Not again, Monica thought as she woke up to pitch darkness. The heavy rain outside made it harder for her to try to get back to sleep. Covering her ears with her pillow didn’t help. Resting with her head on the mattress only reminded her more of the caves, and how glad she was to be far away from them.
That voice she heard at the end of her last dream still frightened her. She wanted to know who it belonged to and what they wanted with her – and why they decided not to kill her when she was at her most vulnerable.
Those questions still lingered as the sun rose, its soothing light obscured by rain clouds. Monica regretted not thinking ahead and buying an umbrella along with her snacks, especially when she saw several other students walking about with umbrellas. To minimize her chances of getting soaked, she followed Constance’s example and walked underneath the awnings on her way to meet her friends and inform them that their trip to meet Hanneman would have to wait until after class.
When Monica visited Linhardt’s room, it took her several tries to get a response out of him. “This rain is definitely a mood-killer,” he said. “If the skies were clearer, I’d be slightly more motivated to go with you right now.”
“If only the professors’ offices were closer so I wouldn’t have to deal with this… You wouldn’t happen to have an umbrella in there, would you, Linhardt?” she asked.
“Sorry, Monica, but I don’t.”
As the rain surged, Monica sidestepped a sudden downpour of water from above, putting her only a few inches away from getting hit in the face when Linhardt opened the door. She didn’t know which outcome would have been more embarrassing. “I know we can’t hold this off all day, so I’m going to go to Professor Hanneman’s office even if it’s still raining heavily this afternoon. Do you still want to come with me?”
“I suppose I’ll go… Any step taken toward a greater understanding of Crests is a worthy endeavor, in my opinion.”
Linhardt went off to the dining hall for breakfast, not appearing to be as bothered by the heavy rain as Monica. While he went on ahead, she went to visit Bernadetta, who was much easier to talk to despite her reluctance to open her door.
“Wait a minute… Monica?!” Bernadetta shrieked. “You’re not still thinking of crossing that bridge in all this rain, are you? Please don’t take me with you!”
“Of course not!” Monica replied, shaking her head as if Bernadetta could see her on the other side. “I just came here to let you know that we’ll be doing all that after class.”
Bernadetta cracked her door open and gave her collection pouch to Monica. “In that case, will you turn my stones in for me? Please?”
“Hold on… Didn’t you say you wanted to figure out the purpose of these stones just as much as we did?”
“I did, but that was before I knew this storm was coming! Besides, I need a little more time to work on Linhardt’s gift, so you two can go on ahead without me and give me the finer details later.”
“Okay, then…” Monica took the stone-filled pouch and held it tightly against her chest. Although she didn’t believe anything would happen to the stones if they got wet, she didn’t want to risk losing them at any cost. “Do you want to meet in the classroom building?”
“Yeah, sure,” said Bernadetta. “If I’m not there when you guys get back, you should know where to find me.”
“How about breakfast? Would you like to get something to eat? I know you must be hungry…”
“I-I’ll get something later. Promise!”
With Bernadetta’s collection pouch in hand, Monica went back to her room to hide it under her bed next to the stones she collected. She didn’t care whether or not they were labeled. It didn’t matter who collected more stones as long as Hanneman got a chance to analyze them.
After testing the locks on her doors again to ensure that the pouches were secured, Monica took a deep breath and braced herself to go out into the rain whether she liked it or not. The paved sidewalks were just as slippery as the wet grass, and she came within a hair’s breadth of taking a nasty tumble in her bid to seek shelter in the dining hall.
The breakfast line was long enough that it gave Monica a few moments to dry off. The growing puddle under her feet drew concerned looks from some of the other students, including Dorothea, who had a plate of food in one hand, a blue umbrella in the other, and barely a drop of water on her. “Monica!” she gasped. “Are you alright?”
“I don’t think I prepared well enough for this,” said Monica, quickly realizing that she was splashing droplets of water on Dorothea and one of the students waiting in line behind her as she shook her head. “I guess I should have expected some rain eventually, but nothing this heavy. Speaking of the rain…where’d you get that umbrella, Dorothea? I really like the color.”
“Thank you! It’s not mine, though. Ingrid let me borrow it, and I’m just about to give it back to her.”
“Where is she? I haven’t seen her in a while.”
