was not untenable.

…He merely needed to ensure Sothis stayed the course.


Sothis was feeling…

She was unsure what she was supposed to be feeling in the wake of this sudden revelation, it was as though every question she had ever really wanted answered - and the ones that she had never considered - had been answered so swiftly and so suddenly that she hadn't had the time to really process all of them.

The knowledge of where she came from clearly meant more to the likes of Goetia and Rhea than it meant to her. As far as she was concerned, they were little more than words and titles which effectively just translated to 'she wasn't from Fodlan and she was powerful' which she didn't care much for.

A twitch shot through her expression at the last thought, it was more of the case of the latter than the former that she was acutely aware of. Goetia had hammered it enough times into her head that she was powerful, but the way he had spoken about her being in her prime was rather jarring.

Seeing the usually unflappable man thrown for a loop like that…

…He looked worried.

It made her feel a sense of discomfort and foreboding, she recalled how lowly he had spoken of her when he thought of her as just a Goddess. Calling her unremarkable - which had been a little on head of her pride - and that there was barely anything worth noting aside from her time authority.

Yet in the second he found out what she was, it was like his entire world had been flipped upside down.

He looked at her now with a sense of wariness, there was still the arrogance to be sure, but now it was as though he was…almost afraid of her.

No, that wasn't right.

He was afraid…no, not even afraid.

Overly cautious, yes, that was the right word.

Goetia was overly cautious about her and everything related to her once he had found out what she had been. It left Sothis herself to be rather taken aback by the whole situation, throw for a loop as to how she was supposed to feel about this slight change in approach to her.

It hadn't been long, perhaps an hour or so, but the fact it occurred at all was disconcerting.

The fact he all but admitted it was even more so.

He looked at her as though she was the biggest threat.

Sothis didn't like it, she did not like it one bit.

Perhaps she would have argued further if she had not been told about what she…what she had done in the past.

A war that decimated an entire planet?

She seeded the whole world again?

They tried to hide it from her, Goetia himself even made the attempt to change the topic, but Sothis saw through his attempt in an instant. That did not stop her from feeling slightly touched he had even made the effort to spare her feelings, it was a rather kind gesture from a person who spent their time throwing insults her way.

…She decimated the planet and started over again, making humans who would worship her.

Rhea was clearly bitter about the whole thing, she supposed they had every right to be.

Yes when Sothis thought of it, all she could feel was that odd sense of dread.

What started that war between herself and the humans beneath her?

She remembered how she looked at everyone when she and Byleth had swapped positions, the sensation lingered in her mind like a bad memory. She knew for a fact that if this was truly her at the height of her power, then she would not have looked at humanity in any meaningful sense.

What would they have looked like to her divine eyes?

…Thinking reeds?

If that was the case, could she ever really blame the humans for rising up against her in the first place?

Who would want to be subject to the laws of a being that did not even look at them as a people in the first place but as…as bugs.

No one could possibly endure living like that.

And she slaughtered them all for it?

"...Do you think I was a bad Goddess?"

She didn't get a response from them, not immediately.

Seconds ticked by, Byleth slowly raised her head up and then rolled her lips inwards. A tiny gesture, barely noticeable, but for Sothis it betrayed her unease with the subject matter.

The woman remained quiet for a period of time that went on for an uncomfortable length, Sothis herself felt her thoughts swirling around in their mind. Eventually, she paused and nodded her head up and down, not in response to her question, but clearly deciding upon an answer to give her.

"I think that you would have done the best job you could."

"But then…why would they go to war against me? Would they have done that against a Goddess who was really there for them?"

"...Sometimes our best isn't enough."

"I'm a Goddess." Sothis let out a mirthless huff, glancing to the ground and bringing her hands up, staring into her palms. "A Goddess at the height of her power…if her best was not enough for them…then what good did that actually make me in the first place? All that power that Goetia boasted of me having…and I couldn't keep peace?"

A small noise from Byleth, she glanced up at them.

Her eyes were hard.

"I don't think you should blame yourself for something you don't remember." She stated, then inclined her head. "I think you are different people. For one thing…I don't think the other you would have even asked the question in the first place. That is what I believe. Like…maybe like the old Goetia?"

The old Goetia-

…Ah.

She could see what they meant.

The Goetia she envisaged existed before he came to Fodlan, the one who was absolutely convinced in every action they took being the right one. Indeed, they still had that confidence, but they could both imagine his arrogance being a hundred times worse than before he was supposedly humbled.

…Perhaps this is what this was?

Her humbling.

"Sothis." Byleth's words carried a strength in them, she stepped close to the point she was almost nose to nose. "...I trust you."

That was all they said.

Perhaps it was all they needed to say.

Sothis sniffled a little, moving her hands up and wiping away at her eyes. "...Thank you."