Chapter 88: Not everyone is smart.
He wasn't surprised that someone would have eventually approached him during the course of their march away from the Monastery. Yet the silence that had transpired around him as they started their walk was pleasing in its own way. Though there came a point where he was debating whether it would be more irritating for them to continue stare at the back of his head in silence or for them to just approach him.
Casting a brief glance over the back of his shoulder he was treated to the sight of the students marching in uniform next to their horses as they did so. Some were mounted and some were walking on foot, the expected were on foot. He knew remarkably little about the boy with bright blue hair but he knew that they were going to walk for as far as they could on their feet.
And the only reason they knew about it was because they deemed the information important enough to shout out at the top of their lungs as though they were alerting the pack of potential predators. The comparison between him and some manner of howling primate never seemed more apt than in the moments when he opened his mouth and spoke.
Flickering his eyes further down the line, they lingered on the horse that Seiros was riding atop of. At the length of distance between the two of them, she met his gaze dead on and remained utterly stone faced at his silent stare aimed at her. Neither one of them made an effort to break the staring contest or even shift their expression and he presumed that is how it would continue, yet it was just before he made to turn his head that he noticed Seiros lip twitch upwards into a cordial smile and her head incline in a small nod of greeting to him.
He briefly paused at that before he turned his head from her, keeping his expression level despite the sudden rush of confusion that was going through his head at the odd manner in which she had dealt with him. There was little reason for her to display that sudden level of cordial nature, there was little evidence that her smile or greeting had been mocking. He would have called it genuine…which made very little sense to him.
This couldn't be a result of his words from previously, it had been all but a single conversation in which he provided her with nothing more than basic common sense. If she considered that to be something that could alter her entire perception of him from hostile to cordial, then perhaps she was an even greater fool than he had ever thought of her.
Although, if she had the sense to take his words and actually use them, then perhaps it would not serve to criticise her too harshly. If she was a complete fool then she would have ignored his statements entirely and continued on with her sulking. It was just outside of his current interests to have the leadership of the Monastery collapse while he was still present at the time.
Something twitched in his senses, their approach was registered to him long before they made a sound.
"Crown Princess Edelgard." He spoke aloud as the first sounds of footsteps filtered through his ears, to the credit of the princess, she did not break stride at the fact he had called out to her in greeting. Instead she waited until she was walking at his side before she spoke to him, offering only a single nod of the head as she did so.
"Goetia." There was a brief pause as something flickered through her eyes. "I would ask if you were still the assistant librarian at the Academy, but your lack of presence there has been rather noticeable."
"I was unaware that my employment was a subject of interest to you."
Edelgard thinned her lips at him, then shook her head from side to side as she stared straight ahead. "I would not so much call it an interest of mine as much as it was an observation. The academy has been a place of sudden shifts for quite some time now and I was merely curious if this was the latest in a long line of them. That and it has been said that you have been visiting upon Abyss for these past days. That left me more curious as to whether your had taken over the spot that was previously occupied by Aelfric."
That brought a small hum from his throat at her words which he did not deny, she was rather accurate in her assessment of the situation. "There has been no official transfer of my occupation within the Monastery, but I will not merely bide my time until a title is afforded to my name before I take action once I have decided on the proper course to take."
Nodding her head once, the silver haired woman spared him an almost approving glance before it turned away once more. "So I see. If it would not be presumptuous to ask, what is your intention with Abyss?"
"Reconstruction from the foundation upwards." He answered without even a moment of hesitation. "The current situation in Abyss is untenable for the foreseeable future. Even supposing that Rhea was inclined to keep it around, the public opinion on a location directly beneath their place of worship that is - at present - little more than a disease ridden slum would undoubtedly prove hostile."
Edelgard scrunched up her face for a moment though she did not deny his words, rather a thoughtful look flickered across her face before she eventually replied. "If a simple refurbishment would solve the problems of Abyss, then I would not find myself as dubious about its future as I currently am…Though you do not strike me as one to embark on a fool's errand so I shall merely observe from a distance."
An apt decision and it was likely influenced in no small part to the simple fact that one of the leading members of Abyss was a noble of a disgraced house and currently with little love for the Emperor and his family. He suspected that they would not so swiftly approve of anything regarding advice or aid from the Adrestian Empire if Constance had her say and Goetia would agree with her purely on the merit that the Empire was corrupt, but then what human government didn't have exploitation within it?
