Word count: 4400 (11 to 36 minutes) | Rating: T | Note: Fire Emblem: Three Houses Spoilers | Characters: Ferdinand, Dorothea, Linhardt, Caspar, Hubert, Seteth, Shamir, Catherine, Alois, Dimitri, Dedue, Felix, Claude, and Hilda
At the professor’s summons, the various leaders of victorious forces gathered in the Imperial council room. There was minimal damage from the battle in this area of the castle, given its distance from the throne room. Conveniently so for Hubert—he was not sure he could handle seeing her body as of yet. And that was on the assumption that they left her where she fell, a comparably merciful act next to what typically happened to the corpses of fallen enemy leaders.
He didn’t linger on that thought long.
Dimitri and Dedue stood across from him, surrounded by the King’s friends on either side, and the former Black Eagles seemed to naturally gravitate to Hubert (save for Petra, who he knew from his network to be attending to business in Brigid). They stood alongside him as a barrier separating him from the more resentful people present, whether they did so intentionally or not.
The Church and Alliance allies filed into the conference hall until every chair was spoken for, although few had taken a seat. From the Church of Seiros supporters, only Rhea and Flayn were absent, with one resting and the other seeing to the archbishop’s recovery. The doors to the room were closed to keep passerby from overhearing, given the sensitivity of the subject at hand. On that, Hubert and the Church agreed: no one could discover the Agarthans or their abhorrent experiments.
It was courteous of them to remove his cuffs, a promising gesture, even if it was on the condition of a magic-disabling silence spell being cast on him. He would have done the same. Speaking to the professor, Hubert laid out the foundation of his proposal for an alliance.
“I am sure you must recall Monica and Tomas. Their allies yet live.”
And if they were in that room, Byleth’s focused glare would have turned their bones to ash. Unfortunately for them, that particular occurrence was inevitable, and the world would be better off for it. Five years did nothing to lessen the pain of her father’s death, it seemed. Perhaps retribution would alleviate both of their suffering… Doubtful, but Hubert would concede that there was a sliver of a chance.
Her continued anguish at the loss of one she held dear and found solace in like no other was not an omen in favor of that chance. The probable outcome was that the wound would never heal, only dull to an eternal ache forever in the back of their minds and forefront of their hearts (however blackened his own might be).
“They bear deep resentment against the children of the Goddess and the people of the world, and they are biding their time until they can exact revenge.”
The contents of the letter came back to him easily, which was helpful since the agent he entrusted it to would almost certainly be destroying it now. Everyone present focused on him without a shred of skepticism or even resentment, so they must all have a piece of the puzzle he completed that led to his credibility. All the better for his chances of success.
“If left to their own devices, it is certain they will eventually bring unimaginable calamity and suffering to the world.”
“How did you come to know about them?” Seteth was not the first person he expected to speak, but his stern attentiveness indicated that he was more concerned with the task before them than revenge. As he should be, in light of the fact that the Agarthans were exceptionally spiteful toward the Nabateans.
“Initially, it was because Her Majesty allied with them for their strength to stand against the Church. We shared an enemy, nothing more.” Hubert let a fraction of his contempt bleed into his tone at that as an assurance that his target had already shifted to suit current events. He was no threat to the people who won against Her Majesty, that was simply war. This new objective was righteous vengeance.
“That introduces another question. I have not forgotten that you placed Flayn in danger during her kidnapping, and I cannot forgive you for that,” Seteth warned, accompanying it with his most evaluating stare that he once used with errant students at the academy. It was a laughable thought if Seteth believed that would have any effect on him, but Hubert had more critical objectives to pursue. “Do you still wish to destroy the Church of Seiros?”
He could provide the detailed context surrounding her kidnapping, but it was simply too much work to explain with very little reward. True, Hubert and Her Majesty knew about the kidnapping, but the original plan devised by the Agarthans was markedly worse.
They were only convinced to keep her alive for her blood and hold her at the monastery due to Hubert’s strategy to test how extensively the Knights of Seiros knew the monastery grounds. Their search would reveal any gaps in their knowledge effectively, he reasoned, and they agreed to adjust their plans.
