The first day of the Red Wolf Moon was normally a day for most of the students to relax. Byleth, Hanneman, and Manuela had less time to rest than everyone else, for they had to meet with Rhea and Seteth to receive their monthly missions. Rarely were all three teachers gathered in the audience chamber at the same time unless a task required all of their houses’ efforts to handle.
Byleth was the last of the three to meet with Rhea after Hanneman and Manuela had gone to their nearby offices. The room was mostly empty, save for the usual guards standing watch outside, which gave Byleth pause as they blocked the archway behind her after she entered.
“Congratulations once again on a job well done,” said Rhea. “Your Black Eagles performed admirably in the Battle of the Eagle and Lion. It appears they are taking quite well to your instruction.”
“I’m grateful to have been put in charge of students who are so willing to learn,” said Byleth.
“You will need their discipline and determination for your upcoming mission. It concerns the monsters you helped take down a few weeks ago.”
“You didn’t find any more of them, did you?”
“No.” Rhea’s voice and expression suddenly went cold. “However, while the Knights were cleaning up the area after the carnage, they discovered a number of unusual stones in the area near the largest wolf’s corpse.”
We might be dealing with more Crest Stones here, Byleth thought to herself. Could they be capable of turning non-humans into monsters, too?
“This month, I want you and all of the Black Eagles to help us further investigate the matter. Find out where these stones came from and get as much information as you can on a possible culprit. Those beasts attacked the town directly, so the perpetrator must not have gone far. If you do locate the culprit and they resist, then you may deal with them as swiftly and harshly as possible to ensure that fewer of these beasts try to harm innocents again.”
“I understand, Lady Rhea.”
“Before you go, Professor…” Rhea added, noticing Byleth about to exit the room.
The young mercenary pivoted on her left foot and faced Rhea again. “Yes?”
“I’d like to talk for a moment about your newest student – Monica von Ochs.”
“Is there a problem?”
“I was worried that Monica would have trouble re-adjusting to school life after suddenly disappearing for several months, but it seems things have been going quite well for her. She’s keeping up with her studies, and she’s managed to make a few new friends.”
“I’m quite impressed myself. I can only wonder how things would have changed for Monica if she had been here at the beginning of this school year instead of having to be rescued from shadowy villains.”
Rhea stopped to consider the implication of Byleth’s assertion. She thought that if Monica were to begin a full second year after coming so close to graduation, it would give her an unfair advantage over the other students. “I think it would be best not for us to spend too much time dealing with possibilities,” said Rhea. “What is important is that she is with us now. Guide her just as you have guided your other students. Make sure she does not go astray.”
“You need not worry, Lady Rhea,” said Byleth. “I assure you that they are all in good hands.”
After Rhea dismissed her, Byleth went straight to her office and closed the door, leaving a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the doorknob for everyone except Jeralt to follow. Sitting down at her desk, the professor took a deep breath and closed her eyes, resting her head in her hands and her elbows on the folder containing her lesson plans for the month.
Sleeping on the job again?
Byleth’s daydream was interrupted when a young girl with long, wavy green hair, probably no older than a teenager, appeared before her. “Sothis?!” she cried. “What are you doing? And why can I still see my office? It’s usually a lot darker when we meet like this.”
I’m merely acting surprised that you’re still surprised by my presence. I am a part of you, after all, whether you like it or not. Everything you see, I also see. Everything you hear, I also hear.
“For the record, I wasn’t sleeping. I came here to gather my thoughts. So much has happened since I came back to the monastery. The bandits at Zanado, Lonato’s rebellion, the Holy Mausoleum raid, Flayn’s abduction… Now Lady Rhea wants me to deal with the aftermath of some monsters that attacked the town recently.”
Indeed. These last several months have been eventful…not just for you, but for me, as well. Tell me…what do you think all of those events have in common?
Sothis attempted to lay her hands on Byleth’s desk, but they passed right through without disturbing any of the papers lying on it. Byleth didn’t flinch, for she saw Sothis realize her error and pull her arms back out without a scratch mark on them.
“All of them have targeted something connected to the Church of Seiros,” said Byleth.
Correct! It also raises the question of why there appear to be so many disparate groups attacking the Church.
“It would be a whole lot easier if we could just find one person responsible, kill them, and make all of these problems go away.”
Reality is never so simple.
Byleth sighed again. “I know.”
All you can do for now is focus on the mission at hand. The rest will come in time, provided you still have the conviction to seek those answers.
She peeked through a gap in her fingers to see Sothis floating above her desk, looking down on her while sitting on an invisible chair or throne. Shaking her head and blinking her eyes did nothing to make the ghostly image go away.
She wasn’t dreaming.