"Still, most would consider it to be rather reckless to fling oneself into something on such a scale as this without first waiting for approval." Edelgard pointed out to him after a second of silence, a small frown on her face. "You would likely find no end of detractors for a variety of reasons and many would signal this as a blatant display of disrespect towards the authority of the Church, that you consider their approval as secondary."
"Good, because I do."
Edelgard blinked once, then opened and closed her mouth several times before she shot a look over her shoulder, pursing her lips and then turning back to him with a serious look in her eyes. "I would not so quickly make such statements within earshot of the Archbishop herself, the presence of foreigners is already considered an ill-omen without careless words-"
"Careless?" Goetia raised an eyebrow at her. "The Church barely tolerated Abyss even under the care of Aelfric, the current population of the location consists of those who are considered social outcasts, criminals or heretics for any number of reasons. Even at face value, Abyss is an insult to the authority of the Church." he frowned openly at her before shaking his head from side to side. "The approval of the Church in this situation is secondary to me because Abyss holds greater importance than it. I decided that I would aid the people of Abyss and reform their slum into a livable environment. The title of overseer is to keep the Church appeased, not because it would be the final step."
Edelgard stared at him with an indiscernible expression for a few moments longer, then gradually thinned her lips and nodded her head up and down in understanding. She said little else as she turned her head and focused straight ahead. "Is that so? In which case…Not many would so openly admit to something like that, placing the needs of the people above the proper way of things…it is admirable." her eyes snapped onto him with an intensity and warning to them. "And dangerous."
"Danger or not, it is something that needs done." He declared simply, there was little else for it. He knew he would be facing problems in some capacity and he had accepted them. It was now nothing more than waiting for those problems to arise or preemptively dealing with them before they spiralled into a greater nuisance. Chaldea had been informative of that.
"Then again, perhaps I am not one to speak warnings of the proper way of things, given that the Archbishop currently travels with us to Enbarr without warning and without an entourage." He glanced at her as she narrowed her eyes, a troubled look upon her face as she seemingly thought to herself. It was likely a similar case with Seteth, Seiros once again failing to properly inform key individuals of her plans and leaving them to deal with the aftermath of it. "It is a sudden move and…I cannot help but feel as though there may be more in play than I can see."
"...I was anticipating you calling me overly worried."
"Why would I do that? There is always an ulterior motive with the actions of individuals." It sounded bewildering to him. "Though in the case of Rhea, I suspect it has less to do with some manner of political or religious subterfuge and more motivated by her desire to appear as though she can achieve something given the last few events have been entirely outside of her control when they all spiralled from her or the Church itself."
Edelgard blinked twice, then sent him a puzzled look. "You make it sound as though she is merely doing this on a whim just because it is something she is capable of." she sounded a little offended at his insinuation but that was no concern of his.
"Why should she be exempt from such things? I have acted on whims in the past when there was no need for me to take action of any kind. It is hardly as though I could fault her for that line of thinking when I myself have done so in the past…though I can fault her for the speed at which she executed this whim of hers." Rolling his lips inwards, he creased his brows in annoyance. "Especially since this was initially nothing more than an escort for a merchant and her associate."
"Yes…associate." He caught the bemused glance that Edelgard was sending his way. For a moment he thought that she would quiz him on the matter further, yet she remained silent and merely stared at him as though she was trying to figure something out. It ended when she turned over her shoulder and sent another look in the direction of Rhea before exhaling. "Forgive my incredulity but the notion that the Archbishop would just decide to leave the Monastery on nothing more than a whim to trek across half a continent to the Imperial Capital for seemingly no reason is…a difficult one to accept."
"Of that, you will find me in complete agreement." He gradually thinned his lips and narrowed his eyes as he stared straight ahead, the thought of it now as the Crown Princess had described it made it sound even more idiotic aloud than his mind could have concluded. Bringing his hand up, he rubbed his forehead. "And yet…I am all but certain that is why Rhea has done so because it is something she can achieve…"
He could feel the stare of Edelgard linger on him yet the conversation between the two of them perished soon after his words, she slowed her steps and fell back to somewhere up the convoy behind him as he continued to march from the front. He privately wondered if Byleth was being forced to contend with similar acts of stupidity.
"This is as good a time as any." Those words ringing through her skull instantly caught Byleth in the midst of setting up her tent as the night crept in around them, she only paused for a brief moment as she had long since grown accustomed to Sothis jumping in at a moment without a second of warning. This was nothing more than par for the course at this time, though there was a serious edge in the words of the Goddess she usually lacked.
