Chapter 76: A memory of yesterday from years ago.
Rhea stumbled through, her eyes frantic as they darted around the work study. She didn't care what was in her way, with wide sweeping gestures she flung open the drawers and pulled out anything that looked as though it was blocking the path to the important items she needed.
With a flex of her muscles, she tore the drawer out of its railings and turned it upside down. Papers and pens fell to the floor, scattering across with tapping sounds or floating away with the fall, she dropped to her knees. Scrambling through them with fanaticism she had never felt before, this desperate hope she hadn't felt since so very long ago. A sensation she despised with every fibre of her being.
An angered snarl ripped its way of her throat as she flung aside whatever papers she picked up, deeming them useless to her and climbing back to her feet and charging across the study once more, pulling open cupboards and dragging out whatever was inside. Something shattered, a sound of broken glass filling the room and went completely ignored, not even for the liquid that had been inside it.
Once more, she was rewarded with nothing of value.
Her movements became faster, racing to her feet once more and crossing the room as a dash to the desk, ignoring the crunch of glass shards beneath her feet as her boots ground them into dust, she ignored everything except for that which she required. Her eyes landed atop a leather satchel just above the desk, her eyes widened and she found herself before the satchel before she had even realised what had happened.
There had been perhaps half a dozen tomes placed in front of it, blocking half the body from view. Rhea's hand clamped down around the fabric and ripped it from it's hiding spot, books were sent careening through the air and across to the other side of the room. She didn't care for them and couldn't get the back opened fast enough, ripping it open with such force that the buttons holding it closed snapped and launched off with only the distant clatterings of their fall giving her an indication of where they had gone.
Her hands dived into the back before the buttons even touched the ground, already pulling apart the contents to see if there was anything useful inside that she could see. She felt that budding sensation in her heart, something she dare not grant herself too quickly. Like the fool she was, she snatched it before it could even escape her. That desperate feeling of hope as she recalled the contents of the bag, the equipment she had used to keep Sitri alive as she grew. If it was something like this…
If it were these contents.
She burst through the wooden door to her private study, not even making an effort to control her speed. The two inch thick wooden door turned to little more than splinters as she charged through it with all the force she could muster, bounding through the stone corridors with such speed and power that her shoes were torn apart with the force of her steps and the stone beneath her ever step gave way, indenting her now bare feet into the stone.
It was impossible to say how long she had been running for, everything had felt slowed down to her. As though she had been wading through water, all she was aware of was the running and then finding herself on the elevator in the main hall, spinning herself around and staring at the empty throne on the opposite end of the room for a brief moment. Her eyes lingered on the chair for a few seconds, then she whirled back around and yanked the level down with a deep grinding.
Her head snapped up, glaring upwards as the lift gradually started to move. She had never been more acutely aware of how slow everything around here was until right this moment. The humans were slow, their transport was slow, she was slow and Sitri was…why did Sitri have to be so quick in this slow world? Why couldn't she have just…
A snarl burst from her throat as she turned down, outright glaring at the elevator as it climbed higher and higher at an almost gruelling pace. As if it was trying to mock her, it was all she could do to rein in her instincts to avoid smashing the infernal thing and launching herself into the air and flying.
A single breath escaped, she closed her eyes and tried to force the tension out of her body. Panicking would only make matters worse, she needed to have a calm mind if she was going to make sure that Sitri survived this ordeal, to make sure that both Sitri and her child survived this ordeal. If she came charging in there with frantic nerves and stilted movements then there was every chance she would make a critical mistake and be responsible for any failure.
She took in another breath, trying to control her temper and focus less on the elevator and more on how she was going to help Sitri. She glanced at the leather bag still clamped in her left hand, she brought it around to her front and found herself briefly surprised by the fact her fingers had gripped it tight enough to punch holes through the fabric. She dismissed that for the moment, opening the bag up and giving the contents another look.
Sitri's problem was that she always had such little energy, strenuous movements were difficult for her which meant she would likely tire herself out before she even gave birth in the first place. She wasn't getting enough basic iron in her diet, or perhaps it was her failure that meant her body wasn't absorbing enough from the foods she ate.
Rhea caught herself, briefly scowling. Focus not on the failure but how she was going to make sure everything ended well.
Sitri needed something that would enhance her, something to give her enough strength to make it through the birth. She would also need to worry about blood loss, that was something that she did know how to handle with more mundane means, however. Except for Sitri, her blood would have been vital to ensure that she survived the next hour or so…or however long it took to give birth.
Sitri always did have a weak heart, or perhaps it was that her heart was just too strong for her body. One or the other, it didn't matter which. She needed to make sure the body was strong, which meant she would likely need an infusion of blood or something to keep them alive.
She jerked to a stop, looking up and finding herself on the top floor behind the monastery once more. There wasn't a point where she hesitated, charging forwards once more before she could let herself get distracted, a vague plan already brewing in her mind.
"How is she?" Rhea demanded as she entered the room, she hadn't actually known if anyone was inside but he figured there would be. Not Jeralt, though, he was out on patrol and they'd sent a messenger out to find him and poor Aelfric was away dealing with other matters.