Dorothea pointed to a table on the far side of the hall where Ingrid and Felix were sitting. Ingrid rubbed her hands in anticipation before taking a bite out of the sausage on her plate. Felix looked to his right and saw how quickly his companion was eating her breakfast, but he was in no hurry to attempt to one-up her. “Slow down, Ingrid,” he said. “That sausage isn’t going to leap off your plate if you don’t eat it.”
“I know that,” Ingrid replied after wiping her mouth with her napkin, “but you know just as well as I do that meat is much better when it’s nice and hot.”
Felix could still see the steam rising from his own breakfast. He cut off one end of one of the sausages with his fork and took a bite, sighing contentedly. “You’re right,” he said. “It is tasty.”
They were soon joined by Monica and Dorothea, who sat opposite Ingrid and Felix, respectively. Dorothea was the odd one out at the breakfast table as she was the only one with a bowl of fruit instead of the sausages, bacon, and eggs the others were eating. “Fancy seeing you here, Ingrid,” she said.
“It seems you’re pretty popular this morning,” said Monica, forcing a laugh to try to distract herself from her dampened clothes.
“I’m not interested in popularity right now,” said Ingrid. “I’m just here for breakfast. Once I’m done here, I’m going to head to the knights’ hall to train some more before class, since going to the arena’s out of the question.”
“It’s too bad they’ve got the place closed off,” said Felix. “The open air is nice, and I don’t have to worry about having enough room to swing my sword without breaking things.”
Dorothea sat her fork down next to her bowl after eating a green grape from it, and then passed Ingrid her umbrella, keeping it below the table to prevent everyone from getting wet. “That reminds me…thanks for letting me borrow your umbrella.”
“I appreciate you asking politely instead of barging in while my door was open like last time,” said Ingrid.
“I couldn’t help myself. When I saw your door open, I thought you were inviting me in. I kept my promise not to touch anything without your permission, didn’t I?”
Ingrid raised an eyebrow, too focused on her breakfast to address Dorothea’s intrusion any further.
A fifth student joined their table a minute later – Sylvain, sporting a grin wide enough to fit his whole spoon. “Well, if it isn’t my lucky day,” he said. “What are the chances of me getting to share a meal with three lovely ladies at once?”
“Must your every conversation with a woman lead to a come-on of some sort?” asked Felix.
“Come on, Felix…you know I don’t do that all the time. It was more of a statement of the obvious than anything, really.”
Dorothea and Ingrid rolled their eyes. Neither girl was in the mood to deal with Sylvain’s antics so early in the morning.
“You’ll have to forgive Sylvain, Monica,” said Ingrid. “He really means well, but he can’t seem to kick this habit of hitting on every new girl he meets. And if he keeps doing it, then—”
Sylvain’s tone shifted from flirty to conciliatory the instant Ingrid looked at him. “Okay, okay, I get the picture. Geez…it’s barbs and threats like that which make me glad I learned to walk around in heavy armor.”
He couldn’t decide which seat at the table was the safest for him to sit in, so he pulled an unused chair over to the end of the table where Monica and Felix were seated. “So…Monica, was it?” he said after everyone else stopped staring at him. “How’s life at Garreg Mach been treating you?”
Monica, unaware of Sylvain’s reputation, tried her best to respond in a way that both asserted her confidence and kept her on the defensive. “It’s been quite an adventure so far,” she said, “but nothing I can’t handle.”
“‘Adventure’ is definitely the operative word,” said Sylvain. “I never figured that a church, of all places, would be where we’d learn to become soldiers.”
“One thing’s for sure – there’s a lot that I’ve experienced here that I would never have learned if I’d stuck with private tutoring. Whether or not that’s a good thing, I’ll probably never know.”
Everyone except for Felix exchanged small talk as they ate, ignoring the students coming and going from the dining hall. After they were all finished, Monica and Dorothea went directly to their classroom and waited for their other classmates and Byleth to arrive. They wanted the rain to taper off or go away as quickly as possible so they could finish their days with minimal hassle.
The next class came and went without incident. Monica paid attention and took her notes as usual, but the combination of the stormy weather and the anxiety over her nightmare kept her from enjoying it to the fullest. She was relieved when it was time to go and she could visit Hanneman’s office over at the cathedral.