Sothis was sitting in her office, lounging about as if she owned the place.
“I hoped I would be used to seeing things like this by now,” Byleth mumbled, forgetting that Sothis was still listening to her.
Later that afternoon, Monica had gone back to the dining hall to help out with cooking. The chefs allowed her to try making some simple soups and stews. Standing over the hot stove for a long time made Monica uncomfortable, but she thought it was worth it because she got to take some of the beef stew with her for free.
Not long after she had finished eating, Monica almost bumped into Dorothea on her way back to her room. “Oh! Sorry, Dorothea!” she said. “I’ll be more careful next time.”
“It’s okay, Monica,” said Dorothea. “I was actually looking for someone to walk with me over to the sauna. I couldn’t find Petra or Ingrid anywhere, so now that you’re here, I figured that you and I could hang out for a bit.”
“Sounds great! I’m not sure about going into the sauna, though. I’m pretty warm as it is.”
“Oh, come on…it won’t be that bad. We all need to relax every once in a while. Just spend a few minutes in there and you’ll be a brand-new girl! Trust me.”
Monica decided to go along with Dorothea, meeting up with her by the stairs after stopping in her room to gather a towel and a change of clothes. Until Byleth came to them with their mission for the month, there wasn’t much else Monica wanted to do on a Sunday afternoon.
Monica was startled at first by the stark temperature difference between the cool outdoor air and the inside of the sauna. It felt like the calendar had jumped forward by at least two seasons. After changing out of her school clothes, she sat down next to Dorothea near the middle of one of the benches, taking a few deep breaths and sitting with her hands folded until she got used to the heat. Tilting her head slightly to the right, she saw Edelgard sitting by herself, breathing in and out slowly and looking more relaxed than she’d ever seen her. If a place like this can make even Her Highness stay calm, then imagine what it could do for me!
After a few minutes of sitting in relative silence in the sauna, Monica got accustomed to the temperature. Most of her memories of the bad things that had happened to her wouldn’t go away so easily, but sitting in a peaceful environment made it easier for her to focus on things that made her happy – going back to school, making new friends, reuniting with her father, kissing Constance…
“See, Monica? Didn’t I tell you you’d feel a lot better after coming in here?” asked Dorothea, peeking out of one eye and noticing Monica leaning her head back and smiling an unusually wide, open-mouthed smile. Edelgard also noticed and subtly slid toward Monica and Dorothea to try to figure out what was going on. Monica attempted to save face by quickly sitting upright and shutting her mouth.
“Monica? Why did you stiffen up all of a sudden?” asked the princess.
“N-no reason,” said Monica.
“This is a place for all of us to relax. So please…smile away.”
Monica wanted to sit down and lean her head back again, but she couldn’t. “Actually, Edelgard, I wanted to talk to you about something. Not in here, though. It’ll be less weird if I ask you about it somewhere else.”
Edelgard looked at Monica, and then at Dorothea, who frowned out of worry of being left out of a potentially interesting conversation. “All right. Give me a moment to dry my hair and change my clothes, and I’ll meet you by the knights’ hall.”
Monica felt like she had been in the sauna long enough, so she and Dorothea followed Edelgard into the ladies’ changing room to dry off and get back into their school uniforms. When she stepped outside, Monica rolled up her right sleeve and rubbed it with her left hand. The scars from Kronya’s knives were still visible, but they no longer felt as conspicuous as they did before. Her skin as a whole felt smoother than it did before she entered, and she was pleased with that.
Monica leaned over the railing at the top of the stairs and saw Edelgard enter the door to the common area, deciding that she would catch up to her after speaking with Dorothea for a moment. “You were right, Dorothea! I do feel a little better after that.”
“Told you so,” said Dorothea, turning her back toward the railing to face Monica. “I get the feeling that the sauna wasn’t the only thing that had you all hot and bothered in there. You were thinking about how much you wanted to see Constance again, weren’t you?”
Monica started to look away from Dorothea, but then slowly tilted her head back up when she realized she had no reason to be ashamed.
Dorothea giggled. “Come on, Monica…I told you the sauna was good, but it’s not that good!” She cleared her throat and added, “On a more serious note, what is it that you and Edie are planning on talking about, anyway? You don’t have to give me all the details if you don’t want to. Just a little preview is fine.”
Monica saw no harm in telling Dorothea a little bit about what happened, even though she felt it would have been better to experience it for herself. “Do you remember the week I took off from class?” she asked.
“Yeah… The Professor said you were off doing some additional training so that you wouldn’t fall behind the rest of us,” said Dorothea.
“That’s true, but that’s not all there was to it.”
“Oh? What else were you doing out there?”
