Monica woke up the next morning feeling rattled. She didn’t know if it was the fish she ate for lunch, or if she was worried that the Death Knight would come back, but she knew that this was not the sort of thing she wanted to experience before going out on another mission.
Looking at the Catherine figurine on her desk calmed her down a bit. It reminded her of the kind of person she hoped to be when she graduated from the academy – poised, fearless, and wielding a cool-looking sword. She knew she would eventually have to retire her academy uniform, but she hated the idea of letting the large red ribbon on her chest go to waste. Sadly, it was too big for her to repurpose as a scarf.
Shortly after Monica emerged from her room, she saw students scrambling to get inside as a slow din of low-pitched chimes sounded from the bell tower, once again causing her spine to shake.
Something big was going down. It looked like her practice duel with Ferdinand was going to have to wait.
“Monsters have been spotted within the town limits!” one of the knights yelled as she and a few others banged on every door on the first floor. “All able-bodied academy students, report to the south gate immediately! We repeat: all able-bodied students, report to the south gate immediately! “
Monica scrambled back into her room to fetch her sword, and then met Bernadetta, Dorothea, and Petra outside the greenhouse. All three girls had their weapons ready, but the sudden alarm bells left them little time to adjust the buttons on their uniforms.
“Has anyone seen the Professor?” asked Bernadetta, struggling to stand still as the alarm continued to ring.
Dorothea looked around in all directions, but saw no sign of Byleth. “I don’t know! Maybe she went on ahead and is waiting for us to meet her down there.”
“Then we must be moving with swiftness!” said Petra.
They all ran to the market square as fast as they could. Edelgard and Hubert, whose rooms were on the second floor, followed behind them while wading through a sea of armed students from the other two houses. Caspar and Linhardt trailed behind them, with Ferdinand joining everyone after entering through the south gate on his horse.
“Didn’t the Professor tell us that we’d be going out later this afternoon?” Monica asked everyone.
“Monsters have little respect for our concept of schedules or deadlines,” said Linhardt. “The sooner we drive these beasts out of town, the sooner I can get back to my morning nap.”
Just as Linhardt looked like he was going to fall asleep standing up, Caspar gave him a hard pat on the shoulder. “Speak for yourself, buddy!” he said. “I’m raring to go!”
“Hold on, Caspar,” said Edelgard. “We can’t go running off to fight these things on our own. We don’t want to get caught up in ambushes.”
“Well, we can’t just sit here and wait while they attack innocent civilians, either. Come on!”
As the knights guided more people into the sanctuary, Byleth sprinted toward her students, dodging and spinning around as many people as she could while trying not to knock them down. “Sorry I’m late,” she said. “I was in a meeting with Professors Hanneman and Manuela when the alarm bells sounded. Is everyone here?”
Edelgard did a quick head-count and nodded to her teacher. “Everyone is present and accounted for, Professor,” she said.
“Good. We’ll split into two groups so we can cover more ground. Edelgard, I want you to take Hubert, Linhardt, Dorothea, and Petra with you to patrol the west side. Take out any beasts you find along the way, and if you see anyone from the town or academy getting attacked, help them if you are able. If you see any big beasts, send someone to look for me and we’ll try to fight it together.”
“The rest of you will come with me to defend the east side. Ferdinand, since you’re the only one among us with a mount, I want you to be our messenger to Edelgard in case something big happens on our side.”
“You can count on me, Professor,” said Ferdinand.
Byleth and the Black Eagles did one last equipment check to make sure their weapons were in good condition and they had enough vulneraries to heal themselves in case Monica or Linhardt got incapacitated. Monica had little experience fighting inhuman opponents, so she made a last-minute stop at the armory to buy a steel shield to protect herself from getting mauled, as well as to set herself apart from Petra, who didn’t carry one.
“All right, everyone…it’s time to move out!” said Byleth, pointing her Sword of the Creator toward the monastery gates. “Stay focused, stay vigilant, and we will defeat these beasts together!”
Everyone cheered and pumped their fists in a group salute before breaking off to meet with their assigned leaders. With a deep breath and her hand close to her sword, Monica ran with Caspar, Bernadetta, Ferdinand, and Byleth toward their designated patrol area, leaving her anxiety behind on the floor of the market square.
Most of the houses on the west side of town had emptied as a pack of about a half-dozen wolves rushed onto the streets. Three of them approached Edelgard’s group while the others searched for alternate routes to find their prey. A few citizens had ignored the order to flee, locking themselves inside their houses until the beasts were dealt with.