On the bed was Sitri, her skin pale and her expression looking rather delirious if the almost drunken face she had was any indication, thick with sweat and a thin sheet draped over her body. Some cleric, she didn't really look at their face, turned to her with obvious surprise and was barely able to get out a word "She's not well, Lady Rhea, her condition is-"
"Stand aside!" Rhea all but ordered the moment she had heard 'not well', the person blinked in surprise but before they could even offer further words, Rhea was already across the room and standing over Sitri, staring down at her and looking at the weakened form. She looked back up, noticing that there were actually several people in the room all of whom were staring at her. "...Why are you all remaining stationary?" She asked in a deathly quiet tone of voice.
The clerics in the room quickly rushed into action, returning to what they were doing while the one who had initially answered her looked somewhat hesitant. Rhea cared little for it as she looked down at Sitri, lowering herself to the side of the bed.
"Sitri…I'm here, you shall be fine."
"I hope so…" Sitri whispered, her voice so weak that Rhea knew for a fact that it was only her enhanced senses that allowed her to even catch anything that came from her mouth. "You…look like you're…going to…get angry at the…nurses…" her eyelids flickered, turning towards Rhea and staring up at her, the lips pulled themselves into a faint smile "I didn't…know…you were…Hya!" they suddenly clamped shut, her entire body stiffening up and her hands trying to grip the sheets.
Rhea was down at her side in a moment, placing her hand over Sitri's chest and feeling her heartbeat. Her own all but stopped when she felt just how quickly Sitri's was beating, much too quickly. Rhea locked onto the fact she could see the muscles contracting and the shortness of breath from the woman.
The leather back was ripped open, Rhea scrambling through the contents to find something before she stopped at the collection of vials and the single syringe. Diving towards them and pulling them apart, her hands felt clammy as she moved to fill the syringe with the clear liquid. A concoction she had developed for the later series of Homunculus, designed to strengthen their bodies through the early developmental years and ensure they made it to teenagers.
Results had been mixed, but it had worked so far. Something she had developed through years of having mothers heart to work with, it just stimulated the natural regeneration of the body and the restoration of vital functions. Though, she had never used it under these conditions. It was effectively a highly concentrated vulnerary.
"Lady Rhea-" She whirled on the voice, the man next to her at least at the courtesy of looking slightly intimidated by her as she loomed over him. Though he quickly composed himself as best he could, eyes darting to the syringe in her hand. "Might I ask what you intend to inject this woman wi-"
She tuned him out, turning back to Sitri and squeezing a touch of the liquid out just to ensure there were no bubbles inside it. Then she stuck it in the arm of the girl and pushed it out. She heard a sharp intake of breath from the side and fought back the urge to snarl at the man who looked as though he'd been doing nothing but watching Sitri suffer on the bed. "It is a medicine to strengthen her body."
She explained in a curt tone of voice, just so they wouldn't ask. "And why are you staring at me still? Have you not other things to be doing?" Her voice was a touch more aggressive than she had intended to let slip but she was beyond being calm at this juncture, she wanted results now. "Help her."
"Lady Rhea…she is dying-" The man clamped his jaw shut and found himself staring up at Rhea's form, leaning backwards as she moved to shadow him with her green eyes glaring into his hazel ones. She knew for a fact there wasn't an ounce of expression on her face but she got the point across easily enough. Rhea did not come here to be subjected to such defeatist remarks from the very people whom had been trained to save lives.
"Then make sure she doesn't." She dropped her voice into a low whisper, not even paying attention to the man as she fell back to the side of Sitri and grabbed hold of her hand, her left arm moving upwards and running her fingers through Sitri's hair, the womans face contorting with effort and pain, her breaths were more regular now and Rhea could feel more strength in the grip than before.
It wouldn't last long, however. The drug would burn through her system at this rate before she could even deliver the child and if that happened they would be right back where they started. Perhaps worse…
Shaking her head, she banished the treacherous thoughts as best she could. Focusing to linger instead on the positives of the situation, Sitri was strong. She had lasted far longer than any of the others had done before her, she'd managed to endure the previous nine months with only the issue of getting around being a recurring one. She would endure this trial and deliver her child.
She had to.
Her eyes traced past Sitri towards the foot of the bed, the nurses already crowding around it with the buckets of water and the lukewarm towels to take the child when they were born. All Sitri had to do was start making the first pushes and then this would all be behind them. She could look forwards to watching Jeralt get bullied by their toddler child until he caved into whatever infantile demands they had while Sitri watched on with a smile on her face.
Sitri visibly bit back a scream, her body tensing for a moment as it seemed to pull in on itself before it went slack once more. One of the nurses cursed aloud, Rhea whirled on them with a glare that demanded answers. "She's not pushing hard enough, we can't get the child out." The nurse explained, a dark haired woman with a fierce scowl on her face as she turned to the one standing right at the foot of the bed between Sitri, or at least Rhea assumed there was someone there. The blacket being tented up by Sitri's legs didn't help matters much.
"R-Rhea…" The voice scarcely reached her ears, Sitri's voice a desperate pleading "I-it hurts…" she whimpered out loud, Rhea locked her jaw at the tone that came with the unspoken plea for her to do something about the pain. There was nothing she could do in this situation except tell Sitri to grit her teeth and bare it, she had done all she could possibly do just shy of trying something more desperate like giving her a blood transfusion.
It would be risky and would most certainly be far too much for her heart to bare. She would birth the child and kill herself in the process, Rhea would not do something like that when there was still hope.
