Chapter 33: Divergent Paths

Things had gone back to something resembling normal at the academy once the students from Dimitri’s and Claude’s houses returned to the monastery. If any of them was exhausted from their journeys, it was hard for Monica to tell simply by looking at them.

After eating breakfast on Sunday morning, Monica stopped by the market to replenish her inkwell, realizing that her homework wouldn’t write itself. On her way back to the dorm area, a knight stopped her at the greenhouse to hand her a letter from her father. She thought of reading it in front of him, but there was nowhere to rest her new inkwell without someone knocking it over and spilling it on the grass. The safest thing she could think of doing was to take both into her room so she could write a quick response afterward.

Dear Monica,

I hope everyone at the academy is treating you well this time around. Your mother and I are coming to visit the monastery in two weeks’ time, just as originally planned. While I am looking forward to seeing Ingrid, Leonie, and Princess Edelgard again, I am very interested in meeting this new teacher of yours – Miss Eisner, I believe you said her name was – in person. With a background like hers, she must have a unique method of instruction. Please give my regards to Seteth, as well.

We look forward to seeing you soon.

Love always,

Nick (and Viola)

Monica was excited to receive letters directly from her parents again. She wondered how often the other students received letters from their families. Being separated for the better part of a year had to be stressful for both sides. It only made sense to her for those parents who were capable of taking time out of their busy schedules to send a letter or a care package or something to their children.

After putting the baron’s letter aside, Monica began writing, using a little bit of ink at a time to lessen any chance of it smearing all over the page.

Dear Father and Mother,

My new teacher and classmates are great! I’ve learned so much from them. We’ve been on a couple of missions together, and we’ve helped keep each other safe. I even met this charming young lady at the market one day, and she helped us out, as well. I’d love to introduce you to her. I’m thinking of asking her out to the ball next month. I hope she accepts.

How is everything back at home? I’m sorry I couldn’t stay in Drachen longer than I did last time. Next time I come to visit, I’ll travel with some company – well-armed company – in case we encounter any more “accidents”. I miss the old castle a lot, though. I wonder what Miss Stefanie and Miss Doris are up to these days…

That’s all for now. I can’t wait to see you both again!



P.S. I don’t know if this is in our authority to do so, but do you think you can visit Remire and see if they need any extra help? The village is in very bad shape after the latest attack.

Monica went to look for the knight who gave her the baron’s letter, but since he had left the greenhouse area, she wound up giving it to a different knight standing by the front gate. The gatekeeper warned her that the Sunday morning service was about to start, so she walked to the cathedral as quickly as possible to find a good seat to listen to Flayn’s sermon.

Monica only noticed Annette, Mercedes, and Ignatz singing with the choir. Dorothea was nowhere to be found, and Marianne sat in the back row with her eyes closed, mumbling to herself. There were at least a dozen other attendees that she didn’t recognize, a few of whom had ridden in from Remire Village on horseback. Cyril scoured the floor for trash to pick up, only pausing his routine to sit down when Flayn recited her reading from the Book of Seiros. To Monica’s surprise, the young children in attendance remained in their seats as Flayn spoke, leaning in with their hands on their knees and listening with rapt attention. When Flayn started talking about the victims of the recent tragedies, they bowed their heads solemnly along with their parents.

“…and lastly,” said Flayn, “we ask you, goddess, to guide the souls of the lost into your gentle embrace. Watch over their loved ones and ensure that their memories live on through them. May you grant these souls a peaceful rest and carry them toward the stars.”

The attendees, including Monica, Marianne, and the choir singers, chanted along with Flayn.

After the final prayers were offered and the last song had been sung, the young boy sitting next to Cyril stood up and approached Flayn, tugging on his mother’s arm and pointing wildly. “Look, Mommy! It’s the green lady who saved us from the bad guys!” he cheered.

That boy actually saw us?

The boy’s smile stretched his puffy cheeks. As terrible as the Remire experience was, Monica thought it was nice to see someone from the village looking happy, whether or not he was pretending so he could look brave in front of everyone.

“Thank you for that touching service, Miss Flayn,” said the boy’s mother. “Our village has gone through so much, and it’s times like these that I’m reminded that no matter how hopeless things may seem at first, there is always a chance for them to improve.”

“You are quite welcome, madam,” said Flayn. “May the goddess bless you and your son on your journey back home and in the days to come.”

The boy smiled and waved to Flayn as he and his mother left the cathedral. When the other travelers had left the pew area, Cyril stood up to join Flayn and her friends by the front gate. “That was a pretty good speech you gave there, Flayn!” he said.

