Chapter 18: Full of Curiosities

Class resumed on Monday with an emphasis on logical and spatial reasoning questions. Monica had trouble understanding Byleth’s explanations until Edelgard suggested drawing the problems as Byleth described them. The accompanying visual aids made them much easier to solve. Monica wished that Byleth would try to draw them herself on the chalkboard to save her students from using so much ink.

After class had finished for the day and everyone had eaten lunch, Monica was assigned to ground patrol duty with Petra, where they would patrol most of the major areas of the monastery to protect it from intruders while others were studying. When she considered how the major gateways were closely guarded during class hours, she wondered if it was just Byleth’s attempt to get her to stay in shape by making her take a long walk around campus.

They started by walking around the perimeter of the main building, past the two gazebos in the garden. Monica had a better view of the giant orb in the second gazebo where she had her first private conversation with Edelgard. Just beneath the orb was a dais with thick black lines drawn in an unusual pattern. She hadn’t seen anything like it outside the garden, and she wondered what the symbol was supposed to represent.

What amazed Monica the most about the structure was how uninterested everyone else seemed to be about its presence. She didn’t see anyone staring at it or hear anyone else talk about it. The general lack of interest may have been the reason behind the lack of benches, as well as the nearby mealtime gazebo having a much cleaner setup. There had to be a reason for it being left unguarded.

Monica noticed Petra’s breathing become quieter and less regular when they rounded the walls near the cemetery and walked toward the stables. “What’s wrong, Petra?” she asked. “Is the smell getting to you? I know it can be a bit overwhelming.”

“The smell of the horses does not bother me,” said Petra. “When I am taking long walks like this, I am not finding it necessary to breathe quickly. Patrols can be tiring, so I must take quiet, but deep breaths.”

When Monica tried to mimic Petra’s breathing rhythm, she found herself unable to do it as quietly, and it made her feel more exhausted than when she tried to breathe normally.

“It is a simple technique, but it is not meant to be used by everyone. If you are not feeling comfortable, Monica, then perhaps you should not be trying to do what I am doing.”

“I’m fine,” said Monica, huffing and puffing for a moment until she resumed her normal breathing pattern. “I mean, I think I’ll be fine.”

After they completed a lap around the outer edge of the campus, Monica and Petra stopped to get a good view of the canyon by the bridge, with their attention drawn to the pit below instead of the wyverns flying above it.

“Have you ever thought of going mountain climbing, Petra?”

Petra shook her head. “Why are you asking?”

“Take a look at the layout of the monastery and the positioning of the cathedral. Someone, probably centuries ago, had to have been adventurous enough to build a chapel on a big mountain like this one. Without this bridge to connect it to the lands below, this place would have a difficult time attracting regular visitors. The main entrance is facing to the south, so the only way you could safely get in from Leicester or Faerghus is through one of the rear entrances.”

“From where we are standing right now,” said Petra, “it is feeling to me more like a castle or a fortress than a cathedral. It has some similarities with the Brigid Royal Palace, except my home palace does not have mountains.”

“It’s pretty cool to look at from the outside, though. Don’t you think?”

The large iron gate that slid open to let Monica and Petra inside did little to challenge their assumption. They also determined that it would be much more efficient to fly through the canyon than to climb up through the sides, believing most people or creatures would tire out halfway through an attempt and fall to their apparent deaths anyway.

Inside the more inviting confines of the cathedral, Petra noticed Ignatz and Flayn sitting in one of the front-row pews and chatting with each other. She couldn’t hear what they were talking about, but it looked like they were enjoying themselves.

“Petra! Monica! What brings you all the way out here?” asked Ignatz.

“We are patrolling the area for intruders,” said Petra.

“It looks like the place is already secure, though,” said Monica. “What are you two up to?”

“Ignatz was telling me about his family’s shop back home,” said Flayn. “He says that he is worried for their safety, so he came here to say a prayer for them.”

“Is that why you came to the academy, Ignatz? To become strong enough to protect them?”

“It was actually my parents’ idea,” he said with a hint of regret. “There aren’t many good schools where I live, so they enrolled me at the Officers Academy because they thought it would be my best shot at getting a good education. Plus, they think that by being around the famed Knights of Seiros, I might be inspired to become one myself. Honestly, I still don’t know if I’ve gotten the hang of it yet.”

