On Wednesday and Thursday, Monica spent her time after class refining her sword technique once the training grounds had been deemed safe for use. Many students had waited for the arena to reopen, most of all Dimitri, Felix, and Ingrid, who were all due to travel to Ailell in a few days and wanted to get in as much practice as possible before heading out.
Felix kept his distance from Dimitri most of the time, only choosing to engage him when he was ready to duel. Even though they were only using wooden swords, they fought with the intensity of a real duel. Dimitri aimed most of his strikes with the intent to disarm Felix, while Felix was focused on trying to get a clean hit on Dimitri. There were several close calls between the two Blue Lions, with Dimitri striking Felix on his right wrist and Felix hitting Dimitri with a slash across the chest that caused him to stumble, but the decisive blow came when Dimitri caught another attack from Felix and pushed back against his sword hard enough to knock it out of his hand and send it skidding along the ground. “Looks like I win this time, Felix,” said Dimitri.
Felix picked up his dropped sword and tossed it into a trash bucket by the entrance. The jagged crack near the tip of the blade rendered it useless as a weapon, so he drew a fresh pair of swords from the bucket next to the box and lobbed one in Monica’s direction. “Your turn, Monica,” he said. “Let’s see what you’re made of.”
Monica reached out to catch the blade in midair between her hands, mindful that doing the same with a real sword would have sliced deep into her palm. After watching Felix fight Dimitri, she was confident that she would do better against him than she did in her first encounter.
Monica gripped the sword in her right hand and tried to bait Felix into attacking first. As soon as he saw her step forward, he took a defensive stance and beckoned for her to attack. She couldn’t tell which direction he was going to block, so she feinted low and followed up with a sideways slash when she normally would have gone high.
“That one almost hit me,” said Felix as he knocked her sword away.
Anticipating a counterattack, Monica stepped back and raised her sword to block a swing that almost hit her in the face. Felix’s reflexes had improved since their first duel. She wouldn’t be able to overpower him like Dimitri did, so she tried to use his own speed against him by dodging his attacks and forcing him to miss to give herself room to strike back. Felix sought to disrupt Monica’s strategy by striking her legs, lunging and swinging just low enough to prevent her from blocking or jumping out of the way. Monica stood her ground and tried to block Felix’s attacks, but his quick assault left few openings for her to exploit aside from a few hits to the midsection. When she attempted to hit him with an upward slice, Felix parried the attack and hit her before she could fully lift her sword. “I think that’s enough for now.”
“Come on,” said Monica. “I can still go for another minute or—”
The soreness in her arms and legs became unbearable, and her practice sword slipped out of her fingers.
“Or I could go to Professor Manuela’s office and get patched up,” she admitted.
“You still have a ways to go before you can beat me,” said Felix, “but you’ve got guts, I’ll give you that. Try to keep them inside you.”
“I think what Felix is trying to say,” said Dimitri, “is that you put up a good fight. It might be a good idea for all of us to call it a day before someone gets seriously hurt.”
Felix turned his back to Dimitri again. “I think she got the picture. I don’t need a translator.”
Monica thought she was strong enough to walk out under her own power, but she chose to let Ingrid carry her to the gates of the cathedral so she wouldn’t fall off the bridge. “What was up with Felix?” she asked. “He sounded mad at Dimitri.”
“It’s been like that ever since the school year started,” said Ingrid. “You might not be able to tell from Felix’s attitude, but he and Dimitri used to be really good friends until two years ago. Everything soured between them after they came home from a mission in western Faehrgus. Felix says he saw ‘madness’ in Dimitri’s eyes that day, and now he tells anyone who’ll listen that Dimitri’s only pretending to be nice to hide the fact that he’s really a bloodthirsty killer. Can you believe that?”
“I don’t know. I wouldn’t be able to tell you without being there myself.”
“I know what you mean. For his part, His Highness admits that he went overboard when dealing with those rebels. Sometimes I wish I had been there to see what Felix claims to have caused Dimitri to snap the way he did.”
“Would you try to rein him in?”
Ingrid sighed as she let go of Monica and helped her up the stairs to the infirmary. “Maybe. As the future king of Faehrgus, he gets put under a lot of pressure to act in a manner befitting of his station. He’s also my friend, and I want what’s best for him as much as I want what’s best for my kingdom.”