Or so it seemed. There was no way to know if they had devised the illness for Remire Village before or after Hubert hastily made his suggestion to spare Flayn from becoming a Hero’s Relic. Though she wasn’t human, neither Hubert nor Her Majesty were willing to stand idly by for her needless death and worse, desecration into a weapon turned on her own family.
“You have a right to your grudge, so I will not justify my choices to you. I find your false church to be a contemptable institution designed only to subjugate humanity,” Hubert answered honestly in part because he didn’t care if they were offended by his poor opinion of their ‘goddess’, but also as further evidence that Hubert would be truthful even with facts they did not wish to hear. Every bread crumb he left for them brought his plan closer to realization. It was not enough to send them after the Agarthans, he had to be present.
“But as it stands now, you must reform or risk losing what power you have left. Dismantling the Church of Seiros is not my purpose any longer.”
Although socializing was not Hubert’s specialty by any extent, he was especially capable of reading people and assessing their next actions. Unexpectedly, Seteth appeared to accept his testament more willingly than Catherine. Alois was as absent from the neck up as always, and Shamir’s loyalty had never been to the Church to begin with. The Alliance and Kingdom parties alike seemed to share in Shamir’s stance.
Intriguing. Even their direct allies are in doubt of the Church.
But Hubert’s work was not yet finished. Neutral acceptance would not secure his position on the battlefield against the Agarthans.
“I aim to avenge Her Majesty against those who first set her on the path that claimed her life by destroying Those Who Slither in the Dark.” To say nothing of the cure for Lysithea that had to dwell within their base of operations. Though Her Majesty could no longer benefit from it, she would still want that to go to Lysithea. Hubert turned his attention back to Byleth, who he believed would be instrumental in convincing anyone left in doubt after he said his piece.
“This is my final service to Her Majesty, and I will have no cause to return to any war once this last threat has been addressed.”
“You say that,” Shamir deadpanned, idly spinning an arrow as she tended to. They were not on especially good terms before the war, when he respected her skill but believed her to be a threat to Her Majesty. He had been right, of course, but Shamir was more interested in delivering threatening advice and talking down to him as a child. She called him fragile, unstable, and humored him more than anything. It appeared her perspective on him changed little over the years. “But revenge has a way of feeding into itself.”
“Right on target,” Claude pitched in without hesitation. “So, how do we know you won’t decide His Royal Highness is to blame next and go after him?”
That came as a surprise. Claude and Dimitri were companionable at the academy, but not particularly close. But since the Kingdom was the greatest political power at the table and therefore, the source of stability in Fódlan, Hubert had to admit it made sense to be protective over him.
“It’s simple,” he answered, his mind wandering absently to the final message he received from Her Majesty before blacking out. “That would go against her last wishes.”
“Which would be?”
Hubert lapsed into silence and scowled, loathe to disclose her private last words to this group. It felt like a defilement to her memory.
“My, what a scary expression! Touch a nerve?”
“Hardly.” How Hubert felt about it was irrelevant, ultimately. If this was what Claude asked of him to secure his support, so be it. “To keep the message simple for you, Her Majesty’s orders were to surrender in the event that she fell and I survived.”
A subtle yet palpable shift in the atmosphere suggested a change to their outlook on him. Mixed contempt and sympathy, if Hubert had to guess, but he could work with that.
“While I normally would not object to disobeying in favor of her best interests, her last command is one I must follow without question.” Wherever Her Majesty was, if there was such a thing as an afterlife and souls, he hoped she could hear this. Still in recovery, recently unshackled, Hubert delivered this speech to the victors as if Edelgard were among them to see he was still devoted to her. “There is no better interest to serve, no greater outcome to be achieved. All that remains is to destroy Those Who Slither in the Dark as she intended from the start. This is a matter of paying my respects.”
The former Blue Lions exchanged looks behind King Dimitri, who leveled an intent gaze at Hubert no less powerful for his eyepatch. Unlike others at the table, his transformation was so complete that Hubert could hardly rely on any past knowledge to theorize on his mindset. All he had was the generally tolerant reception he experienced so far that he previously attributed to His Highness.
