Chapter 37: Warming Glow

Monica’s birthday celebration lasted into the night, with Mercedes returning an earlier favor and teaming up with Annette to bake a chocolate cake. There was enough cake to go around for everyone in Monica’s class to eat if they wanted. Annette and Mercedes hung around long enough to sing with Dorothea, with Annette unable to resist the temptation to ad-lib.

After everyone had finished singing, laughing, and eating, Monica answered a summons to Byleth’s office, wearing her priest robes to keep herself warm during the walk from the dorms to the cathedral. She quietly knocked on the door, wondering what awaited her inside.

“Come in,” said Byleth.

Monica opened the door and approached Byleth’s desk, which she had cleared of all of her usual papers and folders to make room for a teapot and a pair of teacups. The thought of the office being used for anything but official business hadn’t crossed Monica’s mind until she saw Jeralt’s rolled-up sleeping bag on the wall behind Byleth’s chair.

“I prepared some tea for you. I wanted to hold this party outside, but I figured you’d want to go somewhere a bit warmer and lighter.”

That was all the prompting Monica needed to take her seat at the chair in front of the desk. Monica wanted to curse at herself for whittling the day away and missing out on a chance to have tea outside, but she forgot about it once Byleth poured some tea into her cup. It was a curious blend of flavors – apples and cinnamon with a splash of honey – but one Monica thought she could get used to after tasting it a few more times. “Thanks, Professor!” she said. “My last teacher never did anything like this. When someone’s birthday came around, we had to take it upon ourselves to celebrate.”

“That’s too bad,” said Byleth. “Do you have any idea why that might have been?”

“He said it was his last year before retirement and he probably wouldn’t see any of us again.”

Byleth stirred a pinch of sugar into her cup. Monica declined to add any more to hers as she felt it was sweet enough without it. “I’ve had a chance to get to know most of the Black Eagles well by eating and having tea with them. Since today’s your birthday, I figured I’d use this opportunity to learn a little more about you.”

“You mean, like another interview?” asked Monica.

“No, this is strictly an informal affair. Just relax and enjoy yourself.”

Monica and Byleth were both getting hungry, so they helped themselves to the bowl of shortbread cookies sitting between them.

“So, Monica…Edelgard tells me that you live out west in a mountain village somewhere,” said Byleth. “That’s where you went on that trip earlier, right?”

“Technically, it’s only a temporary home,” said Monica, “until our castle gets fixed.”

“Which do you prefer? Your village or your castle?”

“Definitely the castle. I like the peace and quiet that Drachen Village affords, but I had a lot more freedom to move around in my castle, and there was a lot more to do on any given day. Reading books in the study, doing sword drills in the garden…that sort of thing.”

Byleth nodded and blew on her tea to cool it down before sipping on it again.

“What about you, Professor? Where are you from?” asked Monica.

“I…don’t know.”

Monica looked at Byleth with raised eyebrows, wondering if she didn’t really know or if she had something to hide. “What do you mean?”

“When I was younger, Captain Jeralt and I used to travel a lot, so we’ve never really had a ‘permanent’ home,” said Byleth.

“Have you or the captain ever thought of settling down somewhere?”

“Not really. He says he’s so used to it that he may just go wherever his horse takes him once we’re done here.”

Monica thought quietly for a moment about the places she’d visited as a student – her first long-term venture beyond the stone-walled garden that was her home. Until she joined the academy, her father was the one who had to deal with bandits, thieves, and other such criminals disturbing the countryside. Sometimes he would go out and put them to the sword himself. Nicolaus and Viola both told Monica that when she became the next baroness, she would have to do whatever it took to protect those who couldn’t protect themselves, no matter where her life took her.

“It’s almost funny…when we first met, you looked like you were going to turn and run at the sight of me,” said Byleth.

Monica drank her tea a little too fast, almost burning her lips doing so. She had mostly forgotten their awkward first meeting. Trying to run and hide from someone whom she thought was an assassin out to kill her was not the kind of first impression she wanted to make. “Yeah…I’m sorry for freaking out like that, Professor,” she said.

