Day 28, Red Wolf Moon, 1180
I saw the throne from my dream again. This time, it was in a big tomb with lots of graves, and I could actually get close enough to touch them. How old is that place? And how is it connected to the monastery?
Byleth awakened half an hour after Jeralt the following morning, waiting for him to leave the office to give herself more time to reflect on her accidental discovery. Whatever magic was in that orb in the gazebo seemed to react to her Crest of Flames. Although she remembered seeing a flash of white light before being spirited into that grand tomb, she didn’t know who else might have seen her go into the garden, vanish from it, and reappear there all in the span of what she thought was less than an hour.
A knock on Byleth’s office door prompted her to scramble to put away her journal. Unfortunately, there was no safe deposit box for her to store it securely, so she put it in a different location each time to lessen the chance of someone else reading it. This time, she placed it in the same drawer as the folder with her lesson plans where only she and Jeralt could access them. She’d never seen him so much as look toward the bottom drawers, so she believed it was the safest place to hide her journal until she had to use it again.
“Professor Eisner,” said the monk standing at the door, “Lady Rhea wanted to discuss something with you. She said she wanted to do it right before calling in Professors Casagranda and von Essar.”
“Another private meeting, huh? I’ll be right over,” said Byleth. She got up and locked her office door before entering the reception room to the side of the audience chamber, where she saw Rhea sitting in one of the chairs for some much-needed rest.
“Good morning,” said the archbishop. “Did you sleep well last night?”
“The bed in my office is a little small for my tastes, but I’ve become used to it.”
“I see… Thank you for bringing that to my attention. In the future, I will consider constructing a building for faculty members to rest in so that they are not forced to sleep overnight in their offices.”
Rhea stood up from her chair, glancing at Byleth before looking out of the reception room to make sure the audience chamber was well-guarded until she was ready to summon the other teachers, and then examining the archway separating the two rooms and thinking about installing a door to provide it with true privacy.
“One of the knights reported a disturbance in the garden last night,” Rhea continued, giving Byleth her full attention. “They thought they saw something glow for a split second and then disappear. What do you suppose it was?”
Byleth quietly hummed to herself. She wasn’t surprised that she got caught. Her biggest concern was whether or not the knight who spotted her now knew the secret of the orb. Until Byleth triggered it, almost no one paid much attention to that display. However, if the knights began patrolling that area at night, word would get out that something was unusual about it and someone would try to either steal the orb or break it to learn its secret. And since Byleth had learned that secret, Rhea was bound to start asking even more questions about what she knew.
“After I finished drinking tea with Monica,” Byleth explained, “I escorted her to her room because it was dark outside. Then, after she went to bed, I wanted to look around that gazebo next to the one where everyone eats lunch.”
“So, it was you…”
It was hard for Byleth to gauge Rhea’s mood. The archbishop’s tone and expression were completely neutral, a habit that Byleth had only recently tried to break.
“What made you decide to explore that area in the middle of the night?” asked Rhea.
“I was curious,” said Byleth. “Everyone tends to stay away from that part of the garden for some reason, and I wanted to know why. I had to do it in the evening when fewer people were around so I could put my mind at ease.”
“Did you touch anything?”
“No. All I did was approach the orb. Then, before I knew it, I started burning up, and when I came to, I was in this big crypt…way bigger than the Holy Mausoleum.”
“It sounds like you discovered the Holy Tomb…” Rhea’s voice trailed off, leaving Byleth more confused than she had ever been.
What’s going on? Did Lady Rhea expect me to find that place? And why is it called the ‘Holy Tomb’ and not the ‘Sacred Tomb’ or something like that? It’s a little confusing to have two sites with ‘Holy’ in their name…
“Much like the Holy Mausoleum, the Holy Tomb is an important part of this monastery’s history,” said Rhea, “and one that very few people know about. I had planned on showing you the whole of the tomb and telling you more about its history in the months following the Garreg Mach Ball. That day will still come, but until then, you must promise not to show or tell anyone else what you saw down there. Do I make myself clear?”
“Absolutely, Lady Rhea.”
