Chapter 13: Sisterhood

The night after the Black Eagles’ victory over the demonic wolf beast, Monica tried to dream about a world where Constance was one of her classmates. It started off normally enough at first, but things started getting weird when anything either of them said kept getting interrupted by the sound of someone knocking on a door, even when the classroom door was wide open and they could see the bushes across the field.

“Monica? Are you in there? Monica! Wake up!”

Monica was suddenly jolted out of her dream by Ingrid’s shouting. “Give me a few minutes, okay?”

“You missed the breakfast bell!” said Ingrid. “Hurry up before all of the good food is taken!”

“Okay, okay! I’m coming.”

It took more than just a few minutes for Monica to change into her school uniform, but she had just enough time to open her bedroom door before Ingrid took more drastic measures to open it herself. “Sorry, Ingrid… I guess I crashed out longer than usual after dealing with yesterday’s monster invasion,” she said as she and Ingrid walked toward the breakfast line.

“I can’t really blame you for that one. We did have to do a lot of running around. Well…flying, in my case, but you get the idea.”

“At least now I can prepare for my Priest certification exam before the big battle this week.”

“Oh? When are you planning on taking it?”

“As soon as I possibly can. I can’t wait to get this over with.”

Ingrid sighed. “That doesn’t sound like you’ve got a lot of time. I hope you’re up to the challenge, Monica. Good luck!”

When it was Monica’s turn to eat, she was given a plate of scrambled eggs and toast, which felt more familiar to her than the oatmeal she had been eating before. She didn’t see anyone from any of the classes eating breakfast, so she sat at a table by herself until Byleth showed up.

“Professor? Are you still hungry?” asked Monica.

“I already finished eating an hour ago,” said Byleth. “I know it’s a Sunday, so there’s not much pressure for everyone to keep a schedule, but I started to worry when you didn’t come out right away when the first bell rang. I’ll let it slide this time, but I can’t ask the cooks to hold your food for you if you don’t make it. Is that clear?”

Monica took a bite from her eggs, trying hard not to sink her head into them. “Yes, Professor.”

Satisfied that her warning got through to Monica, Byleth got up to leave the dining hall only to stop at the last minute to give another order. “Two more things before I go. First…thank you for catching up on your homework. You got most of the answers right, too. Well done!”

Monica was delighted that she scored so well given how little time she had to study after returning from the mountains.

“Second,” Byleth added, “I’ve selected you and Dorothea to take part in choir practice today.”

“This isn’t part of my Priest training, is it?” asked Monica, eating her eggs in one big gulp.

“Not exactly, but I think it might be a good idea for you to get a bit more involved with church activities since you’re headed down that path anyway.”

Sensing that it was almost time for her to go, Monica ate the rest of her eggs as quickly as she could, leaving the plate behind for the cleaning staff. She wanted to take care of it herself, but she didn’t want to keep Dorothea or the choir director waiting.

Monica entered the first floor of the cathedral and looked for Dorothea by the rear pews on the opposite side of the confession booth. She spotted the songstress talking with two other girls – a tall young woman with a blonde ponytail that rested comfortably over her left shoulder, and a shorter girl with fiery orange hair that curled into loops around her neckline.

“Oh! Here she comes now!” said the taller one. “Is this your new friend, Dorothea?”

“Uh…yes! Mercedes, this is Monica,” said Dorothea. “She joined our class about a month ago. Monica, I’d like you to meet Mercedes and her friend Annette. They’re both from the Blue Lions, and we meet every couple Sundays to practice our singing.”

“Nice to meet you both,” said Monica. “Do you guys like to sing?”

“Of course! We have lots of fun,” said Mercedes. “Annie’s a great singer, too.”

“It’ll probably be a long time before Mercie and I can reach Dorothea’s level,” said Annette, “but singing is so much fun when you do it with others who enjoy it. Are you planning on joining us today, Monica?”

“Yeah,” said Monica, “but don’t expect much. I don’t really like the way I sound when I sing.”

“No need to worry,” said Mercedes in a fluttery tone, trying her best to put Monica at ease. “That’s what these practice sessions are for.”

“Are we the only ones coming? Isn’t anyone from the Golden Deer also a part of this?”

“I think so,” said Annette, “but I wonder what’s taking them so long…”

About a minute after Monica and the other girls stood in a row, they were joined by a boy in glasses and a girl with light blue hair, both of whom appeared to be out of breath.

“No matter how many times I do it,” said the boy, “the trip from the classroom to the cathedral never fails to wear me out.”

