Chapter 27: A Little Help from My Friends

The next Sunday morning arrived with the Blue Lions and Golden Deer still away on their missions. Monica’s late-night conversation with Edelgard had her worried that she would experience another nightmare, either about Kronya, demonic beasts, or the booming, distorted voice whose identity she couldn’t pinpoint. To her surprise, none of those figures crept into her dreams as she slept.

Monica visited the cathedral after breakfast and waited by the stairs for Flayn to arrive. She continued to wonder how many extra beds there were on the upper levels of the cathedral for Flayn, Seteth, Rhea, and the other church officials to sleep. It can’t be very comfortable for Flayn to rely on that sleeping bag night after night, she thought.

Flayn greeted Monica with a smile and a bow. “Good morning, Monica! Will you be joining the service today?” she asked.

“Yeah…I’ll come down after I visit the library,” Monica replied. “I’ve got time to kill, and I don’t want to be too far away when it starts.”

“Wonderful! Then I shall see you again within the hour.”

The two departed briefly so that Monica could spend some time looking for more information that she hoped would prepare for her next journey.

In the library, Monica saw a collection of books detailing the history of the three nations of Fódlan, as well as some smaller books about places beyond Fódlan’s borders such as Brigid, Dagda, and Almyra. While it was easy for her to read about the capital cities of Enbarr, Fhirdiad, and Deirdru, the smaller towns and villages such as Remire and Larkspur were relegated to one- or two-line mentions within the greater contexts of Adrestia and Faerghus. To her disappointment, Monica was unable to find any information at all about Saint Timotheos or his namesake village in either the travel guide section or the Books of Seiros, two of which had gone missing with no apparent attempt to replace them. Even the scholars working in the library admitted they knew very little about Timotheos or why new copies of the third and fourth volumes of the Book of Seiros had yet to be ordered.

Before her thoughts drifted toward assembling a defense team for Remire, a monk summoned Monica downstairs to the pew area to partake in the morning prayer and choir service. Loneliness set in again as none of the other Black Eagles had arrived to join her – not even Linhardt, her fellow priest-in-training.

When the service ended, Monica broke away from the small crowd of worshippers to talk to Flayn near the central altar. Flayn opened the second volume of the Book of Seiros to a page toward the back marked by a sheet of paper with the words “Study for Next Week” written on it, presumably in Rhea’s handwriting.

“What do you have there, Flayn?” asked Monica, trying to read the text upside-down.

“I have been selected to perform the reading for next week,” said Flayn, “and Lady Rhea gave me some verses to study.”

“Ooh! That sounds exciting! Have you ever done anything like that before?”

“This is my first time speaking before a large audience. Is it as difficult as giving a presentation in class?”

“It depends on the project and how much research you have to do beforehand. Here, you already have the material right in front of you, so all you have to do is project enough confidence to make your audience notice you and want to listen.”

“Then I shall begin studying at once so that I do not slip up when the time comes for me to present.”

Monica stood and watched Flayn’s finger brush back and forth across the page. She sounded out the words from the passage quietly to herself, and then read the verses two more times without saying anything to ensure she understood them. With a work ethic like that, Monica thought, Flayn could easily be a model student. Why won’t Seteth or Lady Rhea let her take any classes?

Monica snapped her fingers just as Flayn was about to start reading her verses for the fourth time. “That’s right…now I remember what I wanted to ask you,” she said. “Did Professor Hanneman ever talk to you about…whatever it was he discussed with your brother?”

Flayn closed her book and shook her head. “He did not,” she replied.

“I see…” Monica was tempted to tell Flayn everything she knew about her investigation, as she felt Flayn deserved to know things that Seteth and Hanneman weren’t telling her. She considered the possibility that they didn’t have anything to say because they still needed more time and evidence. There were other things she wanted to know that were beyond the scope of her mission, such as why the Death Knight kidnapped Flayn in the first place, who ordered him to do it, or if he was part of the same group as Myson and Kronya. Her primary concern for the moment was finding enough people who weren’t battle-weary to help the rest of her class defend Remire Village while Edelgard and Ferdinand visited Larkspur. “I was just wondering because I asked for his help with something related to my mission,” she continued. “I’ll probably have to go away from the monastery again soon.”