“Those wolves are headed deeper into town!” said Dorothea, pointing at two more wolves disappearing onto a side street to follow the others. “Shouldn’t we go after them, Edie?”
“Not right now, Dorothea,” said Edelgard. “Let’s deal with these ones first. If we spread ourselves too thin, we won’t have enough strength to handle them all. There may be even more on the way, and I’m certain we’re not the only ones fighting them.”
Edelgard and her group had their street blocked off, leaving little room for the wolves to advance. She banged on her shield to draw their attention, but only two of them took the bait. One snarled at Edelgard and charged at her, only to be knocked aside by her large shield while the other one tried to dash past her and attack the friends she was protecting. Petra ran over and slashed the second wolf across the face, giving Edelgard a chance to follow up as it yelped in pain. The third wolf slipped around the other two and charged straight at Linhardt, who blasted a gust of wind at it to try to slow it down. The wolf flew backward several feet into the wall of one of the houses, but shook off its injuries and charged at the group again. This time, Hubert stepped in to intercept the wolf by holding it in place with a wave of crushing dark energy that emitted a loud, dissonant screech.
The other two wolves winced at the sound and tried to get away from it as quickly as possible. The first one took a swipe at Dorothea with its claws, staggering her. She tried to figure out the best way to deal with it without hurting herself or any of her friends. It was too close for her to safely throw a fireball or thunderbolt, so she tried to strike it with her sword first to weaken it, then use magic on it once she had put some distance between them.
The second wolf, still bleeding from its slash wounds, ran at Petra to take revenge on her for attacking it. Petra dodged to her right and tried to lure it toward her again so she and Edelgard could finish it off with a combined attack.
“Good work, everyone!” said the princess. “Keep your guards up. More of them are coming.”
A noise that sounded like a cross between a wolf’s howl and a ghost’s moan summoned another half-dozen wolves not far from their position. One of the wolves was at least twice the size of the others. Patches of its ash-gray fur were missing, exposing the flesh underneath to the light of day. Dorothea noticed a pair of crystals lodged in the sides of its forehead, giving its eyes and jawline an unsettling, monstrous appearance.
“A demonic beast? All the way out here?” she said in a mixture of surprise and horror. “I’ll go get the Professor and the others!”
“Hold on, Dorothea!” said Linhardt. “Let me heal you up before you go.”
With a wave of his hand, Linhardt mended the wound stretching across Dorothea’s left shoulder. The tattered uniform piece was a small price to pay for being able to stand up without slumping over. She made a note to herself to ask Bernadetta to try to fix it up once the wolves had been routed. “Thanks, Lin,” she said, sighing. “I’ll be back as fast I can.”
“Please use caution, Dorothea,” said Petra. “We will be needing everyone’s strength to fight these beasts.”
While Edelgard’s group tried to hold off the giant wolf beast, Byleth’s party was engaged with another pack of wolves on the east side of town. Caspar split one wolf’s head open with his axe, while Bernadetta found it difficult to get an accurate shot on another one approaching her on such a narrow road. The wolf noticed the bow pointed in its direction and tried to slip to Bernadetta’s left. The first arrow missed, but she had enough time to draw a second arrow and hit it just above its upper jaw, robbing it of the ability to use its fangs on her.
A few houses ahead of them, Monica and Ferdinand tried to fend off a trio of wolves who had cornered them on a side street. Ferdinand found it difficult to hit any of them with his lance because they were positioned lower to the ground, so he dismounted and impaled one between the eyes. The other two advanced toward them and attempted to pounce. Monica raised her shield to try to keep them away from Ferdinand, only for one of them to lunge at her from her right side and try to bite her arm. She saw the attack coming and spun clockwise, pulling her arm out of the way and bringing the hilt of her sword down on its back to knock it down, leaving an opening for her to finish it off with a downward slash.
“Monica! Watch out!”
Monica had no time to celebrate her little victory over the wolf she just defeated when the third wolf attacked her from behind. She immediately regretted not killing that wolf at her first opportunity when it lunged forward, raking her in the back with her claws. Fuming with anger, Monica tried to suppress a pained scream so as not to draw any other monsters to them and prevent them from escaping.
“Allow me to protect you this time!” Ferdinand declared as he rushed forward to stab the remaining wolf to stop it from attacking Monica again.
“Thanks, Ferdinand,” said Monica, trying not to wince. “Hold that one still for me.”