“It is quite a long trip,” said his companion. “Right now, I wish I was at the stables again. It’s much closer. I hope there’s someone available to feed the horses today…”

Annette turned toward the two arriving students and greeted them with a smile and a wave. “Hi, Marianne! Hi, Ignatz!”

“H-hello,” said Marianne, closing her eyes and turning away from everyone but Ignatz.

“Good morning, Annette,” said Ignatz. “Hello, everyone. We’re not too late, are we?”

“I don’t think so,” said Dorothea. “We were just waiting for you guys to show up, so I guess this means we can get started now.”

The choir director handed each of the singers a hymn book and instructed them to turn to two different hymns, one toward the front of the book and one toward the back. Everyone was given a few minutes to familiarize themselves with the notation of each song to study how they were supposed to be sung. The lyrics sounded considerably less melodic to Monica the first time they came out of her mouth, and the session had to be paused a couple of times to help her get on-key with everyone else. “See what I mean?” she said, nearly hiding her face in her hymnal.

Dorothea gently rested a hand on Monica’s left shoulder. “It’s okay, Monica. Just relax. Remember, we’re not performing for anybody but ourselves right now. Just focus on the melody at first. Once you get that down, the lyrics will come naturally.”

“Are you sure? Okay…I’ll try.”

Monica sang quietly and listened closely to the others, hoping it would make it easier to find the right pitch and raise her voice once she was comfortable. After a few tries, she managed to get her singing up to “just good enough”, with Dorothea and Annette carrying most of the weight for everyone. The same was true when it came time to sing the same hymns before an audience of about three dozen worshippers, not counting Flayn and Seteth, who led the worship service between songs. Monica felt more comfortable during these lulls in the action as she didn’t need to do or say anything except recite a pair of prayers from the Book of Seiros, which didn’t require her to memorize anything.

When the service ended, the choir group gathered around the bridge outside the cathedral to relax and get some fresh air. Mercedes stood in the center of her circle of friends, smiling and clasping her hands together as if to start another prayer. “Good work, everyone!” she said. “I think the goddess would be pleased with our performance.”

“Do you really think she’s down here listening to us?” asked Ignatz, sounding very excited by the prospect.

“It’s hard to know for sure. Some say that the goddess walks among us, while others say that she’s resting high above the clouds, watching over all of Fódlan, not just us.”

Monica wondered if anyone had actually seen the goddess, or could tell what she looked like. The idea of being in the presence of someone powerful enough to create and destroy worlds excited and frightened her. She wanted to do her best to stay on the good side of such a person as much as possible.

“Me? I never really gave it much thought,” said Dorothea. “I’m just happy to get out there and perform, even for something like this.”

“That’s the spirit!” said Annette. “What are you guys going to do later on? Mercie and I are planning to go food shopping.”

“I think I’ll stay here a little while longer,” said Marianne.

“Uh…me, too,” said Monica.

Marianne looked up, stunned. “Oh! Are you staying to pray some more?”

“Not exactly. I was planning on meeting with my professor after this. I need to ask her a question or two.”

“I see. Um…I think I should go now. Excuse me.”

Marianne bowed to everyone and walked back into the cathedral.

“Is she going to be okay?” asked Monica.

“Marianne’s pretty shy around others,” said Ignatz, “but she’s a nice person when she gives you the chance to get to know her. For now, though, I think we should give her some space.”

“Okay, then. I might be a while, so I’ll catch up with you guys later.”

“It was nice meeting you, Monica,” said Annette. “We should get together and do this again sometime.”

“I’ll think about it.”

As her fellow singers left the cathedral area to find other ways to spend their free time, Monica headed upstairs to the captain’s quarters. Byleth was out of the office, but Jeralt was sitting at the desk, writing in a leather-bound book with an unmarked cover.

“Excuse me, Captain Jeralt?” Monica called.

Jeralt put down his pen and stashed his book away in the desk in a compartment only he could see. “Oh… hey, there. Need something?” he asked.

“Yeah. Do you know where Miss Eisner is?”

“She got called into Lady Rhea’s chamber.”

“Was it to talk about yesterday’s monster attack?”

“No…we already had a meeting about that,” said Jeralt. “She sent a couple of knights to investigate those monsters’ origins, and several more to help clean the streets up. We’re not expecting any more creatures of that size to attack the town again, but – and I’d suggest this even without taking into account what happened recently – if you do plan on going into town, be vigilant, but try to keep your hands away from your weapon when any of the Knights are around.”

Monica nodded. She understood the folly of challenging the Knights of Seiros just as much as, if not more than, how bad an idea it was to wave around a weapon in the presence of an arms dealer. With someone as fierce-looking as Catherine leading them, she would be in serious trouble if they had even one soldier with a fraction of her or Jeralt’s strength.