Byleth was also not stupid, she knew what Sothis was going to try and talk to her about given that it was the only thing that was really worth talking about with that tone of voice between the two of them.
"If you even think to use the 'not right now' excuse, I will loudly remind you of the fact that you pressured me into a conversation in much the same way not that long ago." Sothis flatly responded back to her, though Byleth could picture the expression the Goddess would have been making if she had been in front of her at the time. This time, she did stop hammering the peg into the ground for a few seconds longer. A flash of silent movement heralded the visage of Sothis shimmering into the world, lying flat upon a bed of nothing.
Her eyes were narrowed and her face set in hard stone, making it clear that she was going to force this matter whether Byleth felt like it or not. Closing her eyes, she turned her attention away from Sothis and back to the tent pegs as she resumed hammering them into the ground, Sothis didn't say anything but she didn't have to.
Just the mere notion of her burning stare into the side of her head was enough to bring the topic back to the forefront of her mind along with all of the unpleasant emotions.
"Now." Sothis tone brook no argument, she hovered back through the air and folded her arms over her chest, staring down at her with a blank expression. Something about it touched a nerve with Byleth for only a brief instant, but mainly because this was all because Sothis had urged her into pushing the issue in the first place. "And I can hear your thoughts as though they were a howl."
There was a noticeable edge in Sothis tone of voice now which all but demanded her attention. "Yes, I did indeed force the topic because otherwise we would have remained ignorant to the true extent of everything and the relationship between you and Goetia would have remained founded in half truths, which would have further compounded. We got the information we desired and Goetia's character was finally laid bare to both of us."
Byleth regarded the Goddess with a blank stare before she returned her focus to the tent, sending a final swing of the hammer into the top of the peg and impaling it deeper into the ground to the point where she wondered how she was going to get it out, then dismissed that thought as she stood back up.
She'd seen Goetia's character, she'd seen it with open eyes for the first time in a while. The complete and total lack of care he gifted out for those who actually cared for him, talking about how much they mattered while at the same time doing absolutely nothing when it was within his power to do so. Either people mattered to him or they didn't matter to him, there wasn't an inbetween when it came to all of that.
"For…you're both utter children when it comes to your emotions." Sothis growled behind her as she moved towards the second tent peg, keeping her expression blank as she reached into the nearby bag and withdrew another iron nail, tying the rope of the tent to it and then finding the decent enough ground to plant it. All while the Goddess behind her continually grumbled under her breath which she only half paid attention to. "We both knew that there was nothing normal about it, from his cynical attitude to the way in which he carried himself about the Monastery for months. He always knew more than he let on-"
'What are you trying to argue at this point?' Byleth felt compelled to ask, because she wasn't sure if Sothis was trying to make Goetia seem worse in her mind than she already viewed him. If her intention was to try and mend the damage, then she was doing a fairly terrible job of it. Something that became rather apparent by the heated glare that Sothis was now sending her way, which perhaps might have held more weight if her cheeks weren't bright red.
Sothis caught herself midway through making a move to slap her hands over her cheeks, her eyes closed and she let out a breath through her nose which seemed to go on for a good few seconds longer than a normal person would have been capable of. Her eyes flickered open and stared down at her with composure restored to them. "What I am saying, child, is that Goetia is just as incapable of speaking his true feelings as you are…that should be obvious by this point in time."
Byleth inclined an eyebrow at the Goddess, then shook her head from side to side. 'What hidden meaning is there to not curing Lysithea if he cares about her so much? Or keeping your identity a secret?'
"I did speak with him after you departed." She suppressed a wince as the hammer veered off course and slammed into her thumb with a faint crack. Her eyes snapped shut and a hiss burst from her nose as time skipped backwards two seconds. The thumb was healed once more as she opened her eyes again. Sothis made no effort to comment on the flickering of time. "And the latter was because he wished to understand what I was like as an individual before I became aware of my godhood…which I am not going to deny is a very real concern…"
Byleth glanced towards Sothis, it was all well and good that Sothis agreed with Goetia's reasoning but that didn't do much for her own opinion of him. It was a case of him knowing about her - questions which had plagued her for months - and doing nothing but watching as she fumbled around in the dark while dropping a trickling of clues to point her in the right direction. Rhea granted her a degree of autonomy within the Church to develop, Goetia just had her dancing along to his tune the whole time. She probably wouldn't have cared if he had told her that he was aware of much from the start, or at least explained the bare minimum as to what she was without revealing the fact Sothis was a Goddess. Instead he just did nothing.