While the injured wolf struggled to free itself from Ferdinand’s lance, Monica sheathed her sword and held her right hand out to make the “Nosferatu” spell pose. As she pulled her hand back, a trail of blood erupted from the wolf’s stab wound and formed into a wobbly, sticky ball. She was so grossed out that she wanted to drop it as quickly as possible, but after she opened her hand, the ball of blood suddenly exploded into tiny particles of light, briefly enveloping her with a thin white aura. Ferdinand blinked a couple of times as he watched the wolf’s body fall limp.
Monica felt her body stiffen as the essence she extracted from her prey healed the scrape wound on her back. She couldn’t see the Nosferatu spell working like she could with her normal healing spells, but the wound didn’t hurt as much as it did before.
Just then, they heard the unnatural howl of the demonic wolf beast and decided to scramble back to the professor. By the time they rejoined their group, Dorothea was already with them, helping them fend off a few more wolves that had just recently joined.
“How many of these things are there?!” cried Bernadetta as she shot a large bird flying at her.
“Who knows? Just keep hacking away at them and eventually they’ll have to stop coming,” said Caspar.
Byleth sliced the last remaining wolf with her sword, but she saw two more attack birds clawing and scratching at Caspar, who couldn’t effectively ward them off with his axe alone.
“Caspar! Watch your head!”
With a flick of her wrist, the Sword of the Creator split into multiple segments bound together by a sturdy, yet hard-to-see, chain. Caspar swatted at the birds to push them within range of Byleth’s whip-sword, with each lash reducing her avian adversaries to a mess of meat and feathers in short order.
“Whoa! Nice shot, Professor!” said Caspar, patting his head to make sure none of his hair had been shaved off. Monica, who had been standing behind Byleth as she unleashed her signature weapon’s hidden form, stood in awe. She had never seen a weapon capable of transforming at will.
“We have to hurry!” said Dorothea. “Edie, Hubie, Petra, and Lin are fighting a demonic beast over on the west side!”
“Thank you, Dorothea,” said Byleth. “We’ll get right on it. Everyone, come with me!”
They all raced toward the western part of town where the demonic beast unleashed its fury on Edelgard and some of the surrounding buildings. She was holding up well enough, but her shield was dented and a large chunk of stone from a nearby building laid at her feet.
“I hate to admit this,” said Edelgard with a heavy sigh, “but this is harder than I anticipated, Professor. We need to find a way to get this beast away from the town before it does any more damage.”
Byleth looked around for an opening. The grassy fields to the southwest looked like they would provide enough room for them all to fight it and protect the town at the same time. “I have an idea,” she said, “but first I’ll need some help. Ferdinand, Caspar, Bernadetta, Monica…stick with me, and we’ll–“
“Perhaps I can also be of assistance?”
Everyone was surprised to see Constance standing among the crowd. Monica recognized the blonde mage right away, but she had lost much of the cheerfulness she displayed during their first meeting. Monica admitted it was difficult for anyone to stay in a good mood when monsters were running amok.
“Connie?! What are you doing out here?” asked Monica. “Everyone else went behind the walls already! It’s not safe!”
Constance’s response was immediate, but sullen. “If I were to run away in the face of a pending catastrophe, I would be doing a disservice to the people of this town…and most of all, to myself.”
The demonic beast swung its right claw at the group, not caring for them to wait to formulate a strategy. Byleth raised her sword with her right hand to prepare a retaliatory strike. “If you’d like to help,” she said, pointing downfield with her free hand, “then follow Monica and the others outside. I’ll draw this beast’s attention.”
Ferdinand led Byleth’s half of the group outside to get out of range of the beast’s claws. They all had trouble keeping up with him on his horse, so he slowed down just enough to keep them together. They all turned around to watch Byleth swing the Sword of the Creator at the beast, raking it across the face and dangerously close to its right eye, inducing another pained, ghostly howl. On the surface, the attack appeared to deal very little damage, but the giant wolf now had its full attention on Byleth, turning its back away from Edelgard’s group as it followed the professor out into the open.
“That should do it.”
As Byleth sprinted through town to lure the demonic beast, Edelgard’s group waited for it to get a few steps ahead of them before giving chase so it wouldn’t turn around to attack them. Edelgard’s armor and shield hindered her mobility, so she had to trust that the professor knew what she was doing.
Once they had the demonic beast where they wanted it, Byleth ordered Edelgard to make the first move.
“Hubert! Dorothea!” shouted Edelgard. “Use your magic on that beast while its back is turned!”
“Of course, Lady Edelgard,” said Hubert.
“You don’t have to tell me twice, Edie,” said Dorothea.