“It’s okay. I used to get that reaction a lot when I was younger. People were afraid of me because I never smiled or cried. Some say that’s what makes an effective mercenary – they do their jobs efficiently without letting their emotions get the better of them. It’s not quite as useful when you want to meet new people and you’re not doing a job.”

“Is that why you have these tea parties and lunch sessions?”

“That’s one reason, yes. Learning to adapt to a less chaotic environment hasn’t been easy. Being ‘Professor Byleth’ has taught me things I wouldn’t have learned back when I was just ‘Jeralt’s kid’ or ‘the Ashen Demon’. In fact, my father never told me he used to be the captain of the Knights of Seiros. I learned about it from Alois the night I first met Edelgard.”

Monica began to laugh. “I’m surprised. I figured someone like Captain Jeralt wouldn’t miss the chance to boast about his status to everyone he knew.”

“It never really bothered me. Some of the knights are happy to see that he’s returned, though.”

Monica felt warm all over after drinking the last few drops of tea from her cup. She almost wanted to walk out of the room and go outside without putting her priest robes back on, regardless of how cold it was. Byleth sat her own cup aside and wiped her mouth down with a napkin before looking at Monica and saying, “I’ve noticed you and Constance hanging out more often lately. Edelgard suggested that the two of you have a…’thing’ going on. Is this true?”

Monica was stunned. Byleth had asked the sort of question someone would ask with a coy smile or a hint of mischief in their voice, but she did so with the same seriousness as she gave to one of her daily lessons. Monica reminded herself that it was just a friendly tea party. She remained confident that Byleth wouldn’t tell Constance anything she said about her. “Are you asking me if I like Connie? Like, ‘like her’ like her?” she asked, wondering how many more times she could say the word ‘like’ without getting sick of it. “Of course! She’s very confident, beautiful, passionate about studying and magic…”

There was more that Monica wanted to say in Constance’s favor, but she stopped herself before trailing off into irrelevant details.

“How about this…why don’t you invite her to the Garreg Mach Ball next month?” Byleth suggested. “Do you know if she likes to dance?”

“Actually, I have been thinking about asking her out to the ball,” said Monica. “With everything going on lately, I haven’t bothered to ask if she likes dancing or music. I mean, I guess it wouldn’t hurt…”

“It won’t hurt. If Constance likes you as much as you seem to like her, she’ll accept.”

“What about you, Professor? Is there anyone you want to go to the dance with? I’ll bet you’ll have no end of suitors lined up to pick you as a partner.”

Byleth’s smile came a few moments later than Monica expected, but Monica still found it endearing. “That’s a secret,” she said.

“Oh, come on! I promise I won’t tell anyone,” said Monica.

“If I told you, then I’d also have to tell everyone in the class. Besides, wouldn’t it be more fun to wait and see for yourself?” Byleth tried unsuccessfully to wink with her right eye, blinking several times and shaking her head. “I think I need to work on that, too.”

“All right, then…what about the White Heron Cup? Who’s going to represent our house this year? Last year, my old house leader Candace swept the judging. For someone so brash and pig-headed on the battlefield, she’s amazingly light on her feet.”

“I’m not sure what the rules are for this competition,” Byleth admitted. “I’ll ask Lady Rhea about it and then make my decision based on that. Did you want to name yourself a candidate?”

“Me? Well, if you think I could win for us, I might,” said Monica.

“All right. Take some time to think about it and let me know when the official announcement is made.” Byleth did her best to clean up her desk before Jeralt returned, brushing away handfuls of loose cookie crumbs and wiping away small puddles of spilled tea before approaching the front door. The hallway outside had gone quiet, with no monks or knights, or even Rhea or Seteth, walking around. “Will you be okay returning to your room by yourself?”

“Well, it is pretty dark outside…and chilly… Having someone else to walk with would make me feel a little more comfortable. Did you really want to go out at this time of night?”

“Just for a few moments. There’s something I want to look at before I go to bed.”