Without knowing how long Byleth would be speaking with Rhea, Monica decided to change the subject. “Did you ever attend the Officers Academy, Captain?” she asked.

“No,” said Jeralt. “In fact, it’s been so long since I went to school that I don’t know if it’s still around anymore.”

“Then how did you learn how to fight so well?”

“Practical application, mostly. Once you’re out of the classroom and have several battles under your belt, you’ll start to develop your own fighting style.”

“Was Miss Eisner the same way?”

“You bet. When you’re on the road as much as Byleth and I used to be before coming back to Garreg Mach, you have to quickly adapt and evolve your tactics if you want to survive. She learned a lot of her fighting techniques by watching me, but the way she swings her sword is different from how I used to do it.”

Byleth entered the office a few moments later, carrying the Sword of the Creator on her hip. The blade was too irregular to fit inside a normal sheath, so she had to get an extra-large sheath in which to hide it and prevent the “blades” from poking her when she walked.

“I’m all done, Father,” she said.

“Oh? What did Lady Rhea want to talk to you about?” asked Jeralt.

Byleth looked at Monica for a second, then back at her father and added, “I’ll tell you about it later. She said she wants to speak with you now.”

Jeralt got up from the desk chair and let out an annoyed sigh. “I wish she’d just tell both of us what’s going on instead of asking us to meet separately like this. Any news that’s important enough for my daughter is important enough for me.”

Byleth looked on and worried as her father left the office. She didn’t like getting separate briefings from Rhea any more than Jeralt did. Whatever the case was, there was little she could do to change the way Rhea did things until she spent more time on the job and gained more influence.

With Jeralt on his way to meet the archbishop, Byleth could now give her full attention to the student sitting at the chair in front of her desk. “May I help you?”

“Yes, Professor,” said Monica. “I think I’m ready to take the certification exam, but I have a couple of questions.”

“All right…go ahead.”

Monica watched as Byleth pulled a folder out from the bookshelf and sat it on her desk. “Am I going to have to do any more fighting for this?”

“There was going to be a combat portion of this exam,” said Byleth, “but yesterday’s surprise demonic beast attack will be a more-than-adequate substitute. That leaves only a paper test to see how well you know how to use your new class.”

“That sounds easy enough,” said Monica, relieved that the worst part of her test was over. “If I pass this test, does this mean I’ll eventually have to join the Church of Seiros?”

“You don’t have to if you don’t want to. I’m told that not everyone winds up taking on a profession related to their class when they leave the Officers Academy. Take me, for instance. I was a mercenary – small ‘m’ – before I came to Garreg Mach, and my class is Mercenary – capital ‘M’ – now. I haven’t decided whether or not I’ll go back to that life once this year is over, though.”

“Do you like your job so far, Professor?”

“It hasn’t exactly been what I envisioned it to be, but it has its perks.”

Byleth offered a half-smile to her curious pupil. It was quite a different sight from the thousand-yard stare she gave Monica when they first met a few weeks ago. Monica was tempted to ask her professor for more details about the “perks” of teaching at the Officers Academy, but she worried it would drive her off-topic.

“Anything else?” asked Byleth.

“Yeah…can I take the test tomorrow morning?” asked Monica.

“Why not do it right now? You’re not thinking of using this exam as an excuse to skip my lecture, are you, Monica?”

Monica shook her head furiously when hit with Byleth’s accusation. “No! Of course not! I just thought I’d need a little more time to study, that’s all.”

“The exam really isn’t that hard, assuming you’ve been studying and practicing the material. I’ll close the door so that no one can disturb you while you’re taking your written test. It shouldn’t take very long.”

The professor pulled a pair of sheets of paper out of her folder, passing them to Monica along with Jeralt’s pen. “You may begin when you’re ready.”

True to her word, Byleth got up from her desk and locked the door to her office while Monica examined the quiz in front of her. There were twenty questions in all, evenly split between questions about proper healing techniques and the history of the Church of Seiros and those in charge of it.

One by one, Monica dug into the back of her mind to retrieve the bits of information she thought were relevant to the test at hand. There were a few gaps in that knowledge, to be sure, but she was willing to write down an answer anyway hoping it would turn out to be correct after all. A wrong answer is better than leaving it blank, she thought.

After half an hour had passed, Monica handed her finished papers over to Byleth, who slipped them into the front drawer of her desk without looking at them.

“Aren’t you going to grade my quiz, Professor?” asked Monica.