“I can only imagine the craziness that Edelgard used to have to deal with before coming to the academy,” said Monica.
After two students left the infirmary wincing and puckering their lips, the first thing Monica did was sit in one of the chairs behind the bed to wait for Manuela to tend to her.
“Professor Manuela! Could you take a look at Monica for a moment?” asked Ingrid. “I think she might be hurt, and I don’t know any healing magic.”
“Thank you for bringing her to me, Ingrid,” said Manuela. “Did you also take some time to complete the reading I assigned to you yesterday?”
“I did. I’ve almost finished my report, and I’ll have it ready for tomorrow.”
“Very good. I look forward to seeing you in class.”
A moment after Ingrid left to return to her room, Manuela closed the door to give Monica some privacy while she guided her to the bed. “How are you feeling, dear?” she asked.
“Things got a little intense over at the training grounds,” said Monica, “and now I’m really sore.”
“Any bruises or cuts or anything?”
“I don’t think so… No new ones, anyway.”
“May I take a look?”
Monica reluctantly lifted her right arm to show to Manuela, rolling up the sleeve to reveal some of the scars she received during her time in confinement. Even after she escaped, she still couldn’t stand to look at them. “Don’t get the wrong idea,” she said. “I’ve had these for a while now.”
Manuela looked at the scars from the stab wounds on Monica’s left arm and tried not to recoil from shock. “I feel awful for you and Flayn. She said she had been stabbed a lot when she was captured, too. The funny thing is that when the nurses managed to talk Seteth into letting them examine her, they didn’t find any physical evidence of scarring…especially not to the extent that I’m seeing in you.”
“I remember Flayn telling me that it didn’t take as long to recover from her injuries,” said Monica, “but she still sounded quite shaken up.”
“In my experience as a healer, I’ve found that it’s much easier for me to treat physical wounds than psychological ones. Those can stick with you for a long time.”
Manuela went to her medicine cabinet and poured out a tablespoon of a copper-colored liquid, which Monica tried to consume in one gulp. For all she knew, the vulnerary also tasted like copper going down. The students that came in before her must have been fed the same thing. “This should help with your soreness,” said Manuela. “Take a rest for an hour of two and give that medicine some time to do its thing.”
“Will do. Thanks, Professor Manuela,” said Monica. “I’ll see you later.”
Monica no longer felt the need to cling to the walls to leave the cathedral and walk back to her room. She was glad to have given Felix a better fight than when she first returned to the academy, but she didn’t feel ready for another rematch until she got better at fighting without her shield. Until then, she decided to take Manuela’s advice and rest with a good book and a glass of apple juice.
Edelgard stood by the fountain at the town’s main intersection, watching the water trickle from top to bottom and wondering how it was able to sustain itself without any additional input. Hubert, who had just finished scouting the area to make sure no knights were nearby, turned to her and huffed in frustration. “This is getting us nowhere, Lady Edelgard,” he said. “We’ve visited almost a dozen houses in the past two hours and we’ve yet to obtain any new or useful information on the assailants from last month. Might I propose a different approach?”
“I’m listening, Hubert,” said Edelgard.
“So far, we’ve only spoken to people who were in town during the demonic beast attack. Most of them are either still repairing their property or mourning their dead. I believe it makes more sense to seek out those who were fighting on the front lines to give us a better chance to identify the attackers.”
“That would obviously rule out any of the Black Eagles, because we all had to respond to the alarm bells that day, and our teacher was in a meeting with the professors in the monastery.”
“Correct. You may recall that we were joined mid-battle by a young mage with a connection to one of our own.”
“You’re talking about Constance, right?”
Hubert nodded, and Edelgard wondered if he knew as much about Constance’s “connection” to Monica as she did. “I, for one, want to know what she was doing before the attack,” he said. “Considering how easily she found us, she must still be near.”
“Let’s wait until Dorothea returns before we continue,” said Edelgard.
Dorothea walked in from the south, sitting down by the rim of the fountain. “Edie! Hubie! I’m back!”
“Have you heard or seen anything from Ferdinand’s team?” asked Hubert.
“I saw Ferdie and the others heading west,” said Dorothea. “It looked like they were heading toward a forest or something.”