"That isn't true and you know it." Sothis rubbed her hand over her forehead, shaking her head from side to side. "He's acted in the past, numerous times when it was not necessary for him to do so-"
'At our insistence.' She looked back on his willingness to allow innocent people to die when he had the means to prevent it, now debating just how much he really cared about people. With how much he kept hidden from them and how much he elected to show them, the cynical part of her mind wondered if he saved those people because she convinced him to do so or because he just wanted to keep her around a little longer. She personally didn't want to believe the latter, but it was now a thought in her mind.
"That's beyond cynical." Sothis hotly declared, floating around until she was in front of Byleth and pointing a finger at her. "And I severely doubt you truly believe that as well, especially considering that he also stepped in earlier to assist those young students against the demonic beasts when it was hardly necessary for him to do so." she lowered the hand back down. "I wholly believe Goetia was being honest in his words before and it was our words that brought the change, but it was not purely so he could remain in our good graces…I doubt he put that great a stock in our emotional attachment to him at the time."
Again, this wasn't something that Byleth felt a swathe of comfort within but at the same time, just hearing someone else dismiss the possibility did feel a little better. Not that she could explain why, just that it wasn't as bad as she was thinking it was. Still, the fact remained that it seemed a little late for Sothis to come up to her with this sort of argument now. If she was going to try and convince her that Goetia wasn't as bad as she was thinking, then perhaps she should have picked a more opportune moment.
"You were angry and felt betrayed." Sothis retorted with furrowed brows "Any words of dissent I offered against you would have been ignored. I allowed you to cool your emotions so that you would be more amenable to listening to reason." folding her arms once more, she let out a single puff from her nose. "You're a grown woman, not a child throwing a tantrum. Understand that not everyone sees the world as you do."
Byleth stopped herself just shy of slamming the hammer into her thumb for a second time, the tool hovered for a moment, then slowly retracted as she brought her head up to look the Goddess square in the eyes. She opened her mouth to speak, then snapped her jaw shut with an audible clack as she remembered where she was, a cursory glance around her revealed the busying camp of the students and knights as they moved to set up their own tents while it was still light enough to see without the aid of a campfire.
Her eyes flickered back to Sothis and then narrowed. 'I know not everyone thinks the same as I do. But someone needs to get angry on their behalf. Dimitri came to my door to tell me that Lysithea was agitated with the fact Goetia wasn't doing anything…I could let the Demi-Servant remarks go because he did eventually tell us that we were a Goddess, or put us in the position to learn it…' her eyes narrowed as her grip on her hammer tightened, she might have heard the wood groan or she might have imagined it. She didn't care much right now.
'You saw how she treats him, you know…he went down to save her life when she died. He showed he cared but then he turns around and is willing to let her die? If he didn't care about her, then he wouldn't have gone and saved her in the first place.'
Sothis grimaced but didn't say anything, not immediately at least, she just remained silent as Byleth continued to glare at her, breathing in and out before she returned her focus to the nail, swinging the hammer down with a single powerful strike into the top of it and forcing it into the ground with one fluid movement.
'She trusts him with her life.' Byleth replied, feeling the anger fade away and leave behold only cold. 'And he would let her die without a second thought because…because of something to do with her dying eventually…he had his chance for that and he acted to save her. So why is now any different?'
Pushing off the ground, she rose up while Sothis remained stationary, looking down at the Goddess beneath her faint shadow with narrowed eyes. All the while she was regarded blankly by the divine spirit. 'Why is it suddenly okay to let her die? I'm not angry about me…I'm angry about them. Because if he is willing to let Lysithea die, then who else would he let die without so much as a second thought? What if it's one of my students, or one of the black eagles…what if it's us?'
She turned around and walked back through the camp, heading towards the direction of the loaded horse which currently had the bed rolls for them. 'I can't trust someone who can so easily jump from saving a life to letting it die purely on a whim. He wants to take students? Fine…but he should at least be there to protect them…that's what a Professor is supposed to do…That's what I would do.'
She approached the horses and started to unload the bed rolls from them, Sothis had gone quiet so she supposed she might have managed to win the argument or Sothis was just waiting for something else to say. Byleth didn't know how she was supposed to feel about Sothis flipping between supporting her and supporting Goetia. Of all the people, she would have thought that the Goddess in her head would have had stronger words for Goetia on this matter.