Both mages pelted the beast with bolts of dark energy and lightning, causing it to swivel around and take its focus off Byleth’s team. In doing so, it whipped its tail around in a wide arc, knocking down everyone on Byleth’s side.
“This beast is more formidable than I expected,” said Monica. “Is everyone okay?”
“A little bruised, but I believe I can manage,” said Ferdinand, who was slow to get back on his horse.
“I’m still in one piece,” said Caspar.
“Nothing I can’t handle,” said Bernadetta, “but I really hope that thing doesn’t hit me with its tail again!”
“What’s our next move, Professor?” asked Monica.
Byleth pointed at the beast and nodded. “We need to figure out where and what its weakness is. Bernadetta, you go first.”
Bernadetta had no trouble unloading her arrows into the demonic beast’s side and back because they were such large targets. The arrows didn’t seem to do much to draw its attention, but it still worked in Monica’s favor because it allowed her some time to try to heal everyone up after taking a hard tail-whip hit. There wasn’t a big enough wound for her to drain from with Nosferatu, so she had to drink some of her vulnerary to heal her own injuries.
“Caspar! Ferdinand!” shouted Byleth. “Try attacking its legs!”
Ferdinand and Caspar slowly closed in on the beast, taking care not to get stepped on by its hind legs. As with Bernadetta’s arrows, Ferdinand’s lance only had a minor effect on the beast’s health. Caspar’s attack seemed to do more damage, and it was at that moment Byleth realized that cutting and slicing attacks were more effective than piercing weapons.
The giant wolf whipped around again, slamming its tail into Edelgard’s group. While it had its back turned to them, Edelgard ordered Linhardt and Petra to use all of their power to cut off the tail to disable its most dangerous attacks. Linhardt was aware that his normal-strength wind magic would barely make the beast budge given its size, so he focused more of his energy into a blade of wind that caused a large gash in the base of its tail. He quickly tried to clean off his uniform when some of the blood splattered onto it, and wasn’t about to look up when Petra rushed in to cut the tail off from the other end with a leaping sword strike.
Least pleased by all of this was the beast itself, who filled the air with an earth-shaking howl that caused everyone on both sides to stumble. It was getting more agitated by the second.
“Connie? Is there anything in that magic book of yours that deals with out-of-control wolves?” asked Monica.
“I am doubtful that anything I try will work,” Constance mumbled, “but a steady supply of ice should cool it off. Please stand out of the way… I would not want any of you to be harmed for my sake.”
As Monica tried to shield Constance from the beast’s claw swipe and Byleth attacked it from the other side with her sword, Constance closed her eyes and drew a complex symbol in the air with both of her hands. The surrounding air temperature sharply dropped, and dozens of shards of ice of various sizes and shapes formed in front of her, launching toward the demonic beast at high speed with a push. One by one, the ice shards embedded themselves in the beast’s skull, causing it to flail about again as it tried to remove the objects from around its eyes.
Monica saw an opportunity to strike while the beast was weakened. She took a cue from the professor to run on its blindside and slice its neck open, and its growls and howls soon gave way to gasps for air as it bled out before them. Monica stepped back and waited for it to dissolve, transform, or explode, but nothing happened.
It simply…sat there, its lifeless eyes staring at everyone.
Byleth and Edelgard searched and listened for any more enemies to come their way. The coast appeared to be clear for the time being.
“Ugh…what in the world was that?” asked Monica. “I’ve never seen a wolf that big before!”
“It appears to be – or, at least was at some point – an ordinary wolf who grew in size due to exposure to a Crest Stone,” Hubert tried to explain. “One has to wonder how it came into contact with one, and why it specifically chose to attack this town.”
“In any case, it sounds like the fighting in town has subsided, as well,” said Edelgard. “Let’s hope that there aren’t too many casualties.”
“Good work, everyone,” said Byleth. “Let’s head back. Maybe we can find someone to help clean up this mess before more wild beasts start picking at it and we have to do this all over again.”
As the group returned to the safety of the town’s walls, they took a moment to assess the damage to the town. There was some minor structural damage to the houses caused by the larger beasts, and a few of the citizens who had ignored the evacuation order or were too far away to make it to safety had been killed by the smaller ones. Even though most of her companions were okay, Monica was saddened by the scene before her. She hoped that those who lost family members in the attack would be able to mourn peacefully and get back to their lives as quickly as possible.
Constance walked along with the group, keeping a short distance away from everyone to avoid looking like she was enrolled in the academy.
“Are you okay, Connie?” Monica wondered.
“Please…just take me inside,” said Constance.