“Yeah! I get pretty nervous when trying to talk in front of large groups of people,” said Ignatz, “but you pulled it off wonderfully.”

“In truth, it is also my first time speaking before a large audience,” said Flayn. “I was worried that I would not have enough time to practice due to my trip.”

“As long as you did your best, that’s what counts,” said Cyril. “That’s what Lady Rhea always tells me.”

“Yeah, Flayn! You should be proud of yourself,” said Monica, holding her hand back and resisting the urge to ruffle her hair or pat her on the shoulder. “I think you did a great job. That kid and his mother looked like they were into it, too. What do you think, everyone?”

Annette and Mercedes nodded, joining Cyril, Ignatz, and Monica to praise Flayn’s speech.

The group walked across the great bridge, all bunched together to make room for others to pass. When they got halfway across, they saw Ingrid on the back of her pegasus chasing after a wyvern. Everyone waved to her, but Ingrid could only acknowledge them by nodding so that she didn’t lose her grip on the reins or get distracted in the pursuit of her quarry.

“What’s Ingrid up to?” asked Monica. “Is she racing or something?”

Annette shrugged. “I dunno. As soon as we got back from the Valley of Torment, she and Sylvain went straight for the stables.”

“Does he have his own flying mount, too?”

“Not that I know of. I’ve only ever seen Sylvain ride a black horse. It’s not as scary looking as I thought it would be, but then again, I’m not an expert on animals.”

“That reminds me…I have to go and check on the wyvern cages,” said Cyril as he darted ahead of the group. “They all need to be cleaned and fed and stuff. And then after that, I have to go check on some herb seeds I left at the greenhouse. And then I need to—”

“Cyril…don’t you think you should rest for a bit?” Mercedes pleaded. “That sounds like an awful lot for one person to take on.”

Cyril slowed down when he realized he was breathing more heavily than the others. “With so many people away from the monastery, everyone’s workload’s been piling up, including mine.”

“Why not ask one of us for help?” asked Monica. “There must be something on your list you can afford to delegate to someone else. And if Lady Rhea asks, you can tell her you took care of it.”

“Well…” Cyril reached into his bag and pulled out a sealed white envelope. “Lady Rhea wanted me to deliver a message to Catherine over in the training arena. If you want to do it, I’m not gonna stop ya.”

“Don’t worry, Cyril. I’ll get it to her.”

Cyril handed the envelope to Monica, thanked her, and walked toward the main building with his bag at his side. The others, who didn’t know where the wyvern cages were, hoped he knew where he was going without needing to ask the knights for help. While Monica inspected the official Church of Seiros seal on the envelope, she noticed that Ignatz had already separated from the group and walked westward toward the classrooms. “Hey, Ignatz! Wait for me!” she called as she ran after him.

The remaining girls looked at each other and scratched their heads. “I hope there’s nothing too bad going on,” said Annette.

“Yes…everyone has been so busy lately,” said Flayn. “We would all benefit from a moment’s respite.”

Monica followed Ignatz to the arena, unaware that he had been planning all along to go there to practice his archery. The arena was more occupied than she’d ever remembered seeing it – Catherine and Alois were each engaged in duels against two students at once. Behind them on the far side of the arena, Ignatz picked up a wooden bow and a bundle of arrows and joined Claude and Ashe in a contest to see who could hit the closest to the bulls-eye on the target in the northwest corner. Monica decided to visit Ashe first to avoid distracting Catherine while she fought.

Claude, sitting down several feet behind the foul line he had drawn in chalk, looked up at Monica and said, “Looks like a new challenger has arrived!”

“Sorry, Claude, but I think I’ll pass,” she replied as she watched Ashe’s shot hit the inner red ring of the target. “Besides, I don’t think I’d be able to hit a bull’s-eye from that far away with thirty arrows.”

“You never know how good you are at something until you try it. It took me almost a hundred arrows before I hit my first bull. Once you’ve done it for long enough, though, it comes just as easy as breathing.”

Another of Ashe’s arrows embedded itself in the thin black ring between the red and yellow circles, drawing a slow clap from Claude.

“Hmm…almost had it,” said Ashe, sounding more depressed than impressed. He walked over to the target and pulled his arrows out, and then rushed out of the way to allow Ignatz to take his turn.

Monica approached Ashe cautiously, hoping to avoid getting poked by the freshly plucked wooden arrows. “Are you Ashe?” she asked.

“Yes, I am,” he said. “How did you know? I don’t believe we’ve met.”

“Anna, the merchant lady, told me about you. I’m Monica from the Black Eagles.”

Ashe slung his bow over his chest and offered Monica a handshake. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. Did you come here to train today?”