“Thank you for understanding. Now, please wait here while I retrieve Professors Hanneman and Manuela.”
Byleth waited in the reception room until the other teachers arrived. Whatever topic Hanneman and Manuela were arguing about stopped the moment she joined them and the archbishop in the audience chamber.
“Welcome, all of you,” Rhea said to the teachers. “I understand how harrowing this month has been for you and your students. You have had to deal with civil unrest in the east, mysterious scavengers in the northeast, and a deadly assault in the west. Fódlan is currently facing a time of great upheaval, and you must continue to train your students well so that they have the strength and fortitude to face these future challenges.”
“You needn’t worry about me any more than usual, Lady Rhea,” said Manuela. “It’s not easy to talk Dimitri into taking a break from his training, but I’m getting there.”
“Perhaps this coming month’s White Heron Cup will put him and the other house leaders at ease. Hanneman, Manuela…you should already be familiar with the proceedings from previous years, but I would like to explain them again for young Byleth’s benefit, as it is her first year at the academy.”
“Of course, Lady Rhea,” said Hanneman. “Do go on.”
Hanneman and Manuela positioned themselves so that Byleth was standing between them, allowing Rhea to put extra focus on Byleth as she explained how everything would work.
“Every year, on the sixteenth day of the Ethereal Moon, the Officers Academy hosts a competition where each of the three houses competes to see who among them has the best dancer. Their performances will be judged by a panel of three of our Knights of Seiros.”
“How many students are we allowed to nominate?” asked Byleth.
“Each of you will select one of your students as a candidate for participation,” Rhea replied. “You will all be given instructions on how to train your chosen student for the dance. I suggest you read through these materials fully. You may find their contents enlightening.”
“Will there be a prize for the winner?”
“The winning student of the White Heron Cup will receive an official Garreg Mach Dancer’s certificate, similar to those they receive when completing their promotion exams. This certification comes with additional training materials should they choose to hone their dancing talents beyond the academy. A few of our previous winners have gone on to perform in dance troupes all across Fódlan.”
Byleth turned to Manuela, who was tapping her foot and swaying her left index finger to a tune only she could hear. “Manuela…”
Manuela stopped what she was doing and whipped her head toward Byleth. “Oh…sorry. What is it, dear?”
“You were in the opera, right? Do you know if there were any dancers from this academy in your company?”
“There was one man who had joined Mittelfrank about two years after I had joined. Quite a handsome fellow, too. Shame he wasn’t open to any proposals. He was all about keeping ‘strictly professional’ relationships… Hmph!”
“Manuela, will you please try not to steer this conversation off-topic with your irrelevant stories?” Hanneman huffed.
“Fine… Maybe the old spoilsport has a point,” Manuela muttered.
Rhea cleared her throat to stop the three teachers from bickering any further. “This, of course, leads up to the grand Garreg Mach Ball on the twenty-fifth day of the Ethereal Moon. It coincides with the anniversary of the establishment of this monastery, where commoners and nobles alike gather to enjoy our finest in food, drink, music, and dance. Every hundred years, the celebration expands to all corners of Fódlan, and we are only five years away from a millennium of celebrating the goddess in all her glory.”
“It sounds like quite a celebration,” said Byleth.
“The Garreg Mach Ball is an exciting time of year,” said Hanneman. “It’s the event the students look forward to the most outside of graduation. Hilda and Lorenz have expressed great interest in this year’s festivities, but for differing reasons. Lorenz has already told me he wants to represent the Golden Deer in the White Heron Cup. Hilda, on the other hand, says she wants to see everybody get ‘all dolled up’ for the dance, as she puts it.”
“I pray that all of your students have a pleasant time at the ball, and that they perform at their peaks for the White Heron Cup,” said Rhea. “Please continue to guide them well. That will be all for today.”