Monica and Byleth bundled themselves up and walked back to the dorm building, sticking to the lit areas as often as possible. The few knights who were out on patrol held their torches aloft to help them see in the darkness as well. When Monica reached her room, she stood underneath the door frame after opening it, hoping to keep Byleth from peering too closely inside. “Thank you for the tea, Professor,” she said. “It was delicious.”

“I’m glad you enjoyed your time,” said Byleth, “and I hope the rest of your birthday was just as pleasant. Your parents looked very happy to see you.”

“Oh, I had a wonderful day today. I hope I get to see a lot more of them. Birthdays, that is. I mean, I want to see my parents again, too, but you get the idea, right?”

Byleth smiled at Monica again, less playfully than last time. “Good night, Monica. I’ll see you in class on Monday.”

The moment after Monica had closed her door to prepare herself for bed, Byleth walked over to the garden, relying on her limited night vision to guide her to the mysterious orb across from the gazebo. Even in the darkness, she could still see green lines dancing across it, with no idea what the patterns were supposed to represent or what was providing the orb with its light.

Where are you going? Has your little tea date with one of your students caused you to forget where your office is so quickly?

“It wasn’t a date,” Byleth said out loud, uncertain of how many knights could hear her talking to herself. “Anyway, don’t you think this structure looks strange? There doesn’t appear to be anything like it in this monastery.”

It does seem out of place compared to the rest of our surroundings.

“What do you think it does? I find it hard to believe that no one has tried to unlock it or access it.”

Whatever its purpose is, I do not approve of you touching artifacts at random! It was by a stroke of luck that your hands did not burn when you first grasped the Sword of the Creator. This orb is much larger than that, so there is no telling what it could do to you!

Byleth kept her hands to her sides as she approached the orb. The structure emitted a low-pitched hum and the lines underneath the orb lit up, revealing a shape Byleth recognized as the Crest of Flames.

Suddenly, her hands and feet felt like they were burning. The sensation quickly traveled up to her arms and lower legs, then to her upper arms and thighs, and then her shoulders and torso, until every part of her felt like it was about to explode. The world around her went silent and faded into white for a second, and then…


Several minutes after passing out, Byleth awakened with a pounding headache, and her chest still burned long after the rest of her body had cooled down. When she regained the strength to stand up, she noticed that she was no longer in the monastery’s garden, but in a dimly lit room or hallway of some kind.

“What…is this place?” she groaned.

The pounding in her head intensified as Sothis spoke to her.

Wherever it is, it has to be connected to the monastery. Look behind you.

A few feet behind her, Byleth saw a small orb similar to the one in the garden that teleported her and Sothis to their unfamiliar surroundings. There were no stairs behind them, so Byleth hoped she would be able to use that device to return to the monastery after she was done looking around. It emitted a light that was the same green color as the light on the larger orb, but it was too faint to light up more than a few feet around itself.

No…this will not do at all. As you are my host, I cannot allow you to fumble about in the dark and injure yourself. Here…let me light the way for you.

Byleth felt the Sword of the Creator heat up in its sheath, and it radiated an orange-yellow light when she pulled it out, just like when she used it in combat. Unlike the sensation she felt before the garden orb activated, the sword and its light felt warm and soothing. She turned back around and held the weapon out in front of her, and to her surprise, she could see a large stone slab, almost two-and-a-half times taller than she was. As she examined the slab more closely, Byleth noticed a pair of arms sticking out of the sides of it. “It looks like a chair of some kind,” she said, her voice echoing into the darkness.

Curious about what was on the other side, Byleth walked around the chair to observe it from the front. There were no markings etched in the unusually tall chair, but as she craned her neck back, she noticed something even stranger resting at the top – a blue circular disk engraved with the Crest of Flames.

“That’s…my Crest… But how…?”

The shock of seeing her Crest in another unfamiliar place caused her to stumble.

Watch yourself! If you had fallen even a few inches further, you might have hit your head and died!

Byleth stood up and turned around, noticing that the ground she was standing on gave way to about two dozen steep flights of stairs. She then realized just how far up she and Sothis were, and just how vast everything was. The lines of blue crystals acting as torches looked so small relative to her position. Before she investigated further, she turned back around to try to make sense of the weird Crest of Flames chair, only to be stopped in her tracks as she approached it when Sothis seemed to not so much slide out of her body as leap out of it.