“Not too far away this time, I hope?” asked Flayn, forcing herself to smile.

“I don’t think so. I’ll be going to Remire Village. I’ve never been there before, so I don’t know what to expect.”

“I have never visited Remire myself, either.”

Monica didn’t know how long the journey would take, but she was certain she wouldn’t benefit from a merchant caravan driver in a hurry to complete his route on schedule. Another few laps around the campus were in order to ensure she’d have enough stamina to make the trip on foot, if necessary.

Monica also wanted Flayn to accompany her to Remire, but she knew it wasn’t her decision to make. She would first have to ask Byleth, who would then require Seteth’s approval and assurance that no further harm would befall Flayn. If Edelgard and Byleth’s suspicion of an imminent monster attack was correct, then it was likely that Flayn would be targeted again if any of the enemy forces recognized her.

“Maybe we’ll both get to see it one day,” she said. Such a noncommittal answer was all she had to offer at that point. “I hope we can resolve this mess within the week so I don’t miss out on your presentation next Sunday. Everyone else should be back by then, so you should have a bigger – and hopefully still receptive – audience.”

“I shall look forward to it,” said Flayn. “May the goddess watch over you on your journey…again.”

Monica spent the rest of the day and the moments immediately following Byleth’s Monday lecture patrolling the academy grounds. She took solace in the fact that there were no immediate threats in the area with the increased presence of the Knights of Seiros. With every step she took, she felt herself getting closer to matching Petra’s stamina.

After two laps around the academy perimeter, using the bridge as the starting and finishing line, Monica went to the dining hall to grab a fish platter for lunch. She sat down next to Byleth at one of the tables near the entrance hall, where she was talking to a few of the soldiers watching over the entrance hall. “I didn’t know you could learn magic like that in school,” she said to one of them. “Not even in a place like Fhirdiad.”

“I’m surprised anyone could see through fog that thick without a torch,” the soldier replied. “At least they had the captain with them the whole time for extra protection.”

Monica was ready to excuse herself from a conversation she had just wandered into. Without any knowledge of what was said beforehand, she could only figure out that it had something to do with Catherine.

“Monica! Where are you going?” asked Byleth, whipping around to catch Monica standing up from her chair with a forkful of fish in her mouth.

“Sorry, Professor…I didn’t mean to interrupt your conversation,” said Monica.

“It’s okay. You’re not interrupting anything.”

Monica swallowed the fish and sat back down. “Oh. Um…would you like some of this fish? It’s delicious.”

“No thanks. I’ve already eaten. I’m sure that wasn’t the only reason you came to see me…am I right?”

Monica shook her head. “Well, I was thinking about Remire Village. You and Edelgard sound like you know that place well. What’s it like?”

“Let’s see…most of the people are friendly, and the food and the scenery are quite nice,” said Byleth. “However, there doesn’t seem to be much else to do there if you’re coming from out of town, like Captain Jeralt and I were. The most excitement I got while I was in Remire was fighting a group of bandits that tried to attack Edelgard, Dimitri, and Claude.”

“So, I guess this means I should take a book or some cards with me so I don’t get bored on duty, huh?”

“It wouldn’t hurt.”

Byleth took her plate of mostly-eaten steamed vegetables and passed it to one of the kitchen helpers for cleaning. When the one o’clock bell rang, most of the customers dispersed, leaving plenty of room for Monica and Byleth to walk out toward the pier without bumping into anyone. Monica noticed small droplets of rain forming in the water as they walked past. The sky was only partially cloudy and the sun was still visible, leaving her confused as to which way the weather was going to turn.