"Sitri, listen to me." Leaning towards her, she grabbed the hand and held it between hers, making sure not to squeeze tightly so as not to risk hurting Sitri in the process. She was always so fragile, barely able to do anything in a contest of strength but it had never been something she'd cursed until now. Then she felt hideous for cursing a weakness she had given her in the first place. "You're going to need to push. You're going to need to push when the nurses tell you, understand?"
"You can." Rhea all but ordered her, cutting out the emotion in her tone and deferring to the commanding one she had used on a few occasions. "You will. You will focus not on the pain you experience now, but on the future you're going to have." she leaned forwards "Do you understand? You are going to think of the child you shall bring into this world, the miracle you are about to perform, and you shall focus on that. Do you understand me, Sitri?"
Sitri was silent, her eyes clenched shut. Then there was a movement of the head, a nearly imperceptible thing but just enough for Rhea to notice it. Though Sitri was likely incapable of seeing it, Rhea gave her the most encouraging smile she could muster. It was a weight less on her shoulders if Sitri's heart was now in it. A battle could only be won if you could see the possibility of victory, after all.
Said smile quickly vanished as she turned to the nurses once more "Keep going." she ordered, narrowing her eyes at the group "Deliver the child."
Jeralt let out a shaky breath, it was the thing that stopped Rhea in the midst of her story. She looked at him for a moment and then closed her eyes and lowered her head slightly. The man did not speak a word to her, not that she had expected anything from him immediately, though she had not quite finished in her tale before he raised her hand to stop her from speaking.
After a few moments of silence, the man lowered his arm and stared at Rhea with an expression that was virtually devoid of emotion. "...You said that Sitri's condition was something she was born with."
Rhea did not wait long to reply, she couldn't with the face he was giving her. Especially with the underlying message to his words that she could pick up easily enough. She knew where this conversation was going to be ending up the moment it had begun in the first place. "It was, yes."
"...But you created her."
"My fault. Yes." There was no reason to deny it, the fault was indeed hers. Trial and error had only afforded her so much in the way of improvement and regardless of how many attempts she had made previously, she had still barely managed to make it so the Homunculus would actually reach adolescence by the time she got to Sitri. In fact, Sitri was the oldest one thus far. "I was…stricken with a lack of skill in the art of creation. Perhaps it was a suitably punishment for my folly that I would see my…children, for lack of a better word, succumb to illness and deformity that I had been responsible for with my own weakness."
Her head rose up, she looked Jeralt straight in the eye "I wish you to know that no matter how deeply you might blame me for this failure, it will never compare to the shame I feel in my heart for this." looking away, she found herself faced with the piercing gaze of Flayn who looked far angrier than she had ever seen her before.
"You knew that your latest would have suffered from birth, did you not?" The girl asked in a very measured tone of voice, clearly fighting back the urge to raise it into something more fierce. She would accept the fury of Flayn without complaint, it was not without just cause and she did deserve every bit of ire she received.
"...I could not know beforehand what they would suffer from." She replied after a moment "Though I do not believe it would have stopped me either way." Flayn closed her eyes and let out a long breath, falling into a silence. "I could not see the result of my own failures until they looked up at me with such innocent eyes, then I was left with only shame that I had, once again, failed in the most grievous way-"
"Failed?" Flayn opened her eyes again "This is not some mere failure, Rhea. This is…this is willful acts of brutality." she stated, turning on her with righteous anger in her tone. "You had the full knowledge that you lacked the skill to make someone, you knew that from the moment they awoke - should they even survive that long - you would have condemned them to a life of pain for no further reason beyond your inability to accept loss."
Rhea recoiled as if struck "Flayn-"
"You are not the only one who lost their mother, Rhea." Flayn replied in a cold tone, so much so that it clearly took Seteth by surprise. "I shall not hear you justify experimentation with the loss of a loved one. Not with me…do not dare try and use that manner of logic with me." despite the fury of her words, Rhea could pick up another emotion buried deep within it.
She knew why, of course, she had always been championed by them as the one who was closest to the Goddess after the others perished. Especially since she was the last of the original children, yet in admitting this she had torn down that pedestal she had been placed upon. She had ignored the fundamental teachings of the Goddess for her own gain.
Rhea knew that deep within her heart she deserved that look from Flayn, that did not lessen its burn upon her spirit any more, however.
"How old was she when she died?" It was an interjection so sudden that Rhea found herself briefly at a loss for words, not alone in this as Flayn similarly jolted. It was as though they had both been reminded there were others that surrounded them.
The room as one turned to the person who had spoken. Goetia looked right into her eyes with an expression that was utterly void of emotion. Not a trace of judgement in his face, nor of ridicule or pity. It was a vacant look that made it difficult to discern whether or not he had even been affected by the news in the beginning. He had spoken with such casualness that it took Rhea a moment to understand what he had asked.
"The Homunculus. Your creation." He elaborated further, the clinical tone he was using earned him no favours from Jeralt, the man scowling at him. "How old were they when they perished?"
"...She was twenty."
"Natural." She replied after a moment, fighting back a grimace as she recalled the previous attempts at the accelerated ageing. "That method did not…they developed much faster than their bodies could account for, they perished swiftly. Some within half a year, others…a year."