Certainly stronger than even hers, considering that Sothis had made it no secret that she was rather protective of the people and had always been the one with the strongest opposition to Goetia's stance of observing people rather than helping them. She was rather proactive like that. Yet for her to come around and try to defend Goetia was…more than a little strange for her-
"You're absolutely right."
Her finger slipped for a half second, almost missing the words entirely, yet she controlled herself at the last moment and turned her head at an angle to better hear Sothis. The Goddess having spoken up in a calm and measured tone of voice. Almost in a casual way.
"I will not deny that you are absolutely right in what you say." Sothis repeated the words again, forcing Byleth to hold back whipping around to give the Goddess a dumbfounded look. Now they were just being plain old confusing. "In the moment Goetia took Lysithea as his pupil, even in the case of it being an unofficial position, he made an unspoken commitment to her health. He proved as much when he appeared and saved her life in the battle against Lonato. From that moment onwards, any idle action that Goetia took in regards to Lysithea's health - or the health of anyone he truly cared for in any capacity - became hypocrisy."
Pulling the bedrolls off the horse, Byleth turned around and walked back to the tent, catching a look at Sothis with her arms folded over her chest and her expression set in a perfect mask. Green eyes tracked her movements as they did so.
"Yet you expect far too much from Goetia in a capacity to make emotional connections." That brought her to a halt as Sothis continued onwards. "You overestimated his capacity for care when he demonstrated his own conflicting emotions when it came to the prospect of saving people. He can only see their inevitable ends because he has lived long enough for such a way of thinking to become fixed within his mind."
Sothis continued to look straight ahead. "He is three thousand years old, or thereabouts. The race he comes from is all but extinct now. If any remain, he does not know which means they might as well be dead for all the benefit it does him. Goetia and his people remained while humanity passed them by generation after generation. Even if he disliked the idea of individuals dying, there were others he could relate with…but now that is gone. He is alone in the world now."
Byleth pulled her lips into a thin line.
"Who else might relate to his experience? Who else can stand by his side as the centuries pass him by now?" Sothis turned her head and looked at Byleth, though she swiftly looked away to avoid the eyes of the Goddess. Not that she commented on it. "It is unfair of Goetia to leave Lysithea in such a state, for him to project his view of the world onto her and rob her of the life she might live…but it is equally unfair to assume that Goetia looks at decades and sees them as anything more than mere seconds to him."
She exhaled "The girl might indeed live years longer if Goetia cures her…but in the end she would die and Goetia would be left alone once more. Perhaps it is a selfish motivation for him to wish to avoid suffering through the loss later in life, but his words ring true. He cares for humans as a whole rather than the individual…because only the whole will remain in place of the individual."
"Perhaps it is not that he cares too little…it is that he cares too much to pick and choose who he can save and who he cannot." Sothis shrugged her shoulders "But perhaps he is grieving in his own way, I would suspect he is…You are fortunate in that you hold no emotional connection with your mother, as you say, you do not feel the weight of her absence…but can you say your father feels the same?"
…She couldn't. That was why she was angry with Rhea in the first place, because of what happened with her father in the wake of the revelation.
"I will not defend Goetia's stance, it is cold. To himself and to the individuals he forms connections with…but I shall not allow those connections to be ripped asunder because he is incapable of communicating his true feelings. There is already evidence of change within him…we have both seen it when compared to how he was. I doubt he would have ever lifted a finger before we encountered him."
Byleth glanced down as Sothis moved into the corner of her vision and inclined her head forwards. "Goetia does not think like you…But I believe he desperately wishes to, without understanding where to start. I strongly believe that when he saved Lysithea…it was the first time he had ever done something like that. For you it might have been common sense…for Goetia?" she made a small noise as her lip pulled into a gentle smile. "All I ask…is that we wait and see. He is growing, perhaps for the first time in his life, and only time will tell what he grows into."
The Goddess thinned her lips and cupped her chin. "Would you so callously toss the likes of that Felix boy aside for his disrespectful attitude to those around him? Where he mocks the ideals of his peers?"
She shook her head from side to side.
"Do you agree with his views?"
Another shake of her head.