“Edelgard told me that she and Ferdinand plan on leaving on Wednesday,” said Byleth as she guided Monica toward the general goods stall in the market, “so that’s when we’ll head out, as well. However, I have some things I need to take care of outside the monastery, so I’ve assigned a substitute teacher for tomorrow’s lesson.”

After waiting for her teacher to purchase a bundle of torches, Monica saw the opportunity to buy an umbrella for herself – a simple brown one that didn’t clash with her hair or her outfit. “Who is it?” she asked. “Professor Manuela? Professor Hanneman?”

“Neither. You’ll all be studying under Captain Jeralt for the day. He’ll also join us for the Remire mission.”

I’d bet if Leonie knew Captain Jeralt was going to be a part of this, she’d beg to stay here instead of going to the Eastern Church, Monica thought. Her own eyes lit up at the prospect. She figured that even if Jeralt felt out of his element as an instructor, he would still have plenty of exciting stories to tell about his mercenary days.

The drizzle had stopped when Monica reached her dorm room. She didn’t bother drying off her new umbrella, which had barely absorbed enough rain to be considered “wet”.

“Professor…may I make a suggestion?” she asked.

“I’m listening,” said Byleth.

“We’re going to be down two people for this part of the mission, so would it be okay if we got a couple of people from outside our class to help out?”

“That depends. Who were you thinking of asking?”

Monica leaned her umbrella against her front bedpost and quickly shut the door to prevent Byleth from noticing how she had forgotten to tidy her bed before breakfast. “It’s a shame the Knights of Seiros are stretched so thin. Otherwise, we could ‘borrow’ their services for a day or two.”

“Yes…and Captain Catherine is going to be staying here, too. Someone needs to be around to give the orders, after all.”

“How about Connie – um, Constance? She helped us drive off that giant wolf before, so I think she’d be a great help to us again. This way, she’ll be with us the whole time instead of having to search for us with a bunch of monsters running around.”

Byleth nodded. “Very well…she can come with us. The next time you see Constance, ask her to come to my office on the second floor of the cathedral after dinner. I should be finished by then.”

“Will do.” Monica quivered with giddiness, but this time it only took her a few seconds for her to calm down. “Can Flayn come with us, too?”

Byleth squeezed her eyes closed for a second, looking as if she had swallowed something unsavory. “Excuse me?”

Monica knew she only had one chance to make her case for allowing Flayn to travel with them, but Byleth’s first reaction to her suggestion didn’t fill her with hope. “I understand how risky our mission is, and I’m not asking Flayn to fight along with us if she doesn’t want to,” she said as she looked at her teacher, whose eyes carefully and subtly followed hers as she spoke. “We have plenty of experienced fighters in our class. What we need more than anything is someone who can help keep the villagers calm when the fighting starts, and I can’t think of anyone else better for that job. You saw how many people came out for that fishing tournament… Plus, something tells me we’ll need more than two healers when we get there. I hope I’m wrong about that part.”

“I don’t know how well Flayn’s popularity and amiability will carry outside the monastery,” said Byleth, “but I’ll consider it. Just remember that as your teacher, I’m ultimately responsible for everyone’s safety, and that includes Flayn and Constance.”

“I understand, Professor. I promise that I won’t let anything bad happen to either of them.”

Monica found at least one advantage to having the campus to herself – she could do her homework outside in the garden without worrying about being disturbed. After cleaning her room and taking another look at the scrap of paper she left by her bed, she spent the afternoon writing an essay on the War of the Eagle and Lion that inspired the Officers Academy’s annual large-scale mock battle, occasionally looking up at the clouds to see if it would start raining again. Her essay had taken up the full page of the paper she was writing on, but she still didn’t feel like it went into enough detail. She went back to her room for another sheet of paper and decided to stay there to continue working on it. Two hours of revisions for clarity had only produced two sentences’ worth of new material and left Monica with an empty inkwell. She was saved from further struggles with writer’s block by a timely knock on her door.