“No, actually,” she replied. “I’m here for two reasons: I need to give this letter to Catherine—”

Monica flicked the envelope a couple of times, resisting the temptation to hold the letter up to the sun to see if Rhea’s handwriting was as elegant on the inside as it was on the outside. When she looked to her right, she saw Catherine helping up one of the students she had beaten. Monica thought she would have a free moment to deliver her message until Felix and Petra arrived and asked Catherine to moderate a duel between them.

“—and I wanted to thank you for your help,” Monica continued. She didn’t expect to see Ashe in the arena, but she figured it was best to talk to him as soon as possible before either of them forgot.

“My help? I’m not sure what you mean,” said Ashe as he watched Ignatz fire two arrows at the target, each landing on opposite sides of the inner red ring.

“Anna said you helped her dig up a weird stone she found while she was exploring. That stone wound up being an important clue in helping my house complete its mission for the month.”

“Oh! I think I remember now! Anna told me she was taking a break from her work and needed a helping hand while she left to ‘do a favor for someone’. I guess that someone must have been you.”

Monica nodded. “So, what can I give you in return? A little pocket change for the market? Some homework help, maybe?”

Ashe shook his head, ignoring the sweat that started to form on his brow. “It’s okay, really! I couldn’t possibly ask you to go out of your way to help me just for that one small deed.”

“That one small deed” may have saved hundreds of lives, she thought. Without it, we would have still been scrambling to find out where those creepy soldiers and demonic beasts were coming from.

“Are you sure?” she asked him. “If you change your mind about it, just let me know.”

Ignatz tried to shut out all the noise around him and fired his third and final shot, laughing with surprise when it hit the outer edge of the bulls-eye next to his first shot. “Wow! I actually hit it!” he said triumphantly.

“See? It’s much easier to hit a shot like that when the pressure’s off,” said Claude with a wink. “I guess I’d better take my turn before I have to go see Professor Hanneman.”

Monica saw her perfect opportunity to approach Catherine while the boys watched Claude prepare for his first shot. Even when standing still and supposedly relaxed, Monica still found Catherine’s presence intimidating.

“Hey there, Monica,” said the knight-captain. “I hear you and your class helped repel another monster attack. “I was worried that you’d have trouble adjusting to getting thrust into a mission like that so quickly, but it sounds like you’ve been holding your own pretty well.”

“Thanks,” said Monica. “I’m…kinda accustomed to being in dangerous situations.”

“As long as you fight your way out and can come out of it with most of your limbs still attached, I’d call that a victory. Us Knights have to deal with garbage like that on a regular basis. As long as it helps people sleep better at night, I’ll take on ten – maybe even a hundred bandits, soldiers, demonic beasts…whatever.”

Catherine turned toward Felix and Petra for a moment, who had matched each other blow-for-blow. For every opening Petra created in Felix’s defense, his fleet footwork saved him from anything more painful than glancing blows. By contrast, most of his attempts to land a hit on Petra were thwarted by her either blocking or pushing his sword away.

“Impressive,” he said as he prepared to mount another counterattack.

With their duel at an apparent stalemate, Catherine looked back at Monica and noticed the sealed envelope in her hand. “What’s that you’ve got there?”

“This? Oh! Uh…it’s a message from Lady Rhea.”

“Thanks. If you say it came straight from her, then I’ll bet it’s something important.” Catherine removed a small knife from her belt and cut the envelope open, and then quickly turned her back to Monica while she looked at the letter. “Felix, Petra…take five,” she said after folding it up and stashing it away. “I’ll be back shortly.”

Catherine left the arena, too far out of earshot to hear Ashe and Ignatz gasping as the second of Claude’s arrows hit the bulls-eye dead center.

“Looks like you beat us both fair and square,” said Ashe.

“Don’t feel too bad,” said Claude. “It’s all in good fun, right?”

After the boys returned their practice bows to the rack, Byleth entered the arena looking for Claude. “Claude, could you come to my office for a few moments?” she asked him.

“Uh-oh! I’m not in trouble, am I?”

Byleth, certain that Claude was joking, decided to play along. “You’d have to ask Professor Hanneman about that.”

Claude folded his arms and chuckled. “All right, Teach…you got me. I’ll be on my way.” He left the arena and waved to everyone on his way out, leaving them confused about what Byleth wanted from him.

Monica prepared to leave the arena herself when Petra called out to her. “Monica? You are not staying?”

“Sorry, Petra. I just came here to deliver something to the captain and talk with Ashe for a bit.”

“I think I am understanding now. Will you be applying focus to your mind instead of your body?”

Monica shook her head. “Maybe later. I’ve got things on my mind that I need to take care of.”