Hubert chuckled. “How interesting… Thank you for that information, Dorothea.”
Edelgard called Hubert and Dorothea over to the west side of the fountain. While there was no guarantee that anyone in the nearby houses wouldn’t listen in on them, the cascading water provided a soothing backdrop for their conversation to help them appear less suspicious or intimidating. “Hubert and I want to find out if Constance can tell us anything about the attack,” she said. “I suggest we search the houses closest to the outer edge of town…preferably somewhere with a lot of trees.”
“Why trees, Edie?” asked Dorothea.
“You’ll find out soon.”
Together, they walked back toward the scene of their big battle, looking at houses near the forested section of town. After asking around some more, they found their way to a house underneath one of the largest oak trees. Edelgard, certain that Constance would be at home, knocked on the door and awaited an answer.
“It’s Edelgard von Hresvelg from the Officers Academy. Does Constance von Nuvelle live here?”
“Lady Edelgard?! I was not expecting company today, so please allow me a moment to tidy up.”
“There will be no need for that,” said Hubert. “We would like to ask you some questions, Constance, and time is of the essence. If you would just step outside for a moment, we can—”
Before Hubert could finish his request, Constance pulled her door open, but chose not to step out any further than she needed to. “No, no, that’ll be quite alright. Please, come in.”
Dorothea looked at Edelgard and shrugged as she realized why the princess wanted them to search for houses covered by trees. Hubert wrote down a note regarding Constance’s reluctance to go outside as she led the trio to the table in the center of the room. One of Constance’s advanced magic theory books lied face-down on the tablecloth, and she put it back on the bookshelf before inviting them to sit down. “May I offer any of you a snack?” she asked.
“No, thank you,” said Edelgard. “We’ve already eaten.”
There was only enough room at the table for Constance and one guest to sit down, so they agreed to only allow whoever was asking questions to sit in the guest chair. Edelgard sat down first, with Hubert looking over her right shoulder and Dorothea looking over her left.
“Constance,” said Edelgard, “I ask that you please answer our questions as honestly as you possibly can. Let’s start with this one: did you hear the church’s alarm bells sounding when the monsters attacked?”
“I might have,” Constance replied. “This house is so far away from the monastery that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish the standard hourly chimes from alarm bells.”
“I see. How did you know to respond to the attack?”
“From all the screaming, of course. A few of the Knights of Seiros were yelling for everyone to stay inside their homes when the first pack of wolves showed up.”
“Did you comply with the order?”
“Yes, I did…at first, but then I reconsidered when more of the monsters closed in.” Constance looked around the room and pointed to the windows in front of her and to her right. Edelgard and Hubert noticed that the curtains to both windows were closed despite it still being in the middle of the afternoon. “Had any of those brutes broken through the windows or that door, I would be almost completely at their mercy. There is barely enough room in this house for me to fight off anything with a sword, much less my magic.”
“You still went outside despite the danger?” Edelgard tried to phrase her question carefully to avoid directly bringing up Constance’s distaste for sunlight.
“I was left with no other option. I could not simply sit around and hide while the townsfolk were in danger! After assessing the situation and casting aside my doubts, I left my home in search of someone to assist.”
“Was that around the time you noticed our class?” asked Dorothea as she switched places with Edelgard.
“Not quite. I had been helping some of the knights fight a pack of wolves in another part of town earlier. Trust me when I say that it was more harrowing than it looked.”
“How did you know to find us? It was pretty chaotic out there.”
“I initially assumed that those wolves were the end of it all, but then I heard the most frightful howling noise. That was when I noticed Monica and Lady Edelgard battling that giant monster and decided to offer my assistance. I assumed that if that beast was defeated, it would stop any new ones from appearing.”
“Did you see anything else unusual before or during the battle?”
“No, not at all. As if the sudden appearance of wild wolves and winged creatures wasn’t strange enough… Any other fiend would have stuck out even further. I highly doubt that anyone wanting to take advantage of the chaos would have been so sloppy as to publicly announce their presence.”
Hubert leaned over to Edelgard and whispered in her ear. “Lady Edelgard, may I see you outside for a moment?”
Edelgard nodded and quietly followed Hubert outside, standing a few feet away from the large oak tree so that neither Dorothea nor Constance could overhear them. “What is it, Hubert?” she asked.