“I will…later,” said Byleth. “I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise. Why not go and relax for a bit? I’m sure you have to be tired after all you’ve been through this month.”

“Yeah…you’re probably right. It would be nice to have a little bit more downtime. See you later, Professor!”

With the last part of the certification exam completed, Byleth let Monica out of her office to walk back to her dorm. On her way out, Monica thought she heard the professor talking to herself, as if she was answering a question from someone only she could see.

The next morning, there was no talk of battle strategies or mission objectives. Instead, Byleth attempted to hold a discussion about the lands beyond the borders of Fódlan, and the ways Fódlan and these “outsider countries” influenced each other, no matter how subtle. Aside from Petra’s homeland of Brigid, it was clear that none of them, Byleth included, was likely to see any of those lands in their lifetime. Monica found the whole discussion on foreign cultures exciting, but had trouble hiding her nervousness when her professor started talking about Brigid because it reminded her of the sacrifices her grandfather Emanuel made in defense of their territory during the war. She still wanted to be friends with Petra despite everything that happened between Brigid and House Ochs, for she knew Petra was too young to have participated in the war at the time.

At the end of the lecture, Byleth dismissed everyone but Monica and Linhardt, which immediately set off alarm bells in the young returnee’s head.

“Uh…I’m not in trouble or anything, am I, Professor?” she asked. “I was taking notes the whole time. Really!”

“And I may not have been awake the whole time,” said Linhardt, “but I assure you that I was listening…at least to the parts that mentioned the mages of Morfis.”

“Relax, you two…neither of you are in trouble,” said Byleth. “I just want you to come to the cathedral with me.”

Monica shrugged, wondering why the professor wanted her to go to the cathedral if not to visit her office.

She soon got her answer when they walked up to the audience chamber and she saw Rhea, Seteth, Mercedes, and Marianne facing the archway.

“Monica von Ochs,” the archbishop called, “please step forward. Linhardt, Professor Eisner, I would ask that you also come and join me.”

Still confused, Monica looked around the mostly-empty cathedral hall before following Rhea’s request. Linhardt walked over to Rhea’s right side between Mercedes and Marianne, while Byleth took her place on Rhea’s left side next to Seteth, forming a semi-circle around Monica.

“In recognition of your achievements on and off the battlefield this school year and the last,” Rhea added, “I hereby present you with this seal acknowledging the successful completion of your certification exam, and your promotion to a Priest at the Garreg Mach Officers Academy.”

Byleth opened the folder in her hands and handed Rhea a palm-sized silver medal. When Monica accepted the seal, she felt an overwhelming sense of giddiness and a sensation that a light was shining on her. “Thank you, Lady Rhea,” she said, resisting the urge to cheer or jump for joy or do anything that would appear out-of-place in a place of worship. “And thank you, Professor…and Linhardt… I couldn’t have passed this exam without your help.”

“As we have requested of those in attendance who have passed the Priest certification exam before you – Linhardt von Hevring, Mercedes von Martritz, and Marianne von Edmund – we ask that you continue to conduct yourself in a manner that honors yourself, your peers, your academy, and the goddess.”

To complete Monica’s new priestly ensemble, Seteth handed her a white robe to wear outside the monastery over her academy uniform, neatly folded and encased in a plastic bag to protect it from dirt and dust. Monica bowed as she basked in the applause of her professor and her peers.

“Congratulations, Monica,” said Seteth. “You have much to be proud of.”

“This is wonderful!” said Mercedes. “I had no idea you were in training to be a Priest, Monica.”

“Thanks, Mercedes,” said Monica. “I don’t remember being part of a ceremony like this before. Is this new?”

“As far as I know, yes,” said Linhardt. “From what I’ve heard from the other houses, they try to put as many promoted students together as possible if they all passed on the same week. In cases like this one, when there’s only one new promotion, they gather two or three students who passed the same exam to stand as witnesses. Failing that, it’s up to the house leader to join in.”

“That’s what happened to me when I received my Priest seal,” said Marianne. “I think I got mine before Mercedes, so Professor Hanneman sent Claude over to accompany me. Claude tried to get me to smile when I received my seal, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.”

“I feel like smiling right now,” said Monica. “Can I smile on your behalf, Marianne?”

“You don’t have to do it for me, but I appreciate the gesture.”

As Monica chatted with her peers on the way back to the classroom building, she felt a little perkier and a lot lighter on her feet. She no longer needed to worry about playing catch-up with the rest of the Black Eagles. With the completion of her first major trial and the month drawing to a close, she felt ready to take her place alongside them as she looked forward to making it through the rest of the school year.

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