"Twenty." Goetia replied in a flat tone of voice, shifting his body ever so slightly "You created a Homunculus that lived for twenty years." she wasn't sure what sort of emotion he was currently giving her, his eyes had changed ever so slightly at this point. Something was settled deep within those piercing red orbs of his that Rhea couldn't quite make out. "...I see. Her only flaw was the weakened nature of her body, I assume?"
Rhea nodded once "...Yes. She was fatigued regularly and she would often suffer problems from breathing had she engaged in physical activity."
"...Anaemia." Was the response she received after a moment "Or perhaps something else, regardless…that is certainly not what I had been expecting you to reveal. I had thought your Homunculus were generated through accelerated ageing but if you were able to make one last twenty years…" he muttered to himself, then shook his head.
Rhea wasn't sure what Goetia hoped to gain from this, but she clearly wasn't the only one confused.
Jeralt's grunt returned her attention to him, the man staring at Goetia with an expression that was all but promising trouble if there wasn't an explanation provided immediately. Rhea herself was curious but she wasn't going to accuse Goetia of anything, not when this was more or less par for the course when it came to him. "What does this have to do with anything?"
"Noting an irregularity." Goetia replied after a moment "Most Homunculus do not last more than a few years." He turned away from Jeralt and towards Rhea. "And almost all are due to faults within their own births, weakness of limbs or organs, some suffering from mental deficiencies. An entire list of problems and what you are telling me is that the Homunculus suffered from nothing more than Anaemia?"
"Nothing more than?" Jeratl growled, then whirled on Rhea "It was curea-"
"Curable, hardly." Goetia frowned "Though as far as genetic conditions go, it was far from being the most horrific one that the Homunculus could have suffered from. Though it can be properly managed with a supplementation of medicine for the nutrients that the body cannot absorb." he paused for a moment "Oh, yes. You haven't advanced that far. My mistake, continue on."
"...Is this a joke to you?"
"You'll notice the distinct lack of a smile." Goetia replied without even hesitating, focusing his entire attention onto Rhea. "On the contrary, I am experiencing what can only be described as a kaleidoscope of emotions. Your comfort ranks second in comparison to my desire to determine the truth behind these coincidences. Vexing as it is to wait for my own answers at this point, I am forced to defer to your demands first as you would likely hamper my progress with an emotional outburst."
"An emotional-!?" Jeralt all but roared out the answer, though before he could get far, Flayn stepped forwards and raised her hands.
"I believe what Goetia is trying to say is that he is experiencing a great level of discomfort and is dealing with it in the best way that he can manage." She stressed the words, looking to the person in question, Rhea could only see the back of her head when she turned but she must have been making quite the face as Goetia suddenly frowned and looked to the side without a word spoken. "This is a troubling time for us…though I will ask, Goetia…is it something personal that has affected you?"
He said nothing, but that was an answer in itself. Rhea knew him well enough to confirm that Goetia would have probably scoffed loudly and dismissed the idea that he was affected on a personal level if he hadn't been. Especially with his previous words, it was almost as though he was trying to distance himself from the topic. He'd instead gone to the specifics of Sitri's condition rather than anything to do with her as an individual…
His continued referral to her as the 'Homunculus' was also noted and rather irritating.
"...Fine. I will defer for the moment." He stated after a second of silence, there was a clear hesitation in his voice and he certainly looked as though he wanted to speak further. Though, for whatever reason Rhea could not fathom, he did relent and take a step backwards, at least figuratively. "...Though a question remains before you continue onwards, where did you pluck the names from, might I ask?"
Rhea frowned at his urgency "Why do you ask?"
"...They do not line up with the naming conventions used across any of the three Kingdoms in Fodlan." He replied a moment later, though there was a slight pause. As though he had been forced to think of an answer on the spot. She narrowed her eyes at him, there was a faint tension in his shoulders and his eyes were more focused than they had been earlier. She knew the signs of desperation well enough, having seen them in the mirror so very often.
"...They were names that I simply created on the spot."
"...In that order?"
Goetia fell silent after that, looking down to the ground and away from her. The reaction would have warranted further consideration had Jeralt not cleared his throat. "Interesting as all that was, can we get back to…" he released a breath "...Did she die in Childbirth, yes or no?"
It was silent.
Deathly silent, even the laboured breathing of Sitri was like a roar of a wyvern within the room. All those who were able were straining their hearing for even the slightest noise aside from that of the mother.
They were rewarded with nothing, no sounds, no movements, nothing.
Why wasn't the baby making a single sound?
That was the singular thought that was running through Rhea's mind at this one moment, she knew enough about human children to understand that at the moment of their birth, they usually came out of their mothers crying so loudly that you would have to take them out of the room to work. This baby should have been howling to the sky like a rabid animal.
It was silent.
"Why does she not make noise?" Rhea asked after a moment, when the silence continued to stretch on even after she had posed the question she found herself more than a little infuriated with those in the room. "She's not making noise." She stated once again, raising her voice and looking towards the gaggle of people she was very quickly questioning the value of.
They had been brought here and given medical knowledge for the simple purpose of being able to perform procedures such as these and they could not even answer the very simple question she had posed to them. Answering why the child was not currently making a sound should have been an easy feat to manage, so why was it taking them so long to answer her?