“Do you not find it strange?” Hubert asked back. “A sudden influx of monsters, one almost the size of the house, and not another soul on the battlefield to be found, except for us and the Knights of Seiros.”
“It is quite unusual. Wolves that size don’t come naturally.”
“Nor do they attack towns with the sheer numbers that these ones did. The largest one might have done so alone, but it would have taken someone with a lot of magical power to guide that many at once.”
Hubert took a quick look back toward Constance’s house to verify that the curtains were still closed. “The timing of Constance’s arrival on the scene is another point of concern,” he added. “How far away would she have been to find us only when we were fighting the beasts’ leader?”
“There were more monsters out there than the ones we fought,” said Edelgard. “It’s unfortunate, but a few of those wolves got away from us. They’re probably not the ones Constance said she fought considering how close she lives to the town limits.”
“I’d like to find out what sort of magic she appears to be studying. She would be better served putting such talents toward a higher purpose than hiding in the shadows, stewing away in a secluded corner of town.”
When Edelgard and Hubert returned to the house, Constance was the only one sitting at the table as Dorothea had gone into the washroom to fix her hair.
“She’s all yours, Hubie,” said Dorothea, humming to herself as she brushed the last strands of her hair and put her hat back on. Constance sang a similar wordless tune to herself but quieted down as soon as Hubert took his seat.
“You seem to be in high spirits, Constance,” said Hubert. The lack of a smile on his face did not deter Constance from smiling.
“Dorothea and I were having a lively discussion on magic and music,” said Constance. “I really must partake in this opera house of hers one day.”
“That will have to wait for another time. Let us get back to the discussion at hand. We have reason to believe that magic was involved in the demonic beast invasion. You have a wide selection of magic tomes on your bookshelf…and quite complicated ones at that.”
“I believe it is always important to keep one’s skills sharp. The School of Sorcery has taught me much, but I must continue to refine and enhance my spellcrafting if House Nuvelle is to one day take its place among the great noble houses of Fódlan! This, of course, includes studying varied magic-related topics.”
“Would any of those topics include instructions on summoning monsters and setting them loose on ‘soft targets’ such as towns or villages?”
“No!” said Constance, frowning and scowling at Hubert. “Such pointless cruelty is unbefitting of a mage of my caliber!”
Hubert, unfazed by Constance’s sharp response, glared back at her. “Is that so? There is a tendency for those who seek power to abuse it for their own ends. How can I be sure you will not fall into that same trap?”
“Power for its own sake holds no appeal to me. I know the fleeting nature of power as well as anyone. While my primary objective is to rebuild my house, if I am not able to share the fruits of my magical knowledge for the benefit of the people, then all my years of studying will have been for naught!”
Constance started to calm down, believing she had proven her innocence to Hubert, who continued to fill his notepad with short notes from their interview until he had one-and-a-half pages of material. “I have no further questions,” he said. “Dorothea? Lady Edelgard?”
Both girls shook their heads.
“I think we should have enough information to go on,” said Edelgard. “Thank you, Constance. You were a great help.”
Constance suppressed a grimace as she tried to figure out how a visit from Edelgard took such a weird turn. “Glad to be of service…”
As Edelgard and her friends left Constance’s house to return to the monastery, Dorothea looked at Hubert and held her right palm out as if she was going to slap him in the head. “Really, Hubie? Did you really just accuse Constance of planning the attack? Even after she helped us defeat that big demonic beast?”
“It was not a direct accusation,” said Hubert. “I merely examined the evidence at my disposal and that lead brought me to her. With no clear culprit, no one is above suspicion, not even our allies.”
Dorothea brought her hand down and relaxed. “That’s a dour way of looking at things, Hubie. Does any of your ‘evidence’ point to Constance as one of the perpetrators?”
“No…no, it doesn’t.”
“I didn’t think so.”
“Constance may no longer be a student of the Officers Academy,” said Edelgard, “but it would be unwise for us to ignore her potential. You agree with that much, don’t you, Hubert?”
“That is why I believe we should exercise caution when seeking her aid,” said Hubert. “Someone with that much passion for magic must not be allowed to fall into the hands of our enemies. We must also be assured that her strengths outweigh her weaknesses and other…eccentricities. Did you notice how Constance was reluctant to step outside to greet us? Or how she kept her curtains tightly shut even before we arrived?”