"Then you have your answer." Sothis declared rather bluntly with a wave of her hand, turning away from her and sweeping her gaze over the campsite as she did so. "You would not turn your back on your student because they have demonstrated a personality which clashes with your own, you find compromise and work with it. For the case of Goetia…patience would be best with him. He is learning to be human, slowly but surely, so we must trust that he finds his way in his own time."
Byleth frowned a little, while that did certainly sound like a much better way of thinking it, something she hadn't considered because Goetia was a grown man and she wasn't certain how much he had left to grow, that was his own impression that he gave out. As though he could never be wrong and that he meant everything he said. Then again, just because he believed something didn't make it correct. Her brows furrowed a touch as she considered the new approach Sothis had provided.
Was she supposed to imagine Goetia as in need of education as well? That he was just stubborn and a little problematic like Felix was?
That…that was something that hadn't even entered her mind as a possibility but now it felt a lot more logical to her. Sothis had regularly compared the two of them but she just assumed it was because they both had short conversations with one another without using flowery language. Was it that Goetia was also really lost and trying to find his way as he went?
All the same.
'What if it takes him too long to learn or he doesn't?' That was the thought which travelled through her mind as she considered this new way of thinking, if it was even the right one. If she supposed that Goetia did need to just learn how to care about people, there was no telling how long that would take. If he was long lived as Sothis said, then it might take decades or even centuries for him to care about people.
By that point, she imagined Lysithea would be dead.
Actually…what was she supposed to do in regards to Lysithea in the first place?
"...That is a cold reality of inaction." Sothis stated as she turned around, facing Byleth with a deep grimace. "Perhaps it would be possible to force Goetia into helping her, though I doubt the lesson would truly stick with him if that were to happen…he has already saved her once before from certain death. He need only do so again and…I have faith in him that he shall. For all he touts about being better than humans and thinking clearer than them…he is human when it counts. Else we would not be here now."
Byleth lowered her eyes.
'...Meeting him again is going to be strange.' She could already feel the slight ache in her chest when she thought of Goetia now. Not like the cold feeling she had before but instead it was different. Like she was sick, her heart felt as though there was something lodged inside of it and it wasn't Sothis. When she thought of looking Goetia in the eye upon their meeting once more, she could not think of anything to say.
"That is guilt…and you can hardly be blamed for it in this one instance." Sothis explained, then rubbed her hands over her forehead and exhaling. "As I've said…neither of you has proven to be adept at explaining your true feelings and he has only himself to blame for clinging to this lifestyle which puts him at odds with his own feeling. My advice? Consult one of your students who would best be suited for-"
"Mercedes." She called out across the camp before Sothis had even finished a sentence, the young woman perked up at having her name called. Pointing to herself before finishing off whatever conversation she had going with Ashe and walking towards Byleth with a slightly curious look on her face.
"Was there something you needed, Professor?"
"We're going foraging for wild fruits and mushrooms." She explained, it was both an excuse and a legitimate lesson. It was a basic skill for survival when one found themselves in the wilderness for whatever reason. Just because they were nobles bound for being officers didn't exempt them from survival training. Turning around, she immediately started to walk into the brush with the platinum blonde trailing after her with a few seconds of hesitation. As she left, she called out across the camp. "Gilbert. Remain in command until I return."
She faintly received the affirmation from the knight as she batted aside the bushes and plants in her way, moving deeper into the undergrowth as she did so. The faint grunts and groans of exertion from behind her - along with the rather clumsy movements and equally loud footsteps - informed her that Mercedes was directly behind her. Hopefully this would work out and she would find a way to get rid of these feelings when she got back and met with Goetia again.
"Not that one." She stopped Mercedes hand just before it made contact with the small purple berry, leaning down and examining it. The blonde to her left paused in her movements, eyes darting between her and the plant for a few moments before a slightly worried look came over her face.
"Oh, goodness." Mercedes worriedly spoke as she pulled her hand back rather sharply. "It's not poisonous, is it?"
"No. Just not ripe yet." Shaking her head, she stood back up and glanced down at the minorly bewildered face of the young woman before she let out a small exhale of relief and stood up. Bringing up her hand, Byleth gestured down to the leaves for a few moments and pointed to the small buds that were growing on the tips of the stems. "We called them flower berries. I don't know what their actual name is but we just called them that because they only tasted good when the flowers were blooming. That won't happen for another couple weeks."