Shortly after her dismissal, Byleth went back to her office and noticed a book with a green cover on her desk. She assumed Seteth had unlocked her room with a master key and placed it there because she remembered putting all of her books away, including her journal, before Rhea called her over. The book bore the seal of the Church of Seiros and a picture of a heron, with the title “White Heron Cup History and Guidelines” printed on the top and bottom. Byleth read through the book a few times, occasionally breaking to eat, use the washroom, and add to her lesson plans for her students for the Ethereal Moon. Even though Rhea hadn’t assigned an official mission to her, Hanneman, or Manuela, she wanted to make sure her students’ skills stayed sharp even during their downtime.
On the first day of the Ethereal Moon, Byleth entered the room carrying the White Heron Cup guidebook on top of her folder of individual lesson plans. Seeing everyone wearing their cold-weather gear in the classroom made her forget which piece of news to deliver first, but only for a moment. When she started to draw a copy of the symbols from the guidebook, everyone paid attention save for one student who tried and failed to hold in a snicker when they saw Byleth’s drawing, prompting Hubert to stomp on their foot.
“Keep it down, everyone,” said Byleth.
The room suddenly went silent as she opened her guidebook and pointed to the chalkboard.
“Now, if you’ve been paying regular attention to your calendars, you should be aware that this month, the Ethereal Moon, is the month of the Garreg Mach Ball. You’ll all get to dress up, eat, and dance to your heart’s content. With that in mind, all three of the houses are being given a break from new missions, barring any unforeseen complications.”
Most of the class piped up at the announcement of the ball, with the others becoming even more enthusiastic about not having to leave the monastery to fight.
“Before we get to that,” Byleth continued, “there’ll be a dance competition two weeks from tomorrow – the White Heron Cup.”
“A dance competition, huh? Sounds exciting!” said Dorothea. “Is there going to be some kind of prize for the winner?”
“Yes. The winner will receive an exclusive Dancer certification as proof of their talents. Lady Rhea says you can even use those skills after you graduate.” Byleth scratched the back of her head. “I’ll assume she’ll give you more details after the event. Do I have any volunteers to represent the Black Eagles?”
Caspar, Dorothea, Ferdinand, and Monica all raised their hands, and Byleth wrote their names below her drawing of the white heron.
“Four of you? Okay. I’d like each of you to stay with me after today’s class.” The professor then passed out sheets of paper to her students, which they were less enthusiastic about receiving.
“You’re still giving us work to do, Professor? I was looking forward to a reprieve after that ugly Remire business,” said Linhardt.
“I did say we don’t have an official mission this month,” said Byleth, “but there will still be three months left in the school year after the ball is over. We can’t rest on our laurels. I’m sure Hanneman and Manuela will continue to train their students while this is going on, so we have to set a good example.”
Caspar raised his hand again after receiving his assignment. “Professor, I’m not sure I’m reading this right, but…you want me to train with Edelgard?”
“That’s right. I paired you two up to see how well you fight by using each other’s skillsets. Caspar, I’d like you to train with heavy armor to work on your defense, while Edelgard trains with light armor to work on her agility.”
“You do tend to charge headfirst into battle a lot, Caspar,” said Edelgard. “If you get too reckless, it could cost you your life. Perhaps this new training program will teach you to slow down a little.”
“Yeah, I know…but with this new armor regimen the Professor’s got me on,” said Caspar, pounding his fists together, “I bet I could take a lot of hits, just like you!”
“Do you really think so? Then I’ll expect to see you in the arena every day this week so I can put you and your armor through their proper paces.”
Byleth turned her attention to Dorothea, who had folded her assignment sheet into a neat square and resting it under her hands after reading it. “Dorothea…you and Monica will work together to develop your swordplay and magic abilities.”
“Great! Now I can put these new scrolls of mine to good use!” Monica cheered.
“Scrolls? What kind of scrolls?” asked Dorothea, looking at and around Monica to see if she was carrying anything.
“Basic fire magic. Linhardt and Professor Manuela showed me how to use some healing magic, but I’ve never studied how to cast elemental spells until now.”
“Elemental magic is more Professor Hanneman’s school of expertise – besides Crests, anyway. You’ll probably want to wait until you’ve used it for a while before letting him teach you any of the advanced spells. But don’t worry…I’ll be happy to teach you the simpler ones.”