“I wouldn’t worry too much about getting it all down right away. One year of school can only teach you so much. It took me that long just to learn how to fight with a sword and a spear. I mean, sure, I was only ten years old at the time, and—that’s probably not the best example, is it?”

Monica looked dismayed as her anecdote appeared to confuse Ignatz and Flayn. Petra, who had been standing next to her during her explanation, seemed to understand.

“No, it’s all right,” said Ignatz. “I’ll keep working at it, but I often wonder if I’m meant for a different calling…”

“Will you both be staying much longer?” asked Flayn.

“Actually, I have to go and meet with Linhardt and Bernadetta after we report to our Professor,” said Monica.

“And I must be meeting with Ferdinand and Caspar,” said Petra.

“I see. Shall I offer a prayer of guidance for you before you go on your way?”

Flayn stood up from her pew and waited for the three students to gather close to one another. Ignatz and Monica closed their eyes and bowed their heads, pointing their hands skyward. Petra stood between them with her head bowed, but she kept her hands at her sides as she was unsure what Flayn was going to do or say next.

“Dear Goddess,” Flayn continued, “please watch over these young men and women as they venture outside this sanctuary. Protect them as you would your own children. Guide them so that they can return safely into your arms, and into your light.”

Monica opened her eyes and sighed as a slight tingle coursed through her body, making her feel like a fragment of the goddess’ power had entered her.

“Thanks, Flayn,” said Monica. “I’m going to go look for my professor now. How long are you guys going to stay here? Dinner time’s coming up soon, and I wouldn’t want either of you to miss out.”

“Perhaps I should get something to eat… I am getting a little hungry, and it would take a long time to have food delivered here.”

“I think I’ll go get something to eat, too,” said Ignatz. “Raphael’s probably already waiting for me in the dining hall. See you later!”

Ignatz and Flayn left the cathedral and walked toward the cafeteria. Monica and Petra, hoping to find Byleth near her office, looked around the second floor until they found her in the library, putting away a book she had recently finished. “How did your patrol go?” she asked. “Did you find anything?”

“We had good fortune not to discover anything suspicious,” said Petra.

“We weren’t really expecting to find much anyway,” Monica added. “However, I noticed this weird floating orb in one of the garden gazebos earlier. Have you seen it before, Professor? Do you know what it’s used for?”

“Yes, I have,” said Byleth, “but I don’t know what it does, either. One of these days, I’ll have to take a closer look at it. Right now, however, I’m going to train with Catherine and Captain Jeralt. Please be careful if you’re going to go outside the monastery tonight.”

“Yes, Professor,” said her two students.

One of the librarians went to the shelf where Byleth placed the book she had been reading to make sure it was properly categorized and alphabetized. Monica wanted to see what kind of book it was, but she and Petra decided to leave because they had more important things to do.

“This monastery is full of curiosities,” said Petra. “I am not used to being inside buildings with this much complexity.”

“A place this big has to have secret passages,” said Monica, pumping her fists with determination. “It would certainly make getting around this place a lot easier…and I’ll bet that orb I saw has to be hiding something!”

Monica separated from Petra and went to her room once they reached the dorms. She wanted to keep her sword by her side in case she ran into any trouble during her mission. The shield would have to stay behind, for it was too bulky and conspicuous to carry around town for a routine clean-up operation.

After looking at her desk mirror and quickly combing her hair, she went back outside and turned to her right to head toward Bernadetta’s room. She had only made it past two of the other students’ rooms when she heard a pair of familiar female voices calling out to her.

Looking further down the road, she saw Constance and Mercedes walking underneath the overhangs, with Constance taking special care to stick close to the walls, only stepping ahead of Mercedes when she got close enough to reach out for Monica’s waiting arms.

“Connie! Hi!” Monica slowly released her embrace and grabbed Constance’s hands while Mercedes nodded quietly. “It’s so good to see you!”

“And I am also glad to see you,” said Constance. “Mercedes and I are on our way to the sauna. Have you tried it out yet?”