The rain slowed down just enough in the afternoon that Monica felt comfortable walking through it without getting too wet. With her and Bernadetta’s pouches carefully tucked underneath her, Monica hurried toward Hanneman’s office, which was just across the hall from the infirmary. To her surprise, Linhardt had arrived ahead of her, for he had decided to rest in the common room behind Manuela and Byleth’s offices to dry off. A quick brush of his hair made some of its wetness go away. “Where’s Bernadetta?” he asked. “Did she change her mind about coming with us?”
“Bernadetta said she was worried about the weather,” said Monica half-truthfully, “so she gave me her bag of stones. Do you have yours?”
Linhardt tossed his bag a few inches into the air to show that he came prepared.
“All right…let’s get this over with.”
Linhardt knocked on Hanneman’s door and waited a few seconds for him to open it. The professor’s smile was barely visible under his bushy gray mustache. “Good afternoon, Linhardt and Monica!” he said. “What brings you here today?”
“Professor Hanneman, do you have time to analyze some samples we picked up?” asked Linhardt. He and Monica placed their collection pouches on Hanneman’s desk next to a small machine with knobs whose functions only Hanneman seemed to know. Monica pushed one of her pouches away from the machine, leaving behind a short trail of water that she scrambled to wipe away with her sleeve.
“Samples?” asked Hanneman, looking inside one of the pouches. “Do you mean these pebbles here?”
“Linhardt and I think there might be more to some of these pebbles than they appear,” said Monica. “We think some of the monsters we fought a few weeks ago might have left some Crest Stones behind when they attacked.”
“A highly unusual situation, indeed. Perhaps if we studied some of these stones, we might find some clues about their origins. This may take a while, so if you feel you may find this boring, I encourage you to read any of the books on the shelves to your left. However, I must ask you not to disturb the gold-colored folders. Those are very important teacher’s notes.”
Monica and Linhardt watched as Hanneman pressed some buttons and turned one of the dials on the machine on his desk, revealing a hidden compartment with an off-white panel that Monica recognized as a handprint reader. Hanneman, knowing that Linhardt possessed a Minor Crest of Saint Cethleann, asked him to place his hand on the reader to establish a baseline for his analysis. Right after Linhardt put his hand down, Monica saw a strange symbol floating above a panel in front of her feet. The Crest sigil lingered for several seconds after Linhardt lifted his hand, and Monica wanted to poke at it to test its solidity.
For the next several minutes, Hanneman placed different combinations of pebbles on the reader to gauge their reactions. First, he placed one stone at a time on the center of the reader where all of the lines seemed to converge and then scribbled in one of his notebooks when he saw ones that caused a reaction on the floor device, hoping to find a pattern among them. After separating the non-magical pebbles from the ones that displayed lines on the floor reader, he tried placing two stones on his desk reader at a time, then three, then four. Ghostly lines of light danced in the air as Hanneman moved the stones around in an effort to get a more complete picture from their findings. “Now, if I move this here,” he murmured, “and place this one a little further downward…”
From Monica’s perspective, the lines appeared to form a half-heart that partially resembled the Crest that appeared when Linhardt tested the handprint reader. She continued to stare at the floating symbol with her mouth agape, trying to decipher what it all meant. Linhardt and Hanneman both reacted to the Crest’s reappearance with a brief moment of wide-eyed shock.
“Where did these things come from?” shouted Monica. “Why did it take so many to form just one symbol?”
“The Crest itself appears to be incomplete,” said Hanneman. “It seems that these stones may just be fragments of a larger stone. In the same way, your discovery of these fragments is a small but not insignificant part of the mystery, which I hope will lead us closer to figuring out who attacked us and why. Would it be all right with you if I held onto these a little longer? Perhaps with further analysis, I might be able to discern how these Crest Stone pieces were created.”
“As long as we get to keep the bags they were stored in. Bernadetta worked so hard on them.”
“Yes, of course.” Hanneman passed the Black Eagle pouches back to Monica and Linhardt and then continued to scribble in his notebook for a minute before shutting off his machine and pushing the Crest Stone fragments aside. “Lady Rhea and Seteth will certainly want to know about this,” he added. “Would one of you have a moment to track one of them down for me?”
“I don’t think I’ve seen Lady Rhea leave that audience chamber very often,” said Monica. “We might have to look around a bit for Seteth, though. I can go look for him if you’d like.”
“Before you go back down, Monica,” said Linhardt, “we still need to find out about the stone that Cyril picked up. I suspect it may have come from the same source as these smaller ones.”