“Connie? Is that you?” she asked.

“The one and only!” Monica guessed from Constance’s melodic tone that it was getting close to sundown. She had worked through her normal dinner period without realizing it. That trip to the sauna looked more appealing every minute. “Are you ready to go, Monica?” asked Constance.

“Uh…yeah! Just a minute…”

Monica took her alternate uniform and a pair of towels from her wardrobe and greeted Constance at the door. When she reached out to hold Constance’s right hand, she felt a jolt of electricity surge through her. Constance noticed what was happening and quickly released her grip, frantically wiping it into one of the towels tucked under her left arm.

“What…was that?” asked Monica, unable to lower her voice below a shout.

“I, um…I was practicing a new spell,” Constance explained with a mixture of surprise and regret, “and it appears that I have not yet mastered the proper energy control techniques for it. Please accept my deepest apologies, dear Monica. I did not intend to harm you in any way!”

Monica realized that she had just become an unwitting test subject for one of Constance’s “personal projects”. She waited for a moment before reaching for Constance’s hand again. “I-It’s fine. I’ll be fine. I guess I didn’t expect to receive such an…electric welcome.”

Constance was also aware of the potential danger, and so she spent a minute airing her towel out to discharge the excess magical energy before proceeding. “What have you been up to lately?” she asked. “This place is a lot quieter than usual. Where are Mercedes, Lady Edelgard, and the others?”

“Most of the other students are investigating some suspicious activity off-site,” said Monica. “My class just got back from dealing with a group of black-robed soldiers not too far from here. A few of them got away, and we’re worried that they might attack again, so we’ll be leaving in a few days to guard a village where we think they’ll strike next.”

“Life at the Officers Academy is certainly eventful, if nothing else. I don’t remember having to deal with this much trouble in Fhirdiad’s magic school. Transitioning from studying magic symbols and spells to using them on the battlefield against live targets was quite the sho—er, surprise when I went on my first academy mission.”

“I know what you mean. It’s not exactly one of the first memories you’d expect – or want, really – from a new school.”

After they entered the sauna, the two girls changed their clothes and sat on the rear bench where fewer people would pay attention to them. Even though no one had added any stones to regulate the temperature, Monica felt hotter than she did after sitting down for the same length of time as her last visit.

Slowly, quietly, Monica reached out for Constance’s non-magically charged left hand and rested her right hand on top of it. Constance noticed and slid out from under Monica’s grip, only to grab her hand, turn it over, and link their fingers together. They glanced and smiled at each other for a moment, just as they had on the night they shared their first kiss. Monica was pulled out of her trance by the realization that it was too soon for her to just lean in a few inches closer for their second – even if everyone in the room simultaneously decided to leave them alone and go on to do other things.

They both got up from the bench and unlinked their hands as they went to clean themselves off. The heat from the sauna had turned both girls’ complexions a bold shade of pink. It was less noticeable in Constance, who had changed out of her gray dress into a plain pink one that bore little resemblance to her academy-styled uniform. Monica was eager to step outside and try to cool off before her skin turned the same shade of red as her hair.

“Wow! That sauna sure was…something tonight,” said Monica as she and Constance walked down the steps leading to the sauna.

“Yes, indeed,” said Constance. “Suffice it to say that I did not expect the room to get that hot that quickly. As far as I can tell, it was not that hot when I went in with Mercedes…”

“You don’t suppose some other heat source might be to blame, do you?”

Monica quickly covered her mouth when she realized what she was implying. Cheesy pick-up lines like that were more Sylvain’s style, according to Ingrid and Felix. She couldn’t tell whether Constance’s stunned reaction was from genuine surprise or if she was still playing along. Either way, Monica thought it was cute, and she thought Constance looked just as cute in the new dress she was wearing.

“T-that is definitely a possibility…”

Their attention was drawn to the training arena doors behind them when they heard a loud rumble of thunder that surprised the guard standing watch. Monica looked up at the sky and saw no indication of a thunderstorm approaching. A bright flash of light from behind the door preceded another rumble, prompting Monica and Constance to jump, as well.