“Oh, yes! I found it very relaxing. I might go there again soon. My room’s practically right next to it, after all.”

“Is that so?”

A giggle from Mercedes stopped Constance from elaborating further.

“So, Mercedes,” said Monica, breaking the moment of awkward silence between them, “you and Connie are friends, huh? How long have you two known each other?”

“Constance and I go pretty far back,” said Mercedes. “My brother and I first met her at a party in Enbarr about ten years ago. Our houses were so far apart, with Nuvelle far to the west and Bartels far to the east, so we had trouble arranging meetings with each other more than once a year. We would keep in touch by writing letters to one another.”

“Sadly, I lost contact with Mercedes and Emile for a short while after the war broke out,” said Constance. “It wasn’t until I traveled to Fhirdiad to study at their famous School of Sorcery that I learned that Mercedes was also in the area. She had moved out to Fhirdiad, but she told me that she had only traveled with her mother. Poor Emile was nowhere to be seen…”

“I know he’s old enough to take care of himself, but as his big sister, I still worry about him. I have a feeling I may have seen him recently…”

Monica didn’t know anyone at the monastery named Emile. None of the monks or lower-level Knights of Seiros were addressed by name around the students. She believed that if he once worked for the Church, he would have been an instructor or a cardinal or someone else of similarly high status. She wanted to believe that Emile was doing fine, but without the same personal connection to him that Mercedes and Constance seemed to have, there was little that Monica could say or do to help them find him. “Wherever he is,” she said, “I hope he’s doing okay.”

“Thank you,” said Mercedes.

“Are you certain you don’t have time to join us, Monica?” asked Constance. “We are aiming to get inside before it gets too crowded.”

“I’d love to,” said Monica, “but I have a group project to work on tonight. Maybe we could do it next Monday evening? I’ll come to pick you up if you’d like.”

Constance raised Monica’s right hand with her left to signal her agreement. “Very well…you have yourself a deal. Come, Mercedes! Let us sally forth! The sauna awaits!”

“Why don’t you go on ahead, Constance?” asked Mercedes as she waved and pointed forward. “I promise I’ll only be a moment.”

Monica watched as Constance walked toward the stairs with a bit more vigor than before, humming a happy tune to herself. She wanted to attribute it to the allure of the sauna, but when Constance slowed down to look at the door leading to her bedroom, she was sure that something else was at play.

Mercedes tugged lightly on Monica’s right sleeve, prompting Monica to turn back in the direction she was initially heading. “Hmm? What’s up?”

“I was just observing how well you two seem to be getting along,” said Mercedes.

“Yeah… I just wish we were in the same year so that we could spend more time together,” said Monica.

“I see… Do you really like Constance that much?”

Monica quickly gave Mercedes an affirmative nod, the only answer she thought was appropriate. She knew that any hesitation or overly-detailed response would make her look like a liar, especially after Edelgard, Dorothea, Ingrid, Caspar, Leonie, and now Mercedes, had already seen the two of them chatting and flirting.

“You seem pretty confident about that,” said Mercedes. “I don’t know for sure if Constance would want to go back to the academy or how things would work out between you two if you did. Don’t you think it’s better to be thankful that you and Constance met now, rather than wondering what could have been?”

Monica wanted to believe that she would still be able to befriend Constance if they had enrolled at the Officers Academy at the same time. All other things being the same, at least she would have someone to express concern over her sudden disappearance. Whether or not their hypothetical relationship would progress beyond that stage was unclear.

There were a few other things Monica wished she had done differently, such as making a better effort to make friends the last time she was at the academy, or taking an alternate route home to avoid the mountains, or staying at Garreg Mach instead of traveling home. She didn’t know if any of those would lead to a better outcome for her in the long run. Was avoiding painful scarring a fair trade-off for missing the chance to meet the princess of the Empire and a handful of other future leaders?

After thinking about it for a moment, Monica decided that it wasn’t worth it. What was done was done, and she didn’t want to waste any more time thinking about changing her past.

Mercedes spotted Constance at the top of the stairs and looked ready to follow her into the sauna. “I should probably get going,” she said. “Good luck, Monica. I hope you’ll take some time to think about what I said.”

“Don’t worry, Mercedes…I will.”

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