“Oh, Hubie,” Dorothea pulled him from his thoughts, and Hubert glanced over his shoulder to see her delicate hand on his arm. “That’s sweet of you, but… Please tell me you didn’t make nice with those horrible people all this time.”
A change of subject. Deliberately done or not, he was grateful to be back on the proper topic.
“Far from it. I made no secret of my hatred for them, and they were rather fond of answering that with a portion of their abilities demonstrated in such a way as to cause me harm. An inefficient form of intimidation, as each of their displays yielded new information.”
Among the more dangerous and insightful had been when Lord Arundel sent Hubert and a battalion to fend off beasts that he claimed resulted from an experiment gone awry in the Sealed Forest. Had he any reinforcements to take along, he would have, but they were all spread thin across the front lines as it was. The mages in the employ of Lord Arundel perished in his scheme that day, which he had the nerve to feign disappointment at, and nearly all of Hubert’s battalion had gone the same way. But he had learned more about his mysterious benefactors all the same, and Hubert could make good on their sacrifice at last.
“They tried to kill you, and you remained their ally?” King Dimitri finally spoke, incredulous at the very notion he described. Given the rumors of a merciless murderer haunting the Imperial countryside close to the monastery and single-handedly slaughtering entire outposts, he supposed that made sense. He was unfamiliar with holding on to dangerous allies rather than ending their lives. There was not much room for grey in his view on the world, after all. Whatever space there was for it, Hubert seemed to reside there based on the sincerity in His Highness’ surprised expression. Few people had cause to hate him more than the new king of united Fódlan, but even so… Hm.
“We both knew our allegiance was one of convenience,” Hubert reminded him. “Once our shared opponent was defeated, we would have immediately set upon one another. They were only attempting to get a head start.”
“If I may,” Seteth interjected, “you have said you aim to defeat them, but where do we begin? I believe the likes of Monica and Tomas have plagued our people for generations, and we were never able to uncover a central base of any kind.”
Their people? Such transparency in front of all the ruling leaders of Fódlan and yet not one responded. Hubert’s intelligence network informed him that in Rhea’s absence, Seteth took charge of the Church and any Knights still true to goddess. They were not enough in number to confirm that he had evidently adopted a policy of greater honesty than his predecessor.
Hubert chuckled over his concern regardless. Of course they never managed to find anything before he came along. Even as victors, they had no plan beyond what sat directly before them.
“You can learn a great deal by sinking into the dark beside your enemy,” he explained. “Their various attempts to keep me in line with the threat of physical danger gave me ample opportunity to study their magic.”
Reaching into his cloak, Hubert retrieved a scroll and laid it out on the center of the table. Picking up the paper weights always awaiting the latest map, he placed one in each corner so most people could get a clear view. Their audiences were not typically this large before now.
“When you took Fort Merceus, I detected their sorcery.” As a reference, he indicated where the fort once stood on the map. Tracing from there, he continued, “I have deduced the location of their stronghold, Shambhala, using that as a trail.” His fingertip rested at the marked location on the map he lost several agents acquiring and transporting in secret.
The network of Those Who Slither in the Dark was vast and escaping their detection had been impossible. To their credit, his agents never went dark alone and were always found near the corpse of their killer. The allies of Lord Arundel still believed he was unaware of their base thanks to their vigilance.
“Incredible,” Seteth said, leaning to look at the spot as if he could see through time. Hubert had to wonder all that Seteth has lost to these people and for a moment, felt a distant pang of remorse. It passed soon enough. “We have searched for so long to no avail, and you managed to find the heart of their society within only five years.”
“It had to be done,” he emphasized. The fact that his investigations began well over five years ago was beside the point when the bulk of his progress occurred within that timeframe. “There is no question that they are the enemies of everyone in Fódlan. Whatever you think of me or Her Majesty, I must implore you all not to allow yourselves to forget that.”
“Hubert, you sly little devil!” Claude took the opportunity to weigh in before the others, hardly a surprise. The leader of the Alliance certainly did love to hear his own voice. “Are you suggesting we all team up with you to bring these guys down?”
“Exactly. I see you live up to your newfound title.” Oddly enough, the exchange did remind him of Claude’s fearless approach to him when they were students. They’d hardly been considered friends, but he made a fine adversary for the strategy games Hubert was so fond of and enjoyed taunting banter almost as much as Hubert himself. The memories were distant but not altogether bad.