Felix tapped his practice sword against his boots, scowling and looking around for Catherine. “I don’t know about you two, but I would rather be doing something useful with my time.”

“Then we should stretch to ensure we do not gain injuries before Catherine returns,” Petra suggested, demonstrating by reaching for her right shoulder with her left hand and pulling across, with Felix following suit to make sure he hadn’t pulled any muscles. By the time they had both limbered up and Catherine had returned, they were the only ones left in the arena. Catherine looked at Rhea’s letter again, sighed, and ordered Felix and Petra to resume their duel. She felt it best not to reveal the letter’s contents to either of them, thinking it was better for her to deal with it on her own time.

In Byleth’s office, Edelgard examined the extensive collection of books on the shelves while Dimitri sat in the chair on the right, looking onward with his hands resting in his lap. “Edelgard,” he said, “are you sure the Professor would be all right with you digging into her bookshelves so casually?”

“I’m not ‘digging into them’, Dimitri,” she replied. “Just observing. There are a lot of books here, and I wonder how many of them belong to the Professor or Captain Jeralt.”

“I’ll admit that the circumstances are very unusual. Even she admitted that the sudden call to Garreg Mach threw her for a loop.”

One of the books caught Edelgard’s eye – a thin black book with a red ribbon dangling from it. It was the only thing that made it stand out among the surrounding texts, which were generally much thicker and bound with light-colored material. She picked it up and just as quickly returned it to its resting place when Byleth and Claude entered. There were only enough spare chairs for Edelgard and Dimitri to sit in, so Claude stood between them as Byleth sat down to address the three house leaders.

“Now that you’re all here,” said Byleth, “let’s talk a little bit about what’s happened with each of you since the Battle of the Eagle and Lion. The last several days have been eventful for all of us, and I’d like to learn more about the state of the world by those of you who’ve experienced it firsthand.”

The three lords, not used to sharing a space in times that didn’t lead up to a mock battle, looked at each other warily. Edelgard had been with Byleth for most of their mission, so she decided to let Dimitri and Claude decide which one of them would go first.

“Since you’ve been waiting here so patiently,” said Claude, looking in Dimitri’s direction, “why don’t you go first?”

Dimitri cleared his throat and stood up. “All right… My house’s mission for this month was to investigate the Valley of Torment, located in the northeast along the border between Ingrid’s homeland and the territory of House Daphnel. The knights received reports of small groups of soldiers searching the ruins of a village there.”

“Isn’t that place covered in lava?” asked Byleth.

“Yes. The extreme heat prevents most people from remaining in the area for a long period of time, so they tend to avoid the area altogether. However, some observers believed that they saw the same – or similar-looking – groups of soldiers in black and red returning to the area over the course of two weeks.”

Everyone looked at each other again following Dimitri’s description of the appearance of the mysterious scavengers.

“That sounds like the same group we fought when we searched for Flayn,” said Byleth.

“Red and black, huh? Those might be good colors to use as camouflage in such a hot area,” said Claude, “but it’s probably no surprise they couldn’t stay there for long.”

“But no one’s seen that army since Flayn was rescued,” said Edelgard. “Did anyone from the Blue Lions get close enough to find out if they were carrying anything?”

“We tried to lure some of them away from the lava,” said Dimitri, “but only a few of them took the bait. The others scrambled after they figured out that we were coming after them, and some of those we defeated were carrying old, rusted pieces of metal.”

“Now that you mention it, there are stories about Ailell being destroyed by pillars of light centuries ago. The reality of what transpired there must be more mundane than that. If someone had the power to wipe out an area of that size with magic, there wouldn’t be any evidence for anyone to attempt to reclaim. And yet…” Edelgard paused for a moment and looked at her teacher, who responded with a silent nod. She was reminded of something that seemed tangential to her mission when she first saw it. “When the Professor and I went after the enemies who attacked the monastery,” she said, “we discovered structures that looked like suits of armor. Unfortunately, the church still has that area under heavy surveillance, so it’ll be difficult to get close enough to examine them further.”

“These enemies you speak of…did any of them try to take anything from those structures?”

“Not from what we could see,” said Byleth. “We overheard their leader talking about conducting experiments in the safety of the Sealed Forest, and then we found out that the monastery wasn’t the only place he attacked…or was going to attack.”

“When you phrase it like that, Teach,” said Claude, gently rubbing his forehead with his left thumb and index finger, “that can only mean you found these goons elsewhere.”

If this Claude boy were one of your students, I would say something like, ‘Give him a gold star!’ But that is usually how this line of questioning goes, is it not?