“That may be more difficult than you might expect,” said Hanneman. “Cyril only answers directly to Lady Rhea. He may have already given his stone to her.”
Monica got upset as she realized there wouldn’t be an easy way to convince Rhea to let Hanneman borrow Cyril’s stones for analysis. If only we’d reached that garden first… We might have a more complete picture regarding who or what we’re dealing with.
When she felt that she had received enough information to relay to Bernadetta, Monica prepared to leave in order to search for her and Seteth, despite the rain. “Thanks for your help, Professor Hanneman,” she said. “If you find out anything new, will you let us know?”
“It would be my pleasure,” said Hanneman.
Monica started having second thoughts about the rain. It didn’t seem so bad once she got used to walking in it for a while. The most annoying aspect was having to walk around all the puddles that formed when the rain stopped to avoid getting her shoes wet.
Flayn stood next to the crates at the edge of the dorms, rushing out to meet her rain-soaked friend. Monica asked Flayn to stand back a few feet to avoid getting splashed while she tried desperately to air-dry her clothes.
“What happened, Monica?” asked Flayn. “How did you get so wet so quickly?”
“I had to go out to work on an urgent class project,” said Monica.
“Could it not have waited until the rain had passed? You are soaked from head to toe!”
“I know… Give me a few minutes, okay, Flayn? I’ll be right back.”
Monica shut and locked her bedroom door behind her while she changed out of her wet clothes and tossed it into the laundry basket by her bed. Her alternate uniform was a simple black blouse and skirt with white trim that lacked the flair of what she was already wearing, but she thought it was good enough to wear until the clothes in the basket dried out.
“Okay, I’m ready!” she called as she unlocked the door.
Stepping outside with a little more confidence than before, Monica turned her attention back to Flayn. “So, what have you been up to lately? Heard any interesting stories?”
“Stories? Do you mean gossip?” asked Flayn. “I have not heard anything of the sort. I do love a good story every now and then, but I would not wish to harm anyone’s reputation by spreading incorrect or unprovable rumors.”
“Have you had a chance to talk to a lot of the students since you came back? Not that I’m suggesting that you should do that to squeeze any juicy gossip from them or anything,” said Monica.
“I do see Ignatz and Marianne every now and then, but they usually come to pray or examine the portraits and statues, and do not spend much time on small talk.”
“Oh… I just thought you might enjoy the company when you weren’t busy doing important church things. Speaking of meetings – do you know where your brother is? Professor Hanneman was looking for him.”
“We had just returned from the market to get some fresh ingredients for the kitchen. If he is not there, then he is probably heading toward his office.”
“Then that should make it easy for us to track him down. We’ll need to be quick about it, though. I have to meet up with Bernadetta in a few minutes. Come on!”
Together, Monica and Flayn walked to the bridge to intercept Seteth on his way back to the cathedral, but they fell a few steps behind and had to call out to him before he walked through the iron gate. “May I help you two with something?” he asked when they caught up to him.
“Yeah… I just got done speaking with Professor Hanneman,” said Monica, “and he said he wanted to talk to you for a few moments.”
“I think I may have an idea what this is about,” said Seteth. “Thank you for alerting me, Monica.”
Flayn reached out to try to stop him from going upstairs. “Hold on, Brother! Where exactly are you going?”
“I am on my way to an important discussion between Professor Hanneman and I. You need not concern yourself with it, Flayn.”
Monica was surprised when she saw Flayn glare sternly at Seteth. She was used to seeing that look from Seteth and others with his level of influence, but she never expected to see it directed at him, and especially not from Flayn, whom she had known up until that point to be the living definition of politeness and grace. “‘I need not concern myself with it’? Brother, I have spent much of my time at the monastery within its walls, both before and after my abduction,” said Flayn, raising her voice just enough to sound assertive but not confrontational. “I understand that the world outside is dangerous, but would it not be more appropriate for me to learn of these dangers myself, rather than indirectly from others?”
“Flayn, we have already discussed this…”
Monica believed she had fulfilled her duty to Hanneman, so she excused herself when it sounded like an argument was going to break out between the two.
Bernadetta arrived at the Black Eagles’ classroom as promised, having taken a seat in the corner of the room farthest from the door. There were a few other students in the room, but the only ones she needed to speak with arrived a few minutes after her, sitting down at a nearby table.