“What in the world was that?!” Monica shrieked.

“Captain Catherine and Professor Byleth are having a duel,” said the guard. “They asked us not to let anyone in until they were finished.”

“They’re dueling? With real weapons? Or magic? What if one of them gets seriously hurt?”

Monica didn’t doubt Byleth’s swordsmanship skills. The Sword of the Creator was unlike any weapon she had ever seen, yet Byleth was able to wield it with no trouble and make it do things ordinary weapons weren’t supposed to do. Monica didn’t see the point of training with that or with Thunderbrand – the most likely source of the localized lightning flash – when there was an abundance of wooden training weapons available in the arena.

Catherine pushed her way through the left arena door with her shoulder, and Byleth slipped through the opening to rest against one of the nearby walls. Both were panting heavily and holding their respective Hero’s Relics unsheathed, confirming Monica’s suspicion.

“Professor! Captain! Are you two okay?” asked Monica, who noticed several dents in Catherine’s armor and tears in Byleth’s jacket. She couldn’t get close enough to see whether or not either of them was injured.

“We’re fine,” said Byleth. “Catherine was curious about how my sword worked, so I decided to show her.”

“Are you not worried about your weapons breaking after such a rigorous demonstration?” asked Constance.

“It’s not that big a deal,” said Catherine. “Compared to all the practice weapons in there, these swords are damn near indestructible. Trust me…we checked.”

Monica looked at the knight-captain’s damaged armor once more and decided it was best to take her word for it. Byleth looked at her torn jacket, frowned, and tucked it under her left arm until she had time to find someone to sew it back together. “Constance, would you come to my office, please?” she asked.

“Er…all right,” said Constance, who glanced at Monica before turning back toward Byleth. “Could you excuse us for a moment?”

Constance nudged Monica in the arm and grabbed her right sleeve, guiding her back outside her dorm room. They were unable to stay completely hidden from view with Monica’s head poking out of the side walls.

“Monica…what exactly did you tell your professor about me that she wishes to see me in her office?” asked Constance.

“Only good things, I promise!” Monica pleaded. “I was actually going to walk you over there once our date was over. I didn’t expect her to come out this early.”

“I guess this makes things more convenient then, doesn’t it? It is a shame that we must cut this outing short.”

“I know…” Monica looked down at Constance’s hands and noticed that unlike hers, they had regained their natural color. They were soft and tingly to the touch, as well. “Listen, Connie…the next time we go out, let me buy you dinner,” she said. “I’ll even cook dinner for you if they’ll allow me to do it…you know, to repay you for that delicious tea.”

“I would not think of asking you to go that far for my approval, Monica,” said Constance. “We can discuss this further when next we meet. For now, I shall go and see what your professor wants.”

“Will you be all right going home by yourself? It’ll be dark by the time you get finished.”

“I will be fine. I find that I am much more comfortable navigating the streets at night than I am in the daytime.”

“All right. Take care of yourself, okay?”

Monica hugged Constance and kissed her on the right cheek. She didn’t feel that she had earned the right to a full mouth-to-mouth kiss like the one she got at Constance’s house. When Constance gave her a kiss on the cheek and a quick back rub, she noticed that none of the other students were watching them, so she could have sneaked one in if she wanted to. I shouldn’t get too pushy, she thought. There’ll be other opportunities.

Constance, worried that Byleth or Catherine would look around and ask what was taking so long, let go of Monica and went back toward the doors to the training grounds, once again promising that she would be okay walking home. Monica went back into her room and sat at her desk, propping her head up with her hands and sighing nervously to no one in particular. She hoped she was doing the right thing by inviting Flayn and Constance to fill in for Edelgard and Ferdinand, and that she’d be able to protect them if they got in trouble – or better yet, that they wouldn’t need protection to begin with.

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