"Lady Rhea…" One of the nurses spoke up, the only man in the room and the one who had been a consistent source of irritation for her in the entire time he had been here. Always too slow to do anything that she wanted done. The way he moved was almost lethargic, as though he hadn't a clue what he was doing and was merely stumbling around. If she had been told he was little more than an idiot who had put on the clothes of the nurses and snuck into the room, she would have believed it. "The child is-"
"The girl is silent, I know that!" She was very quickly losing her image, though she cared little for that by now. All she wanted was the reassurance that the child was well so that she could devote her time to Sitri. "Just tell me why-"
"She's…she is a stillborn."
…That man would probably never understand just how lucky he was to have been in a room with witnesses. Even with her efforts to restrain herself, it had only been the thought of damaging her reputation and image as the Archbishop that kept her from laying hands on the man, let alone doing something less civilised to him for daring to deliver her such news.
Especially telling such lies in the presence of the mother who was still struggling to hang on, Rhea could already tell that Sitri's strength was fading, the initial burst from the drug was starting to wear off and she would need intensive treatment if she was to recover from this effort on her part.
She spared Sitri a glance, her expression was delirious, looking as though she could hardly focus on anything that was in front of her or around her. A mercy in this case, it meant she did not have to listen to the defeatist words being spoken around her.
Rising to her feet, Rhea pried herself free of Sitri's grasp and stalked across the side of the bed towards the man who held the small child in his arms, to give him what little credit he was due, he did not cower as she approached him as he had done earlier. Remaining stone faced as she came to a stop and soon loomed over him. "...Why are you saying such things?" She demanded in a quiet whisper.
The nerve he had to say anything like that was horrendous.
"Lady Rhea." The man spoke again, this time in a much sterner tone of voice as he brought the child up in the crook of his arm where the joint met the shoulder. A towel underneath the infant girl to provide a small measure of comfort to her. Rhea glanced down at her, a faint trickling of faint blue coloured hair on their head. The baby's eyes were closed, looking as though they were sleeping peacefully. "The child is-"
"She is clearly asleep. So why then would you-"
"Lady Rhea." He interrupted her again, almost bringing a frown to her lips at his insistent tone. "She has no heartbeat."
That was nonsense, of course she did. All humans had those.
She saw no reason to exchange further words, reaching out and gently taking the child from the arms of the man. He offered not even the slightest ounce of resistance as she took the young girl into her arms and stared down at her. Instead, the man took a step backwards and let out a breath, looking down in what could almost be interpreted as a show of remorse. There was no need for remorse as the girl wasn't…
She wasn't breathing.
Rhea could feel nothing from her, moving her hand towards the girl's face and holding her fingers just above her mouth. She kept them there for Goddess knows how long, waiting patiently for anything to tickle her senses. She felt nothing, not even the faintest whisper of breath touched her skin from the child. Though perhaps they were just very weak, that could have also been an explanation.
She moved her fingers away from the face, then lowered them onto the baby's chest, feeling for any sort of rhythm beating through the body.
The silence that followed was all but deafening.
"I am sorry, Lady Rhea." The man spoke up again, though Rhea barely heard his words and paid little heed to him at all. Not even aware of what he was doing or how close he was. Whatever else he might have been saying passed into nothing more than a faint muffled noise as she stared solely at the tiny body in her arms. One that did not even possess the strength in order to draw breath.
"We can't." The nurse replied not even a moment later, Rhea snapped her attention onto him and opened her mouth to argue further. The man had clearly anticipated that as he cut her off before she could make even a single sound. "We might have been able to start her heart if she was a toddler or a grown woman but she is a child…whatever we try and do…there is nothing to be done." the man grimaced "...I am sorry, Archbishop. The child…the child is gone."
Gone. They always ended up gone when around her, the one thing she might have been able to do right and that was gone as well. Her family, her mother, her children and now what she might have called a grandchild were gone. Though it was not just Rhea that would suffer for it this time.
How would Sitri recover from this loss?
How could she possibly face Jeralt in the future? He would know what her Crest and her blood could do and he would…how would she possibly be able to face him while cradling the stillborn daughter of the man in her arms? Especially when it was likely her own fault that the child was dead to begin with, the weakness she inherited from her mother…weakness caused by her own actions.
What was she going to do about-
She paused, looking up and seeing the others in the room remaining stationary for a few moments, sending glances towards Sitri before they scrunched up their faces and turned away. "What…what are you all…?"
"...The mother is too weak, Lady Rhea-"
Weak? Sitri had survived where all the others had perished! She had lived long past the time where she would have otherwise died. To call her weak now would be to insult her on a fundamental level. She had endured growing a child inside of herself when even she had her doubts of reaching this far along in the process. What did they mean she was weak?
Her confusion must have been apparent on her face as the man once more closed his eyes, taking in a long breath before he exhaled. "Even with…whatever it was you gave her, there is nothing more we can do. Her breathing has gotten worse and her heart rate is erratic…I'm…I'm afraid that we must leave it to the will of the Goddess to determine if she so much as lives through the next hour, let alone the night."
Rhea stared at him, blinking several times.
What was he talking about?
Sitri wasn't going to die.
Why was he talking like she was going to die?