Do not come any closer to that chair! At least not until I have taken a closer look at it.

Byleth did as Sothis commanded, taking a few steps backward and making sure not to stumble off the platform. Sothis swirled around the structure, examining it from every angle. Byleth had never seen her so animated before. Finally, the ghostly girl froze as she came to eye level with the Crest of Flames.

Ah…I believe I am beginning to remember now.

“You are?” asked Byleth. “What is it?”

This chair – no, this throne – I sat in one just like it many years ago.

As if to demonstrate, Sothis floated back down to the base of the throne and sat lazily in the seat, leaning her left elbow on an armrest and using her right hand to cover up a yawn.

Yes…this is more like it. It does not beat sleeping in a soft bed, but being able to appear outside your head for once is refreshing. Are you not tired?

“I am,” Byleth replied, “but I can’t fall asleep down here. Everyone in the monastery will wonder where I’ve been.”

Then let us finish our investigation quickly.

Byleth carefully descended the stairs, clinging to them to make up for the absence of walls or handrails to use as guides. Sothis rose from the throne and dashed ahead, waiting for Byleth to reach ground level. The lighting from the torches turned everything in the area a depressing blue. Even Sothis, who lacked a fully corporeal form, looked more like something out of one of Mercedes’ ghost stories than the girl who looked so comfortable – almost regal – as she sat on the throne earlier.

Sothis disappeared and returned to Byleth’s body, once again allowing the professor to use her sword’s magical light to give the room some much-needed color. What she saw when she lit up the room made her long for the room to turn blue again.

Rows and rows of coffins of stone and steel took up most of the space on the ground. Each casket carried a plate with it, written in a script that she didn’t understand. Some of the caskets looked too small to contain a human body.

“We’re in…another crypt?” she guessed. “It’s even bigger than the Holy Mausoleum. I would expect a place like this to be covered in dust, but everything’s so clean.”

Even so, the coffins are too weathered to have been placed here recently. I can read the language on these nameplates, but I do not recognize any of the names.

Byleth was relieved that the Western Church hadn’t found a way to break into the crypt she was exploring. She still had no idea what they expected to gain from stealing from the grave of Saint Seiros, or why Seiros’ coffin contained the Sword of the Creator in the first place. There were many more potential targets in the larger tomb, so Byleth searched the area using the light from the sword, holding it steadily to avoid triggering its whip form and damaging her surroundings. She found one medium-sized double door opposite the stairs leading to the throne and two smaller single doors on either side of it. The two walls on the sides of the stairs looked like exploitable hiding spots. Trying to break in through the rear doors felt too obvious, so Byleth checked the walls for signs of hidden passages. She and Sothis yawned at almost the same time, and she wanted to get out of the crypt as quickly as possible while she could still stand and think straight.

I think we have reached the limits on what we can discover here tonight. Who knew that such a place existed so close to the monastery?

“Lady Rhea must know more about this place,” said Byleth. “I should ask her about it, but…what would she say if she found out I came down here?”

Don’t ask me! It was partially your idea to explore this tomb, after all. It is far too late for you to regret your trespassing now.

With nothing to say in response, Byleth ascended the stairs and touched the orb behind the majestic stone throne. The return trip to the monastery was no less painful than being teleported into the tomb, but she felt fortunate enough to land on the grass when she returned.

This time, Byleth tried to avoid as many of the patrolling guards as possible until she reached the bridge. She knew that someone would eventually spot her on the way back to her office, but the first face she wanted to see upon her return was either Jeralt’s or Rhea’s.

Jeralt had already unfurled his sleeping bag and fallen into a deep sleep when she entered the room. Byleth fetched her journal from the bookshelf and wrote down as much as she could remember about the mysterious tomb before hiding it in her pillow. The last thing she thought of before falling asleep was what excuse she’d give to Jeralt if he asked her why she arrived late.

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