“The Master Tactician? Such high praise,” Claude teased, but that was no acceptance of his offer. He could be noncommittal for an exceedingly long time, having refined that ability in keeping the Alliance together as long as he had.
“I am not convinced you don’t wish His Highness harm,” Dedue cut off any potential reply from Hubert or Claude at that point. The diligent silence from before was quickly eroding into a free-for-all.
“I doubt it,” Linhardt answered for Hubert, stifling a yawn. “This is all for Edelgard, and he wouldn’t risk something so important to him just to get even with anyone. Especially not for actions they only took because of the war he helped start. Right, Hubert?”
What had the world come to when Linhardt was giving him thinly veiled commands? Still, Hubert nodded.
“Not how I would have phrased it, but it’s accurate enough. This was our plan after the war ended regardless, and the war is indeed at its end.” Hubert gave them all that he had, and there was only to hear their decisions. “Am I to understand that we have an agreement?”
“You have our support,” Seteth agreed somewhat coolly. The Knights beside him raised no objections, at least not out loud. With the most challenging alliance secured, Hubert had ample reason to believe the rest would follow.
“Alright, Hubert,” Claude grinned and winked, as nonchalant as he remembered. More accurately, he was presumably pushing Hubert’s boundaries to see if he could find a spot of weakness. “I’m on board.”
Everyone had turned to Dimitri then, who only stared at the map at the center of the table. His slightly off-balance stance pointed towards the existence of a recent injury on his left side, and Hubert nearly smiled at the thought that Her Majesty fought through to the last.
“Hubert,” Dimitri said, finally making eye contact. “No matter your answer to my next question, I have every intention of seeing El’s wishes through. I want you to know that I offered her a chance at surrender, and she stood by her cause until the very end.”
A likely subconscious roll of his left shoulder confirmed that His Highness was probably injured there, the healing magic restoring it to the point where it was not serious but may still scar. More urgently, Hubert did not expect the conversation to take this turn. He presumed he was the only one who would genuinely mourn Her Majesty, not simply wish it had been different. As a result, Hubert was woefully unprepared for anyone to offer their condolences in a tasteful description of her death taking place on her terms.
He felt his taciturn frown sliding into a softer, worried look he vehemently did not want to be seen with here.
“I have ensured that her body has been properly guarded as well, so she won’t suffer anything further now that she is at peace.” This compassion was unduly cruel. Hubert clenched his jaw and did his best to present at least an air of calm indifference if he could not manage his typical harsh image. “When you are ready, we can discuss how to handle her funeral.”
No. Too soon.
Hubert felt stripped bare and beaten bloody with every word that left King Dimitri’s mouth. Her Majesty’s funeral plans. She was proud in her final moments, never accepting surrender just as Hubert knew she wouldn’t. Every beat of his heart wounded him further as he tried time and again to wrap his mind around the uncompromising truth: Edelgard was dead and he had survived. He said as much himself moments ago, but to hear it said to him reached a very different result.
The map in front of him was nothing more than the last act of a desperate servant trying to make amends to the Emperor he had failed. All her work, all her sacrifice, and this was all Hubert had to show for it. What first felt like a renewed sense of purpose in the face of devasting loss was revealed to him for what it truly was—pathetic grasping at a fleeting sensation of serving Her Majesty.
“But I must know: are these people responsible for the Tragedy of Duscur?”
Grateful again for a new distraction, and the implication that the crisis in his head was not apparent to those in the room, Hubert forced his grief down one last time. He instead latched onto that diversion to dedicate his efforts to a reply that would rally King Dimitri and his allies to his cause.
“Yes, Your Highness.”
A familiar darkness swam into view within the king’s eyes, but it was a controlled shift in his demeanor. Willful and decisive. This insidiousness was not the unbridled madness he witnessed in the Holy Tomb, but the determination of a man who sought to level the scales. Hubert could see why he and Lady Edelgard had gotten along in their youth.
“Then it’s decided,” Dimitri nodded. “We will seek out this threat together and put an end to them once and for all.”