“You’re not sick, are you?”
“Not for the moment, but I would not want to slow you down by staying outside too long.”
Constance’s wish was granted as the group entered the common room, which was even more crowded than usual thanks to the evacuees from town. Despite the sea of unfamiliar faces, the smile and confidence that she displayed in her first meeting and correspondence with Monica returned almost instantly. Monica and Edelgard were both baffled by Constance’s sudden mood shift.
“Ah! Much better!” said the blonde mage. “I must say, that was quite the scare you all had out there.”
“It was somewhat scary,” said Byleth, “but my students and I have dealt with beasts like that before.”
“Students? You mean you’re a teacher at this academy? I don’t recall seeing you when I went to school here.”
“Oh… Um, that’s because I was hired just over six months ago. I’m actually more of a mercenary by trade.”
“I see. It’s a shame that you had not arrived a few years earlier. I feel like I may have benefited from your instruction and leadership.”
“I had a feeling that you might have gone to this academy before,” said Edelgard. “Your dress is similar to the uniform Monica and I are wearing. I’m Edelgard, her house leader.”
“And my name is Byleth,” said the professor. “Thank you for your assistance today.”
“Yes… As I stated before, I would be remiss in my duties if I were to run away while innocent people were in danger.” Constance hastily fixed her hair and dusted herself off before curtsying toward Byleth and Edelgard. “My name is Constance von Nuvelle. Before attending the Officers Academy, I received top honors at the Fhirdiad School of Sorcery. I consider it my proudest achievement thus far, but I assure you that it will be far from my last!”
“Are you sure you’re not feeling ill, Constance? You seemed a little…out of sorts when we were fighting outside,” said Edelgard.
Constance hesitated for a second, then said, “I’d rather not talk about that in front of so many people.”
“Very well. The professor and I are going to head back to the classroom with the others. The archbishop will want a report at some point, as well.”
“Uh…I’ll be with you guys in a few minutes, okay?” said Monica.
“Don’t take too long,” said Byleth. “And Constance…please take care of yourself on your way back.”
While her professor and her classmates returned to the Black Eagles classroom, Monica looked for a quiet corner where she could talk to Constance. The crowd began to thin out as the citizens were given the “all-clear” to return to their homes.
“Am I ever glad to see you, Connie!” said Monica. “Admittedly, I was dreaming that our next meeting would be a few steps above chasing off a pack of wild wolves and slitting the throat of one that’s twice my size.”
“I believe that you and I are of the same mind on this one, Monica,” said Constance. “Still, you performed admirably out there. Your professor and Edelgard also seemed pleased.”
Monica couldn’t help smiling. Knowing that Byleth, Edelgard, and now Constance had faith in her fighting ability made her feel like her training had a positive impact. “I know this is a weird question to ask after everything that just happened,” she said, “but…are you still open for a date this coming week once everything calms down?”
“Of course,” said Constance, adding a cheerful chuckle. “It was my idea in the first place, after all. You can find me on the south side of town, in the house with the grey roof that’s surrounded by trees.”
“That sounds like it would be pretty hard to find. Will you be fine going back on your own? Would it be okay if I walked home with you?”
“Don’t you think you should return to your professor soon, Monica? I understand that you wish to look out for my safety, and I appreciate that, I really do, but…”
“Can I at least walk with you to the market gate?”
Constance smiled back as she grasped Monica’s outstretched hand. “Very well. Let us be off, then!”
They stepped outside through the front door and were greeted by the blinding rays of the sun shining almost directly over them. While Monica eventually lowered her free arm once she got used to it, Constance kept her eyes shielded until they reached the archway of the front gate, when she felt it was safe to relax.
“So, does Tuesday evening work for you?” asked Constance.
“I think so,” said Monica. “I’m taking a certification exam earlier in the week and then going on a big trip later in the week, so Tuesday should work out.”
“Good. I shall await your arrival at this very gate after dinner. Have a pleasant day, Monica!”
Constance ended the exchange by clasping her hands against Monica’s. Monica was surprised by how delicate Constance’s hands were, and how they weren’t ice-cold after the spell she used to attack the demonic wolf beast. It was a pleasant sensation that Monica wished she could feel more often.
“See you soon, Connie!” she said as their hands separated and Constance turned to walk back toward her house, once again holding her hands up to block the sunlight.
Between getting back to school, learning how to use healing magic, saving a town from monsters, and now scoring a date with a beautiful, if somewhat eccentric, mage, things were starting to look up. Monica couldn’t wait to write to her father to tell her about everything that had happened.