The sudden ringing in her head caused Byleth to mimic Claude. She didn’t want to confuse him by shaking her head and hoping it would go away faster – a feeling that was quickly dashed when she told him and Dimitri where she and Edelgard had gone.

“We encountered them again in Remire Village…and they brought more monsters with them.”

At first, the boys’ mouths fell agape when they found out that Byleth and Edelgard’s enemies had attacked the same village where they all first met one fateful night several months ago, but when they further examined the implications behind Byleth’s statement, Dimitri’s brow furrowed and his surprised gasp became a sharp frown, and Claude shook his head and gritted his teeth in disgust.

“Remire? Ugh…that place just can’t catch a break, can it?” said Claude.

“I wouldn’t put it past those butchers to attack more innocent people,” said Dimitri. “And to unleash such twisted experiments on top of that? Such vileness should never be forgiven!”

“Fortunately, we were able to drive most of the attackers off,” said Edelgard, “so they won’t be bothering anyone for a while.”

“Even so, my heart goes out to the people of Remire for having to endure such a vicious attack.”

Byleth waited for Dimitri to compose himself before shifting her attention to Claude, who had taken a seat in her “secret” sleeping spot after spending the last few minutes standing up while listening to the other lords’ stories. “So, Claude,” she said, “tell us about your trip to the Eastern Church.”

“It was nothing to write home about, really,” he replied. “The most I can say about the place is that you could replace everyone in that church with every student in all of our houses and they’d still be fully staffed.”

Edelgard glared at Claude. She believed his report that the Eastern Church was much smaller than the monastery they were in, but that didn’t give her anything to go on. She and Dimitri had already told everyone what their houses were up to, so she thought it was only fair for him to say to them what the Golden Deer were doing. “What else did you encounter along the way?” she asked, leaning slightly over the right arm in her chair. “Surely Lady Rhea wouldn’t have sent you all out in that direction unless she expected something to happen.”

“We didn’t see much between the Central Church and Derdriu,” said Claude, “but after we left the city, we got caught in a bad storm and almost had to take the scenic route to reach the Eastern Church. If Alois and Raphael hadn’t been with us to help move those dead trees out of the way, it would have taken us even longer.”

“I didn’t think that the climate in Leicester would be conducive to such tumultuous weather,” said Dimitri. “What else happened?”

“Well, after we routed some more bandits – seriously, why always bandits? – we did eventually get to tour the church building. I overheard Alois talking to one of the monks, and I think I heard both of them talk about Jeralt.”

Intrigued by this new development, Byleth made a note to herself to follow up with Alois to find out more. “Anything else?” she asked.

“That’s about it. To be honest, almost everyone thought visiting the city was the highlight of the trip. I was surprised to see how many of the Deer were happy to be back at the monastery.”

“I see…” Byleth added some more notes regarding Edelgard and Dimitri’s stories and then closed her notebook so she could give her visitors her undivided attention. “I think that will be all for now,” she said, folding her hands together and giving everyone a slight smile. “We don’t get many opportunities to talk as a group like this, so I want to thank you for taking the time to meet here today.”

“It is always a pleasure, Professor,” said Dimitri.

“Try not to tire yourself out thinking about all that’s happened, Teach,” said Claude.

Dimitri and Claude bowed to Byleth before exiting to meet their own teachers, leaving only Edelgard behind. Byleth got up from her desk and rearranged the books on the shelf, including the black book Edelgard had picked up. “So…did you find anything interesting to read?”

Edelgard wanted to gasp at how quickly she’d been found out but chose not to do so because she hadn’t found anything incriminating…that she could see at first glance. She thought Byleth was going to move the black book to another location, indicating that it was important to her in some way, but the professor left it in its original slot wedged between the two textbooks. If there really was something about that book, Edelgard decided to wait until later to ask about it.

“Never mind,” said Byleth. “I’m going to stay here for a little while longer to review my lesson plan for everyone this week. So if you don’t have any further questions, Edelgard, then I’ll see you bright and early tomorrow morning.”

“You really are taking this teaching business seriously, aren’t you?” said Edelgard. “I’m honestly surprised to see that.”

“It helps that I have such capable and cooperative students.”

Edelgard thought she saw Byleth smiling again. “Thank you, Professor. I’ll continue to apply my efforts as best I can. My future – and the Empire’s future – depends on it.” With a confident stride, she left Byleth’s office to give her teacher some time to review her notes and reflect on everything that happened since the first monster invasion. The more Byleth thought about it, the less she felt she understood.

The Remire invaders to the west… The Flame Emperor’s army creeping around the ruins to the east… The Death Knight still on the loose and unaccounted for… Who are they? What are they after? How are they all connected?

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