“That’s it?” Hilda skimmed the group for anyone else still not convinced and no doubt, she saw others who agreed. “He just gives us a map and we’re all friends now?”
“I would not say—”
“Hold on, Hubert, I’ll take care of this.” Claude held up a hand like he was nothing more than a courier, and on the grounds that he was actually less than one, Hubert allowed it. “What’d you have us to do him? He didn’t commit any war crimes.”
Hilda tried to play off her indecision as lightly as she could, playfully tapping her chin like she was giving Claude’s answer some thought. He did give her a chance to form an answer before finishing up his own point. One that Hubert had to agree was well-explained and thought out.
“Look, I don’t like what he and Edelgard did any more than you do, but he’s not a criminal. We’re just as bad if we use our power as the winners to punish him for picking the losing side.”
“I agree,” His Highness stepped in to provide his support once more. He looked to his allies rather than Hubert himself, but that was to be expected. His fate was in their hands, not his own. Hubert recalled that he was once a friend of Lady Edelgard’s, of course he did, but the pervasive kindness from King Dimitri still unnerved him. “Hubert is not inherently worthy of distrust. He has shown tremendous fealty, even when the odds of success were slim. That is an increasingly uncommon trait. Is that not deserving of our respect?”
“You guys are way too quick to forgive,” Hilda admonished, but she shook her head and accepted it. “But it’s too much work to change your minds. Guess we’re all in this together now.”
“The Church will not pursue you either, even after the deed is done,” Seteth insisted, eager to solve a concern Hubert had not even bothered with. “I will see to that myself.”
Begrudging acceptance, he anticipated. Threats of execution after the fact, that was almost a given. This unwavering support and understanding were far from Hubert’s list of possible outcomes of this proposal. His head throbbed, knees buckling, and he braced himself against the table as Caspar and Ferdinand rushed to spot him.
“—bert, are you unwell?”
“A near-death experience is very tiring, Ferdinand,” Linhardt explained flatly, casting another healing spell over him to only minor effect. Small enough that it could even be considered a placebo effect on his part. “He shouldn’t even be awake now, but that’s Hubert for you. What did I tell you?” That remark was directed at him, but Hubert had enough to do without contending with a conversation on top of it. “You need to rest more.”
“Ugh,” he groaned back instead, his voice echoing painfully in his head. That would only encourage him to talk more if left as-is, so Hubert cast him a cursory glance and answered in actuality that time. “It would seem I have no other choice.”
“You can rest as we regroup. No shackles,” King Dimitri advised, his voice taking on his traditional comforting tone in its deeper qualities. The second remark was not entirely well-received by the group, but it was not a request from him either. “There is more work to do before we are ready to lay siege to Shambala besides.”
“Your room will be guarded,” Dedue warned, glaring at Hubert without any heat behind it. A logical assessment of him as a threat, was it? A wise guard for a trusting king. Hubert chuckled.
“I would consider you a fool if it wasn’t.”
“And you’d still have a higher opinion of us than we do for you,” Felix shot back, his scorn etched into his frown.
“Felix,” King Dimitri called him off, at least for the time being. Felix scoffed but yielded, stalking out of the room. That act left Hubert for Dimitri to focus on next. “If you would like to say your farewells to El in private, she is also under guard in her quarters. The guards posted there will let you in.”
He pointedly avoided referring to her as dead or a corpse while still addressing that he may wish to say goodbye. Dimitri was a bizarre man.
“Very gracious of you, Your Highness. I will take my leave.”
“And I am right behind you!” Ferdinand stepped up to get the door ahead of Hubert. His familiarity with the Enbarr castle layout led him to the exit closest to the private quarters of the Emperor and the Minister of the Imperial Household on instinct. “You are still under watch, and I believe it will be more comfortable to be guarded by someone you know.”
“You’re not the only one here that I know,” Hubert reminded him, stepping through the door regardless. He would much rather be alone on his visit to Her Majesty, but it was something of a miracle he managed to coordinate that treaty as deftly as he had. He knew better than to demand solitude on top of that. And so it was that Ferdinand accompanied Hubert on the long walk to where Her Majesty’s corpse had been temporarily laid to rest.