“I was worried about my father.” Monica paused as she watched the joyful look on Dorothea’s face evaporate. “When I came back to the monastery, I wanted to get in touch with him as soon as possible, but he didn’t respond for a couple of weeks, so I thought something bad might have happened to him.”
“My goodness! Is he okay?” asked Dorothea.
“Yeah, he’s fine. We talked for a bit, and he treated me, Edelgard, Ingrid, and Leonie to dinner.”
“Your father sounds like a pleasant man, Monica…at least more pleasant than most of the nobles I’ve ever dealt with. Present company excluded, of course,” Dorothea added hastily.
Monica wasn’t sure how to interpret Dorothea’s statement, or how to respond to it without sounding insensitive. Most of the Black Eagles came from high-ranking noble families, so if Dorothea had such bad experiences with nobles in the past, Monica could only imagine how awkward it must have been for her on her first days at the academy. “I’m gonna go meet with Edelgard now,” she said after hesitating for a moment. “Thanks again for inviting me out!”
“Sure thing! I’ll probably catch up with you and Edie later on. See ya!”
Monica walked on toward the knights’ hall, not stopping to talk to any of the other students along the way. Once inside, she saw Edelgard sitting on the sofa and looking over a small bundle of letters by the fireplace, with Felix and Leonie standing off to the side exchanging gifts.
“So, how ’bout it? You give me some of those arrowheads, and I’ll give you a couple of whetstones I found,” said Leonie.
Felix reached into the bag Leonie handed him and inspected one of them. “You sure these are still usable, Leonie?” he asked. “They look pretty scratched up.”
Leonie frowned. “Of course, they’re still usable. They’re there, aren’t they? Someone just tossed them out and I couldn’t just let that go!”
“I guess I’ll take your word for it.”
After giving his bag of iron arrowheads to Leonie, Felix looked at Monica as she entered the room. “Say…you look familiar,” he said.
“I do?” asked Monica, pointing to herself. She wondered what Felix was talking about as she was too far away to point him out among the many students battling at Gronder Field.
“Yeah. You’re the ‘new girl’ I fought in the training arena a few weeks ago, aren’t you?”
Suddenly, it came back to her. Out of the three people she dueled that day, Felix was the only one who stood out. She was satisfied that she could now put a name to the face who was staring coldly at her, just as he did in their duel. “Uh, yeah. That was me. I’m Monica, by the way,” she said, unsure whether or not he would accept a handshake if she offered it. “I didn’t know you were friends with Leonie.”
“‘Friends’ isn’t quite the word I’d use,” said Leonie. “We’re more like ‘sparring partners’ for now.”
To Monica’s surprise, Felix offered his hand to her, still keeping his stone-faced expression as she shook it. “I’m Felix. It’s too bad you weren’t available for the big battle we just had. I was looking forward to seeing if you’ve improved since then. Care for a rematch?”
“Maybe some other time. I have some personal business to attend to right now.”
“In that case, I should probably get going myself,” said Felix. “The last thing I need right now is for the boar to come searching for me.”
Felix quickly and quietly exited the knights’ hall, with Leonie shortly following after him. “Hey, wait up!” she cried.
As Monica wondered why Leonie was following Felix or who or what kind of “boar” he seemed desperate to avoid, she sat down on the sofa as Edelgard put away the letter she was reading. “Hey, Edelgard!” she said. “What were you reading just now?”
“Letters from the capital,” said Edelgard.
“Good news, I hope?”
Edelgard shook her head. “Not all of it. I wish I could tell you more, but it mainly deals with high-level political matters. You’d probably find it pretty boring.”
“Have you heard any new information about our little caravan robber friend from earlier?”
“Yes, I have, actually. The bandit we apprehended goes by the name of ‘Raine’. She and her gang have been attacking caravans across western Fódlan recently, in search of rare books and magic tomes. We’re not yet sure where she hails from, but she was originally spotted in southern Faerghus, in the vicinity of the Western Church.”
Monica, who had been absent when the Western Church attacked the Holy Mausoleum, sat up and listened to Edelgard explain the growing tension between the Western and Central branches of the Church of Seiros, and how a routine raid on Seiros’ coffin ended with Byleth obtaining the Sword of the Creator. It was a surprising turn of events that Monica thought could only have been written in a storybook. She expressed her disbelief that a branch of the Church of Seiros would engage in such unholy activity. Edelgard tried to assure Monica that even though Raine’s campaign started near the Western Church, there was no clear evidence that she was working directly for them.
“Something’s been bothering me about this whole thing,” said Monica. “What was Raine’s gang doing so close to my homeland, anyway? They couldn’t have just been there for books like the one Connie was after. Why else would they have taken all those letters from my father? I’ve never seen or heard of that woman before, and she didn’t look like she knew who we were, either.”