Mercedes blinked twice before giving a slightly excited smile and turning back to the flowers with interest, Byleth found it slightly jarring how quickly the girl could go from concern to enthusiasm with just a couple of words. It wasn't bad, just a little strange was all. But that's just how Mercedes went in the end. "That seems to be a very interesting and rather beautiful way of checking if they are ready to eat. What do the flowers look like when they are blooming?"
Byleth briefly paused at the question, darting her mind back to the last time the flowers were in season before she responded. "White." Then she considered what else Mercedes might also ask when it came to the flowers and continued on. "They have long thin petals that look like swords. But they curve downwards. Very distinctive. Remember those."
The woman nodded her head up and down as Byleth spoke, clearly making an effort to take in what Byleth was telling her. That was good, it was better that she wait around and ask before she tried to eat the weeds off the ground. She was still bemused that she once caught Dimitri trying to do that. It wasn't that the weeds were poisonous, just that it seemed a strange first reaction to seeing an unusual plant.
Turning from Mercedes, she continued her way through the brush and then paused just before her hand made contact with another plant. Her eyes narrowed and she took a half step backwards immediately. Snatching her arm back as though she had almost run it through fire. That wasn't too far from the truth, as she had actually seen people crying out as though they had been set on fire with this stuff. "Step back. We call those burn leaves-"
"Ah, autumn ivy." There was a beat as Mercedes interrupted her with a voice that was on edge, she turned to see the young woman a bit further back from herself and with her eyes aimed solely at the ribbon like plants that were in front of her with the shield like leaves. The woman looked unusually serious as she waved Byleth over to her. "You should take a few more steps back, Professor. I wouldn't want you to accidentally touch that."
She'd never heard the name 'autumn ivy' before but now that she looked at it, the leaves did look a bit like they belonged to the later seasons. At the same time, she had been calling them burn leaves for so long that anything else just felt a bit weird to call it. Her name left very little room for making a mistake about the effects it caused. She assented and took a half step backwards while sparing a glance to Mercedes as she did so. "You know that one?"
The girl nodded her head up and down as she flashed Byleth a faint but noticeable smile. "I have, yes. I once brushed my hand against some when I was very young and it…" she paused for a moment as the smile became a little strained, bringing her hand up and rubbing her fingers along the back of it as though scratching an old itch. Byleth didn't need much more information.
"...It grows near the flower berries." She remarked, pointing back towards the direction of the bush and drawing an interested hum from Mercedes as she did so. "We would normally crush up some of the berries and mix them with cold water to spread along the plant burns. It hurt a lot less after doing that…Not sure why they grow so close together though, but it did help."
Mercedes put on a thoughtful expression for a moment before she turned to Byleth with a tilt of her head. "Perhaps the Goddess made it so that anyone who accidentally touched it would be able to treat themselves very quickly?"
Byleth wasn't sure if that was right or wrong. 'Do you think you did?'
"I refuse to believe that is a serious question." Sothis responded with immediately in a dry tone of voice. "And if it is a real question, I want you to repeat it to yourself and then consider whether or not I could actually provide you with an answer. Do you honestly believe that I would micromanage plants?"
"...I am departing to your mind for sleep."
Byleth felt the presence of Sothis recede soon after that, keeping her expression level as she did so before glancing back to Mercedes and noting that the woman still looked slightly puzzled before she shrugged her shoulders. "Maybe. Though it doesn't matter too much in the end. Just remember for both of them."
Mercedes looked as though she wanted to say something for a moment before she paused and nodded her head up and down. Whether she was satisfied with the answer or not was briefly put on hold when she directed her attention to Byleth in full, something shifting through her eyes for a moment before she adopted a patient smile, clasping her hands together in front of her and lowering them to her front. "Was there something else you wished to speak with me about Professor?"
That was a peculiar thing for her to ask all of a sudden, it wasn't that she was wrong, just that it was odd for her to ask in the first place. Her expression remained unchanged as she faced Mercedes fully. Not so much as saying a single word as her eyes focused on the expression of the woman. She said nothing, yet maintained the patient look all the same.
Eventually, she opted to ask. "Why do you think I brought you here for another reason?"
Mercedes tilted her head "You are the one who is always asking us to pay close attention to our surroundings, Professor. I noticed that you seemed a little distracted ever since we left the Monastery…" trailing off, a small frown crossed her lips. "I am sorry if I am intruding though, I am merely asking if you are feeling alright? It was…I know that foraging is important for camping but I didn't think it would be just me."