“Oh…hey, guys,” she said, her voice less shaky than before. “Did you get any new information for us?”
“Yeah,” said Monica. “Out of all the rocks and pebbles that we picked up last night, it looks like we managed to pick pieces of a Crest Stone or two. But that’s not all…”
“You were right, Linhardt! I knew there was something weird about those monsters! Now that they know we’re here, they can attack us any time they want!”
Linhardt looked over his shoulder and saw the remaining students run out of the classroom after Bernadetta spoke. He couldn’t tell if they were running away because they were spooked by Bernadetta’s statement, or because they saw Byleth entering the room behind them and wanted to avoid punishment for eavesdropping.
“Hey, Professor!” said Bernadetta. “Did you forget something?”
“I just stopped by to see how you all were coming along with the mission,” said Byleth.
“We discovered some Crest Stones while we searched the town last night,” said Linhardt. “Actually, that isn’t quite right…they were more like fragments of one.”
Byleth looked down at the Sword of the Creator and stared through the large circular hole in its hilt. For a moment, she worried that the Crest Stone in question was tied to the Crest of Flames, for it had not been publicly discovered by the time she recovered the sword from the Western Church rebels. Trying to figure out why only she was able to use the sword despite it not carrying its expected Crest Stone made both her head and her heart hurt.
“Are you okay, Professor?” asked Monica. “You don’t look so good.”
“I’m fine,” said Byleth. “Please continue. You said you picked up some Crest Stone fragments, correct?”
“Yeah, but I don’t remember seeing them when the monsters attacked,” said Bernadetta, “except for the ones on the really big one. Maybe we were too busy fighting to notice. You don’t suppose we might have stepped on one and broken it by accident, do you?”
“I’m not sure. When Dimitri’s house came back from Conand Tower, I got a glimpse of Sylvain’s Lance of Ruin. The stone in the spearhead looks pretty sturdy…almost as strong as the lance itself. Maybe even more so.”
When it sounded like Byleth had dismissed her idea, Bernadetta shook her head and pounded her fists on her thighs in frustration. “Stupid Bernie! Why’d you say that? You knew that didn’t make any sense in your head!”
“I wouldn’t discount that idea so readily, Bernadetta,” said Linhardt. “The Crest Stone pieces we found didn’t look like they came from a Hero’s Relic, so it’s possible that these ones aren’t as sturdy.”
“Do you suppose they fell off when I cut the giant wolf in the face with my sword?” Byleth suggested.
“If that’s the case, then they must have flown pretty far,” said Monica. “Then again, it was a really big wolf, so who knows where else they might have landed?”
Linhardt felt himself slouching, so he tried to press his back against the back of his chair to force himself to sit upright. “Something else about this incident bothers me,” he said.
“Are you talking about that symbol we saw in Professor Hanneman’s office?”
“Exactly. It seems that our attackers have figured out a way to replicate – or fabricate, in this case – a genuine Crest Stone. The symbol we saw looked a lot like my Crest, but there’s no way they could have acquired it from me. I’ve been here at the academy the whole time.”
“Is there someone else around here with that same Crest?”
Linhardt paused to look around the room once more for eavesdroppers. “The only other person I know who carries the Crest of Cethleann…is Flayn.”
Bernadetta and Monica were unable to conceal their astonishment when they considered Linhardt’s explanation and how it connected to Flayn’s kidnapping. Byleth’s reaction was much more subdued, but her students noticed how worried she was about it.
“Flayn told me that she’d been having nightmares about being stabbed with needles and waking up dizzy after the Death Knight captured her,” said Monica. “Were they really using Flayn and her blood for…this?!“
“It certainly seems that way,” said Linhardt, sounding close to vomiting on the table.
“Oh, no…Flayn was on her way to Professor Hanneman’s office with Seteth! How’s she going to react when she finds out about this? If I had known that this was what was going on, I would have spoken up and told her not to go.”
“I know the truth may sometimes be uncomfortable and you don’t want to hurt Flayn’s feelings because she’s your friend,” said Byleth, “but I think it would be better to let her and Seteth sort this out themselves.”
Monica started thinking Flayn would eventually learn what her captors wanted from her, but it didn’t make her feel any better about not saying anything even with the scant information she had obtained before speaking to Hanneman. All she could think of doing was hope that Edelgard and Ferdinand’s teams completed their parts of the mission while she prepared herself for the inevitable confrontation.