What did the will of the Goddess have to do with anything? The Goddess was dead and they were putting faith in a dead woman to stop another woman from dying? Where they idiots or just simpletons? The Goddess wasn't going to keep anyone safe in these present conditions…
The man stared at her for a moment, then pursed his lips "Lady Rhea…I believe that now would be the best time for you to prepare for the end and to say-"
"Lady Rhea, you need to understand-"
"Get. out." It was as though the room shuddered around her as she all but hissed the words, it might well have done with the way in which the man suddenly paled and the others look surprised. Not that Rhea cared in the least at the moment, she was desperately trying to rein herself back from giving the response she actually wanted to give in the first place. Right now, the people in front of her were below useless and what they were saying was downright idiotic.
Sitri was going to die?
That was impossible.
If Sitri died…
How was she supposed to face Jeralt or Aelfric with the bodies of Sitri and her child?
Thankfully the man had more sense than she actually believed him to have, or perhaps he simply had no further news he could give her to make her already awful mood even worse. As it stood, there was nothing more she wanted from him. Not for him to speak in her presence, not for him to breathe and certainly not for him - or any of the nursing staff - to so much as look in the direction of the baby. They had done quite enough already. She kept her eyes on the man as he took a step backwards, gesturing to the others in the room.
The two remaining women, she hadn't paid that much attention to them, turned in the direction of the man and looked for a second as though they were going to try and argue the point. It was that spark of confrontation that attracted Rhea's eyes, she snapped her head onto the pair of them then and there. Their bodies locked up as though they were paintings, caught staring at her with wide frightened eyes.
"...Rhea…" The whisper barely reached her ears, but it might as well have been as loud as a falling building for the shock that ran through her body in the wake of the words. She froze on the spot and did not dare turn her head towards the voice. Instead she kept her gaze straight ahead on the two women, still glaring at the pair of them although she didn't feel as though her heart was in it anymore.
Heat that had been building in her chest felt as though it had been ripped right out of her, leaving only a cold sense of nothing behind it. The weight of the child in her arms felt as though it had increased tenfold in the span of perhaps a second since the voice registered with her, the direction it had come from and the quiet nature of it all. Her eyelids fell down, blocking out her vision and leaving her in darkness once more. The next words slipped from her mouth with nary a trace of emotion within them. "Please…leave us."
"...Of course." The male nurse responded, she could feel his bow in her direction and it sickened her. In spite of all she had done and said, he still treated her with respect, as though he was used to this sort of behaviour. The saddening thing was that he probably was, now that she considered his profession. He likely had a long list of peoples fury he had borne the brunt of. Perhaps nothing like hers, but the principle remained the same.
She kept her eyes closed, her ears straining to pick the sounds of shuffling movements and the gentle drumming of footsteps against the wooden flooring. The sounds getting further and further away before she heard one of them pause, the sounds continued to diminish as they disappeared out of the room if the lack of an echo was any indication. "Take as much time as you need, Lady Rhea." A creaking noise followed, then a thud as the door was shut.
Her eyes opened once more, finding herself staring down at the body of the child in her arms. It was like holding a block of lead, such was the weight. Her entire being felt as though it was a statue, her body frozen still and incapable of looking anywhere else. Her hands still placed upon the chest of the child, she searched for anything, any flicker of movement of fidget of limb. Even the sniffle that would not have been heard by the keenest of human ears.
She was rewarded with nothing.
"Rhea…" The voice whispered back again, she fought the urge to flinch. Keeping herself at a distance from the bed that no seemed so far away from where she was standing. Though, try as she might, she found she could not keep her head from turning in the direction of the whispers owner. The delirious expression that once haunted her face was banished and was replaced by one that, while still slack, was all too aware of what was in front of her.
Sitri stared at her with half lidded eyes, her right hand peeled away from the bed sheets and rose itself up ever so slightly. Limbs outstretched towards her as though trying to grasp at something. The arm trembled for a moment, the strength left it and fell back to the bed so suddenly that Rhea found herself jolting as it struck the bed. Not even producing a sound as it did so.
She stared at Sitri for a brief moment, then closed her eyes once more. It would be a mercy if Sitri was comforted in her final moments. If she was of the belief that everything would be well and that Jeralt would be fine without her. Except that would mean to lie to her face about the state of her daughter, not knowing how much she had already heard.
She didn't have the strength within her for something so cruel, certainly not to Sitri and not even for herself. Her legs dragged themselves forwards at the pace of the heaviest knight, a feeling as though her knees were solid stone with her steps being stilted as a result, each pull forwards feeling more and more like she was going to topple over at any moment and fall to the floor in a heap. Whatever expression her face was making, she did not know, but it was likely showing a wide variety of emotions to it.
Especially considering the fact that she had long since found itself going numb, or perhaps it was her whole body that had gone numb and she was only focusing on her expression at the moment. Whatever the case might have been, she found herself standing over the foot of Sitri's bed before she could even contemplate what she was going to say, looking down at Sitri in silence and almost begging the woman to fall asleep then and there so that she would not engage in this conversation.
Apparently the world was cruel, ignoring her request and allowing Sitri to open her eyes and stare up at Rhea with those same green orbs that she saw in her own mirror every day.
Her mouth opened and no words came forth, as was to be expected though. What could she say that Sitri would not see through. If she tried to lie, then Sitri would see through her deception in a moment and if she told her the truth, she would die with such heartbreak…Rhea could not stomach either notion, gradually closing her mouth once again and looking down at Sitri.