“That works for me. As for sword training, I feel like I’ll need to forget part of what I’ve learned if I’m going to be an effective teacher…”
While Monica thought of what kinds of techniques she could teach Dorothea, she watched Byleth walk back over to the chalkboard to get a better look at Bernadetta in the back row. “Bernadetta, I’d like you to do some horseback training along with Ferdinand.”
“A-Are you sure that’s a good idea, Professor?” said Bernadetta, shivering. “I-I couldn’t… Animals hate Bernie!”
“How can you be so sure of that?” asked Ferdinand. “Caring for and riding horses is one of the most noble of pursuits! You will not know whether or not you are good at it unless you try. Most of the horses in these stables are, if not completely friendly, more amiable to strangers than most.”
“Easy for you to say, Ferdinand… You had more than three months to learn how to ride your horse.”
Ferdinand gulped as he tried to think of something to calm Bernadetta’s nerves. “You have already proven to us that you possess the aptitude for riding. It should not take much effort on my part to train you until it becomes as natural to you as it is to me. If in the unlikely event that something should occur that takes me out of commission, then I would rely on you to give our house that extra little burst of speed in times of need.”
Bernadetta thought about it for a moment before hiding behind the textbook she was reading and saying to herself, “And if things get rough, I could use that horse to make quicker getaways…” With half of the room’s eyes on her, she snapped the book shut and tried to look confident. “Uh…I-I mean I’ll do it!”
“Splendid!” said Ferdinand, squeezing a gloved fist in celebration.
“As for the rest of you whose names I didn’t mention,” said Byleth, “please continue on the paths I outlined for you at the beginning of the year.”
Hubert, Linhardt, and Petra nodded, and put away their assignment sheets as Byleth gave the class her lecture for the day.
After she was finished, she called on those who volunteered to be candidates for the White Heron Cup – Caspar, Dorothea, Ferdinand, and Monica – to follow her to the cathedral, guiding them to a quiet corner where an organist had come to clean the pipes for the next Sunday’s hymns. Byleth talked to him to confirm that he would be one of the musicians present at the competition and the ball, and then she asked him to play a short preview of the songs that would be played at both events.
As the organist looked through his songbook, Caspar nudged Monica with his elbow while they waited for Byleth’s orders. “You’ve done this before, right, Monica?” he asked. “How does it work?”
“I didn’t actually audition last year,” Monica admitted, “but I do know some of the rules. All you have to do is dance in step with the music alongside an invisible dance partner. Then the judges talk among themselves for a few moments to decide a winner.”
“So…you have to get up on stage and dance by yourself…while pretending that you’re not dancing by yourself? I gotta be honest…that sounds pretty weird to me.”
“Trust me…it’s not as easy as it sounds. The challenging part is maintaining the stamina to keep your arms in position without letting them drop even a little bit.”
“Heh…I could do that,” said Caspar, stretching his arms out in front of him to prepare for his audition. “Just watch me!”
Byleth raised her right hand to her side and her left hand just above her chest, drawing everyone’s attention toward her as they did their best to replicate her pose. “All right, everyone…follow my lead,” she said. “Keep your arms and heads level and slowly dance to the music.”
“Professor? Are you certain you want all of us to dance simultaneously?” asked Ferdinand. “Would it not make more sense for us to go one at a time so you may more accurately assess our abilities?”
“Don’t ask silly questions, Ferdie,” said Dorothea as she adopted her dancing stance and let her arms hang loose.
“I would like to do that,” said Byleth, “but I only have this part of the floor for a limited time.”