“I’d normally attribute it to shyness, but she was more than happy to talk to us once we were all indoors. It was the same on the day of the monster invasion – she was very grumpy when we were fighting outside together, but she felt more comfortable once we returned to the monastery.”
“The Constance we spoke to just a few minutes ago seems far removed from the one who joined us in the monster attack. One has to wonder why sunlight seems to bring that side out of her.”
Edelgard led everyone through the main hall, walking past the knights and monks as quickly as possible to avoid interrupting their work. “I’ll go on ahead and report our findings to the Professor,” she said.
“Somehow I don’t feel like we got much out of our little trip,” said Dorothea.
“We may not have received any definitive answers from Constance, but we did learn something that might help us. Even though she says there was no one on the scene when the monsters attacked, the culprit had to have hidden somewhere nearby to direct the demonic beast to attack the town. Ferdinand’s team might find their hiding place in pursuit of the beasts’ tracks.”
“Let’s hope they don’t run into any ambushes…”
Before going into the cathedral to visit Byleth’s office, Edelgard asked to borrow Hubert’s notes to make sure they matched up with the questions she and Dorothea asked. While Hubert did not hand over his whole notebook, he tore out the two pages he wrote on and allowed Edelgard to borrow them as long as she returned the papers to him immediately after she was finished. His instincts compelled him to follow her, but he chose to hold off their discussion until later and return to his room to finish his homework for Friday’s class. Dorothea, who didn’t have any assignments to complete for Friday, went back to her room to take a nap.
Between her time recovering and eating meals in the dining hall, Monica had written two letters – one to Baron Ochs and another to Constance – and sealed them in envelopes ready to be mailed out. She felt well enough to go outside after a dose of Manuela’s medicine made her aches and pains go away. There wasn’t much time for her to reach the courier before the last delivery of the day, so she raced to the market as fast as she could to beat the seven-o’clock bell. When she handed her letter to the courier as he emptied the mailbox to fill his bag, Dorothea walked by, stomping her feet and balling up her fists. Monica looked over her shoulder and decided to approach cautiously. “Dorothea? What’s the matter?”
“Another day, another disastrous date, that’s what!” Dorothea grumbled.
“How bad was it?”
Dorothea pulled Monica off to the side and away from the guards standing watch at the main hall entrance. “Okay, so maybe ‘disastrous’ is a bit strong. It got your attention, though, didn’t it? Anyway, it started out fine enough. I was having dinner with this guy…says he’s the son of a minor lord near Caspar’s territory and likes playing the harp in his spare time. So far, so good… He likes music, I like music…I thought we were on the verge of developing a connection.”
“That doesn’t sound too bad,” said Monica, wondering when the ‘disaster’ part would kick in. “What happened next?”
“Well, all throughout our date, I thought I could hear laughter in the background and rustling behind the bushes. I’m looking around, wondering if someone was going to jump out and attack us. It turns out that he had brought his friends along with him just so he could brag to them about going out with me. He wasn’t interested in me at all!”
“If his father’s anything like him or his friends, then it’s definitely not worth it. I’m glad you made it out of there with your dignity intact.”
Dorothea and Monica walked over to the greenhouse, with Dorothea hoping that admiring its large collection of flowers would help her take her mind off her unfortunate date. “So, Monica…were you about to head out on a date, too?” she asked.
“Not tonight,” said Monica. “I just went to drop off some letters for my father and for Connie.”
“You know, I talked to Constance earlier today. She sounded like she could use a pick-me-up.”
“Why? Did something happen? Connie’s not hurt, is she?”
“No, she’s not injured or anything. We wanted to get some information about last month’s incident, and Hubie thought she might have had something to do with it.”
Monica wanted to follow Dorothea’s example and stomp toward Hubert’s room to yell at him, but the most she could do without making a scene was take a few quick deep breaths to keep her anger from boiling over. She had only met Constance a week after joining the Black Eagles but had no reason to suspect her of being a traitor.
“I hope she’s not upset at us for asking those questions,” said Dorothea. “Maybe once she hears from you, she might cheer up a bit.”
“I hope so, too.” Monica walked out of the greenhouse clutching her head. Suddenly, she felt like she needed another pick-me-up.