"Where…" The woman lying down on the bed muttered out, drawing in a weak breath "Where's Jeralt…?"
"Jeralt is on his way." Rhea assured her without a second lost in between Sitri's question and her reply, she could do this much. "He will be here in but a moment, I…you should stay awake for when he arrives. I am certain you two will…you have been through an ordeal and he will be important for you."
"That's…good…" Sitri murmured to herself, her eyelids fluttering as she fell back fully into the bed, it was as though whatever strength remained in her suddenly evaporated into nothing, only Sitri's mind remained active now. The rest of her was like a puppet with its strings cut. "He…he should…be here…"
"Y-yes." Rhea fought back a choke "He'll be here soon." he had to be here soon, he would need to be here. Sitri needed someone other than her to be here if she died. Rhea couldn't do it.
Rhea didn't look to the body in her arms, but she understood the question "Yes…that is them. A…" she swallowed her words, her lips trembling as she spread them wide in the best sort of smile she could. There was a desperate hope within her that Sitri could not see very well, else she might see just how violently the smile was trembling. Rhea could feel it, the muscles around her face spasming repeatedly. "A beautiful baby girl."
"Awww…" Sitri let out an almost dejected noise, her lip twitching upwards "I…wanted a boy…" she let out a shuddering breath "Jeralt…will…be…happy. His…little…princess…"
"Yes." Rhea sniffled, taking in a breath to no avail. She could feel her throat tighten around each word that she tried to speak, forcing them through her mouth as though they were desperate to remain. "D-did you ever decide on a name?"
"Byleth." Rhea nodded along, it was a good name. "It is a good name. A very good name. A beautiful name, even."
She didn't like that tone, that knowing tone of hers. As though she'd figured something out. Opting to avoid responding, Rhea hoped that Sitri would let the matter drop and instead focus on something else. She should have known better.
"...You're still a…bad…liar…mother…"
"Sitri she's…I…I'm…" She couldn't say anything, every time she tried to think of something she could say, her throat would tighten up again. She could speak nothing, offer no words and instead release only a sound akin to a man choking to death. With how her words were lodged inside her, she was playing the role fairly accurately.
"No…" Sitri's eyes opened up, staring at her with those pleading orbs "No…"
Rhea swallowed, that had been the crux of the matter. For one reason or another, the child's heart had not started once she had been born. There was no real way to determine how this had come to be, but it was a grim reality that lay in front of them. There was nothing that she could do.
"Her heart…was not strong enough." The words came out of her with such a lack of emotion that even Rhea herself was surprised by just how callous they sounded. It was a good thing indeed that she masked her surprise well, or imagined that she did, else she would have vomited at the thought of it. Though, it was a sick joke to be so concerned about it now. This was all her fault in the first place, feeling bad for it after the fact…
How loathsome it was.
"No…" Sitri gasped out, Rhea blinked at the sensation around her wrist. Glancing down and finding Sitri's right hand having risen up and clasped around her arm. The grip was so weak that a strong wind would have shaken her loose, then the arm fell down and Rhea thought she had lost the strength once more, though that did not happen immediately.
Instead, the arm just hung in the air, almost as though it was using her for support. Rhea opened her mouth to respond, then noticed the oddly determined look in Sitri's eyes. There was a sense of resigned acceptance to them as well, something that had not been there before. The hand around her wrist tightened ever so slightly and she felt a pulling sensation, with the strength of a toddler, Sitri pulled Rhea's arm towards her.
She made sure to adjust her holding of the silent child to accommodate the repossession of her limb, Sitri dragging it towards her and dropping it onto her chest. Rhea offered no resistance when the left arm came up and fell atop her hand, subtly shifting it as if trying to guide her. Though she lacked the strength to make much headway, Rhea aided her in those steps. Moving her hand until she could feel the pull of Sitri no more.
Her eyes fell upon Sitri's once more, the next words that came from the mouth of the woman brought clarity to the newfound look in her eyes.
"No, Rhea…Her heart."
She wasn't talking about her daughter's heart, she was talking about…
Rhea widened her eyes slightly "Sitri…that will-"
"I can't…leave him…alone…" She all but begged "I can't…lose…her…" the words were coming out slower now, the breaths that Sitri was taking in becoming weaker and weaker the longer she spoke. Despite that, she forced through the sentence until the very end. "I…need…to…do…"
Rhea swallowed thickly, looking down at the child in her arms and then back to Sitri once more. "Y-you might still recover…you can Jeralt can try-"
"No…mother…" Sitri shook her head as best she could, though she barely even managed to move it an inch onto her side, eyes never once leaving her. "We…can't…I'm….tired…so…tired…"
"Please…" There were no words to describe the desperation in Sitri's voice as she uttered the next words. "Mother…let…my…daughter…live…"
It had never been something she had attempted before, there was no way to know if it would even work. Putting the Crest Stone of the Goddess inside that of an already existing individual rather than growing the body around it was…it was pure folly. Yet…
The treacherous part of her mind lingered.
'Perhaps that was why the others failed.'
She looked at Sitri, then to the body in her hands.
A knock resounded on the door, she turned her head to it and looked at the wooden door for a moment. "Yes?"