“The only explanation that makes sense to me is that someone else put her up to it,” said Edelgard. “If the Western Church isn’t responsible, then—”
“Do you think she was working with the people who kidnapped me?” Monica suddenly asked. She slowly slid toward the left arm of the sofa, worried that Edelgard would shout at her for interrupting.
“I was just about to get to that.”
Edelgard stood up to give Monica more room on the couch as she explained her theory on the events that brought Monica back to Garreg Mach. “Whoever kidnapped you must have wanted to make it look like you vanished without explanation. To that end, they also hired someone to make sure nobody tried to contact you in case you escaped to safety. That’s why Baron Ochs assumed you died when you didn’t respond to any of the letters he’d been writing to you. He knew you weren’t the type to run away or sneak off somewhere without telling him, so he feared the worst-case scenario had happened. Raine was probably so focused on keeping you from getting any messages from your father that she failed to account for you writing a letter back to him.”
“Fortunately, when we saw her on that road, she only ‘recognized’ me as an academy student,” said Monica. “I never told her my name.”
“She shouldn’t trouble us – or anyone else – again for a while. However, I’m afraid Raine’s presence only solves part of the mystery. We now have an idea why your kidnappers went through all that trouble to make it look like you disappeared. We still need to figure out who Raine took her orders from, and what drove them to kidnap you in the first place.”
“If only it were as easy as finding the nearest group of people in black cloaks and shaking them down for information…”
Edelgard gasped quietly and looked at her letters again.
“What’s wrong, Edelgard?” asked Monica. “Are you okay?”
“I’m sorry,” said Edelgard. “What you just said reminded me of something.”
“Is there anything I can do to help? If it’s a big secret, I promise I won’t tell anyone.”
“Not right now…or here. Come see me again after our next mission, and I might feel more comfortable talking about it.”
As Edelgard gathered her letters and prepared to take them to a quieter place to re-read them, Dimitri entered the room and looked around. “Ah! Hello, Edelgard…Monica… Good to see you both,” he said.
“Good to see you, too,” said Monica.
“Are you looking for someone, Dimitri?” asked Edelgard.
The prince made another quick sweep of the room before focusing on Edelgard and Monica. “Yes, I am. Have either of you seen Felix lately?”
“He was just in here a few minutes ago,” said Monica. “I don’t know which way he went, though.”
“I see… Thank you for your help. I suppose I’ll go look for him elsewhere, then.”
“Before you go,” Edelgard called out to him as he prepared to leave, “can you tell me if your house has received its mission for the month yet?”
“We have. In fact, that’s the reason I’m looking for him. I’m trying to gather everyone in the classroom for our strategy session, and he’s one of the only holdouts.”
“I should meet up with my professor, then. She should be on her way soon. Monica, meet me in the classroom as soon as you’re done here.”
“Sure thing,” said Monica. She started to follow Edelgard out of the room when she realized that Dimitri must have been the “boar” Felix was talking about earlier. She had seen her share of boars growing up in the mountains, and Dimitri didn’t remind her of any of them. Boars were wild and reckless, and Dimitri seemed very calm and collected – sort of like Ingrid. “So, Dimitri, what kind of mission is your house going on this month?” she asked him.
“The last two big missions assigned to us dealt with family disputes in my homeland of Faerghus,” he said. “First, it was stopping a rebellion led by Ashe’s father, and then we had to defeat a band of thieves led by Sylvain’s brother and recover his stolen Hero’s Relic. Fortunately, we won’t have to do anything like that this time around. That said, I’m still not looking forward to it.”
“We’ve been asked to investigate strange occurrences around the Valley of Torment.”
Monica was shocked. She didn’t understand why anyone, man or beast, would want to go anywhere near such a scorching hellhole for any reason. Aside from the obvious “death by lava” hazard, it would take incredible willpower, as well as top-of-the-line heat-resistant protective gear, to spend more than five minutes in that area without choking from smoke or passing out from heat exhaustion. “It’s too bad that it’s probably too late to ask Lady Rhea for a second opinion,” she said, “so all I can do is wish you guys good luck and safe travels. Oh, and try to stay cool, okay?”
“Thank you,” said Dimitri. “I will try.”
Dimitri left the knights’ hall and walked toward the training arena, believing Felix would be there if he had not already returned to the Blue Lions’ classroom. Monica, not wanting to be late for her own house’s strategy meeting, bid farewell to Dimitri and headed directly to the Black Eagles’ classroom, eager to find out what her next big mission would be, but still uncertain about what Raine and her gang were really after.