Byleth nodded toward the organist to begin a song, and she and the four contest candidates danced around the small corner of the cathedral, bobbing, pivoting, and trying not to bump into one another. When the song was over, Byleth instructed the students to dance with each other for a short time, and then with her, a move that made them feel much more comfortable. Monica tried to strike a balance between leading and letting herself be led, ignoring the chatter and stares from outsiders passing by and wondering what everyone was doing. Given a choice between her three classmates, she felt most comfortable dancing with Dorothea. Ferdinand, while possessing impeccable rhythm, tended to push back whenever she tried to steer them back toward the dance floor. Caspar, with his boundless energy and enthusiasm, often forgot that slow dancing was supposed to be slow, coming close to falling out of step and squishing Monica’s toes three times. With Dorothea, there was little need for Monica to adjust her timing to make sure they stayed in sync. Just as with Constance and her magic tea, Monica wondered how much time Dorothea had spent practicing her moves.
The class lined up opposite Byleth once again after the music stopped, eagerly awaiting their professor’s ruling.
“Dorothea,” she said, and the other students briefly slumped their shoulders after learning they weren’t selected. “I’d like you to be our representative for the White Heron Cup.”
Dorothea clapped her hands together, beaming with pride. “Thank you, Professor! I promise I’ll put on one of the best shows you’ve ever seen!”
“I was certain I gave that audition my all,” said Ferdinand. “Nevertheless, I will trust the Professor’s judgment. Dorothea…I look forward to seeing your performance at the competition. And I hope I am not being too forward by asking this, but…would you give me the honor of dancing with me at the ball following the White Heron Cup?”
Dorothea winked at him and said, “I’ll think about it. Let’s concentrate on the Cup first and then we can worry about who dances with whom. I’ll need to be in tip-top shape if I’m going to win this thing.”
Ferdinand held his head high as he left the cathedral, feeling heartened that Dorothea would at least consider his proposal. Caspar was slower to pick himself up after his defeat. “Aw, man…that was my only shot, too,” he said. “I guess I’ll get to work on that armor training.”
“You shouldn’t feel bad about doing your best, Caspar,” said Byleth. “There’s plenty of time for you to work on your rhythm before the ball. That goes for you too, Monica.”
“It was fun while it lasted,” said Monica, “but at least I got in some practice for the real thing. I guess I wasn’t expecting you to ask us all to…you know, actually dance.”
“If only one of you had volunteered, I would have skipped the auditions entirely. I felt this was the fairest way to decide who among you would make the cut.”
“Are you sure it wasn’t because you didn’t want to prepare yourself for the ball by sneaking in some practice with us, Professor?” asked Dorothea, giggling as she saw Byleth’s cheeks turn red.
“Don’t change the subject, Dorothea,” said Byleth. “We’ll practice some more for the Cup next week, but for now, I’d like you and Monica to spend the rest of the week on your new training programs.”
“Yes, Professor!” both girls said before leaving the cathedral along with Caspar.
The organist returned to his job, leaving Byleth mostly alone with her thoughts as she wandered around the cathedral and the area around the Goddess Tower, eventually returning to the garden and resting on a bench near the strange gazebo. Rather than thinking about returning to the Holy Tomb and risking more people seeing her disappear, Byleth tried to relax by reviewing the White Heron Cup guidebook once again. She felt her head pulse softly as Sothis, who had chosen to stay invisible even to Byleth, spoke to her.
My, my…I did not think I would be so excited to watch you so readily engage in a little frivolity. Spending time with your students has changed your demeanor since you first started out.
“Maybe a little,” Byleth mumbled, conscious that there were still other people around who might see her talking to herself.
Do you suppose those other professors – Manuela and Hanneman, I believe you said their names were – will train their chosen students for this dance in a similar manner?
“Manuela probably would. I don’t know about Hanneman, though. He doesn’t have any experience in show business.”
So, he is similar to you, in that respect.
“Yes.” Byleth frowned, even though she knew Sothis could only feel her doing so instead of seeing it. “At least this competition won’t involve people beating each other up.”
Not unless there is a disagreement with the judgment process, or one of the contestants dances so poorly that it draws the ire of the crowd.
“I don’t think that will happen. Dorothea is a talented dancer, but I expect whoever is representing the Blue Lions and the Golden Deer to bring their best skills to the table.”
Then you must make sure she performs at her peak, as well.
Byleth quietly flipped through the book’s pages, hoping that teaching Dorothea to dance would come as naturally as teaching her how to swing a sword.