"Lady Rhea." The voice of the same nurse as before called out "Message from the Knights, they have spotted Jeralts patrol returning. I shall send him up when he is-"
It wasn't even worth a second thought.
"Have him wait until…I have administered the last rites. No one is to disturb us until I emerge. Understood?"
"Am I understood?"
Rhea exhaled, looking down to Sitri and almost grimacing at the thankful look on her face. It wasn't like she was doing this purely out of the goodness of her heart. At this point, it was worth a try to see if this was the solution she had been waiting for after so long. Jeralt had her blood inside him. By all accounts, the baby should have retained her Crest as a major one but if this worked…
She swallowed, then closed her eyes.
…There was no turning back now.
"...I will do all I can for her, Sitri." Rhea opened her eyes "You have my word. Your daughter will live."
"...Ah…I'm relieved…" Sitri smiled, closing her eyes "Can you tell Jeralt I…love him…?"
Rhea smiled at her "Of course. I shall pass along the message to him." She pulled her hand away from Sitri's chest and moved it towards her head, placing her palm against the underside of the girl's cheek that was currently pressed against the pillow. Her thumb came up and brushed some of the hair aside. "...Sitri?"
"...I have always loved you like a daughter."
"...I do not deserve your thanks."
Rhea closed her eyes once more, letting out a long breath. Despite what Sitri said, if she knew why she even agreed to this in the first place. She would not have so readily thanked her. She had long since reached the point of no return.
When she had committed as many sins as she had…what did one more matter?
AN: Yep, little flashback.
Well…by little I mean a whole Chapter.
Also a small snippet.
Yes, this is Goetia desperately trying to avoid the implication of Rhea being the one who named the people here. Hence his reaction of 'pure coincidence'.
No, this is not a prelude to there being more Demon Pillars here.
I have no plans to include any more than Leme.
Omake: Career change.
Seteth felt as though the years were starting to catch up with him.
All One-thousand-five-hundred of them.
At the speed of a runaway horse.
And the grace of a sledgehammer.
"In the time that I was resting, how is it that you have somehow managed to gain clothes-" He gestured towards the woman who had identified herself as Draco. Seteth had been personally dubious about her identity - mainly due to the horns now on her head and the fact she was wearing armour of a vaguely Adrestian theme - right up until the point she started speaking. Then he was left confused, though it had been a touch of relief as he would no longer have to think about one near butt naked woman strutting around the Monastery.
Well…one more he should say. The fact he had grown used to the presence of naked women walking around was something he didn't want to consider. It said a lot more about how his sense of public morality had slipped and plummeted.
The relief had been short lived.
Because Tiamat had come around the corner and was now bereft of her woollen jumper, and was hovering above the ground with twin curved horns floating either side of her. It was a rather bewildering turnabout. Especially because he had no idea what was going on now. While she wasn't naked, she wasn't that far off.
"-and how as she managed to lose them?"
Draco looked him dead in the eye, then allowed something akin to a smirk to come upon her face "Naturally it is because she has changed her class to that of an Alter-Ego." With a throaty hum, she crossed her arms over her chest and looked up "Which means I am now the greatest of the Servants present, though such a thing hardly needs to be said."
Seteth was now wondering why she felt so upbeat.
He was almost thankful when Goetia walked in and paused, looking just as bewildered as he currently felt. "What in the-?" He turned to Seteth, brows furrowed "What happened here?"
Seteth just shrugged "I do not know." he paused before adding on "I am more inclined to believe this is somehow your fault."
"My fault? Why would this be-" He abruptly stopped speaking, snapping his head in the direction of Draco and staring at her for a moment before his eyes widened. "What-?"
"Fufufufu…" The dark chuckle from the now armoured woman sent chills down Seteth's spine "I had wondered when you would notice, foolish one." Draco spread her arms wide "That is right! I have maintained my class as Beast while you have been consigned to…" she trailed off, lip curling and waving a hand towards him "Whatever you and those others have been reduced to. A true Beast would never allow themselves to be summoned in anything but their proper Class."
"I've not even been summoned yet, fool." Goetia snapped back at her "And what boastful words are these to be spoken now? You, who spent the past several months as a mere Alter-Ego, now shout to the heavens about the behaviour of a proper Beast? What Beast would even allow themselves to be summoned in the first place? And what do you believe you are doing, still lingering in the world after being bested by Chaldea? At least we all had the decency to accept defeat with some dignity!"
Draco sputtered, going red in the face.
Seteth turned to Tiamat "Why does this explain your lack of clothing?"
"Sorry." She at least had the decency to look slightly ashamed "It's just how my power gets regulated. I could change to something smaller if you'd appreciate it." There was a flash of light.
Seteth now found himself staring at an almost teenage appearance of Tiamat with a pale pink dress and small horns atop her head. Angling herself, she asked, "Does this form suit your preferences."
He turned around and walked off, ignoring the bickerings of Goetia and Draco. He had enough for today.
He stepped out of the room, then found himself staring at some strange creature hovering a full foot off the ground. Head sort of shaped like that of a diamond with a thorny crown, pale golden skin and arms that hooked around like a bugs.
It made a reverberating noise like a trumpet.
He closed the door again.
"...This job is going to be the death of me." He wasn't even joking.