Pursing her lips, she nodded her head up and down. "Good reasoning. But I could have just been focused on the mission and trying to surprise you." she pointed out, not that Mercedes was wrong in what she was saying at all, but having it be immediately pointed out to her felt a little strange. She wasn't quite used to anyone other than Goetia or her father immediately knowing something was different with her.
The woman made a slight expression before she opened her mouth to speak, though Byleth cut her off with her own words before she could have the chance. "But you are right. There is something troubling me and I felt as though you would have more experience on the matter than myself…But if you do not wish to help, then I under-"
She paused when Mercedes' smile turned softer and a little wider. There was something about that subtle change in expression that informed her that she was already going to know the answer before the woman even opened her mouth. "It is perfectly fine for you to ask for help for something Professor, and I am happy that you trust me enough to come to me for something like this." straightening herself out, she thinned her lips and put on a serious face. "So what is it that you would like to talk about?"
Just as she was about to speak, she held herself back and found herself at a brief loss for words. She was more than a little puzzled on how she was supposed to explain something like this without giving away too much. Fortunately, Mercedes didn't seem to be in a rush for anything as she maintained her patient and encouraging stare.
After a good few seconds, Byleth eventually spoke up. "...I recently had a disagreement with someone and said some things in the moment which I don't feel good about now."
That sounded good enough without giving too much away, it earned her a briefly surprised look from Mercedes before it shifted into something more thoughtful, her eyes flickered away from her as she nodded her head up and down. Bringing up her right hand and cupping her chin as she did so.
"I see." After a moment of silence, she looked back at Byleth curiously "Are you looking for a way to apologise to them?"
She nodded once.
"Hmmmm. I see. This is very concerning." Mercedes muttered under her breath, at least she didn't immediately ask as to who she had a disagreement with. She might be going to her students for help but at least Mercedes was older than her, it felt a bit less peculiar that way but it did drive in that she was rather young for her position in the first place.
"I take it that you want to make it a bit more sincere than a normal apology?" Mercedes ventured with a raised eyebrow. She wasn't sure if there was anything wrong with giving Goetia a normal apology on the matter, especially since it was more a case of reserving judgement for a later date than admitting she was completely in the wrong. But at the same time, it probably would mean a bit more if she actually tried to do something additional to the apology. Just to get across that she was sincere.
She'd never actually done this sort of thing before so she wasn't sure what the proper course of action to take was.
Slowly, she nodded her head up and down, which only prompted Mercedes frown to grow deeper still. Now Byleth was feeling a strange sense of unease at seeing the usually carefree woman with an expression of such seriousness on her face. Unable to recall the last time she had actually seen the look on the woman's face that hadn't been either training or battle. Were apologies really that complicated?
The woman slowly pulled her hand down as a sudden look of inspiration struck her, mouth slightly parted and eyes wide as she whirled on Byleth. She leaned back ever so slightly at the sudden life coming into the woman's face as she blurted out the next words. "Have you considered giving them sweets?"
"Yes." Mercedes nodded her head up and down as she gave a more genial smile. "When I think about making sure someone understands just how sorry I am, I bake them a small batch of biscuits to give them so they understand I have really put effort into getting my feelings of sincerity across to them." she paused for another moment "Does this person like sweet things or do they like to keep healthy? Because I've found that putting raisins instead of chocolate can lead to an entirely different meaning."
It took a great deal of effort not to react to the words of her student, mainly because she was briefly considering the possibility that Mercedes was trying to tell some sort of joke to try and lighten the mood or something along those lines. Yet that was quickly dismissed as she recalled the fact that this was Mercedes and the mere notion that she was capable of telling a joke about something like this was almost impossible.
She would consider this seriously then, bringing her hand up to cup her chin and humming to herself as she did so. Now that she thought about it, she wasn't sure what Goetia liked. She pictured it being sweet because of the fact he had ordered a sweet apple blend tea on the day they sat down for a meal and spoke. Well, she left before she saw him try it but the point remained.
"...I don't know. I believe they are fine with anything?"
Mercedes sported a frown once again, though this one felt more disappointed than anything else. She looked as though she was going to say something before she caught herself and thinned her lips. "Oh dear…I think there is a bit more for us to talk about, Professor."
…This seemed as though she might have stumbled into something.
Was it too late to give Goetia a normal apology?
AN: Goetia already showing that he knows Rhea so much.
Also Mercedes is canonically older than Byleth.
Hahaha…God, it took me to long to discover that it's weird.