The next few days saw heavy rain sweep through the monastery, limiting opportunities for the students to get the most out of their assigned training regimens. The training grounds, usually open at most hours of the day, had to be closed until late Wednesday afternoon to dry out, leaving Monica to split her study time between trips to the library and infirmary. The knights’ quarters were the only place she could go to practice her swordplay with Dorothea. While the room was quiet enough to provide an ideal reading spot, the limited space compared to the open-air arena made it difficult for the two to do much more than bash their wooden swords against each other.
“I don’t think this is working, Monnie,” said Dorothea after a few rounds, setting her sword down behind one of the suits of armor. “Maybe we should take a break.”
“I agree.” Monica laid her sword down next to Dorothea’s and sat down in a chair by the bookshelves, tilting her head and resting her hand on her chin in frustration. “Dorothea…why did you call me ‘Monnie’ just now? That’s the first time anyone other than Kronya has given me a nickname.”
Dorothea smiled and giggled. “Oh, you know…I do that for a lot of my friends. Edie, Hubie, Ferdie, and now that you’ve been part of our little group for a while, you get to be ‘Monnie!’”
“I suppose I could live with that.” Monica couldn’t help laughing now that she had a nickname that rhymed with the name she had given to Constance. “So, how are your dance lessons with Miss Eisner going?”
Dorothea stretched her arms out to her right side as if she was going to spin in place but dropped them after tapping the floor with her foot and realizing it was unfit for dancing. “Pretty well, actually,” she said. “The Professor says she feels like I’m the one teaching her sometimes. Hard to believe, don’t you think?”
“Not really. I mean, if I were a judge at this competition, you know you’d get my vote easily.”
“Thanks, Monica. Don’t forget about Annette and Lorenz, though. Admittedly, I haven’t seen either of them dance, but it would be too soon to count them out.”
Monica was even more confident that Byleth had made the right decision in selecting Dorothea to dance for the White Heron Cup. Such a competition demanded a performer’s mindset, and Monica, having no professional stage experience, didn’t know if she could handle the pressure of having an audience watching and judging her every move.
After eating dinner by herself, Monica walked to the library, eager to learn a new white magic spell after feeling she had figured out how to get the most out of Heal and Nosferatu. The long walk across the bridge between her room and the staff offices slowly grew more manageable the more often she did it, especially now that she had an umbrella to protect herself from the rain. Tomas, hoisting himself up on his cane from a chair at one of the center tables, walked to the bookshelf on the western wall and pulled a white-covered tome from the shelf directly above him. Monica was impressed, but not completely surprised, that it had only taken him a second to find the book he was looking for. He had been the monastery’s librarian for more than four decades, so it made sense to her that he knew where to find any book in the library even as new volumes were added and removed over the years.
“Perhaps you ought to peruse this, Monica,” said Tomas as he handed the book to her. “It’s a book on intermediate white magic. There are many different spells for one to learn, but it is all a matter of personal preference which ones you choose in the end.”
“Thank you, Tomas,” said Monica. “Now, let’s see here…”
Monica sat down at the table and read through the book as thoroughly as possible, looking at the descriptions of the numerous spells it offered. The book included spells that could heal a person’s wounds from farther away, or generate a veil of light to protect the caster from harm, or create a seal around someone to prevent them from using their own magic, or smite enemies with pillars of light from the heavens.
Somewhere in the middle of the book, she discovered a spell called “Rescue” that could pull a person out of danger right to the caster’s side. “Aha! This one looks promising,” she said with a grin. The spell reminded her of the one used to pull her out of reach of Kronya during the Remire Village mission. She didn’t remember being engulfed in a veil of light. All the spell did was pull her backward until she fell in front of Flayn and Constance. It was far less elegant than what was depicted in the book, but as long as it worked and she could cast it reliably in a dire situation, she wanted to learn how to use it herself.
“By the way,” said Tomas, “how is your father doing?”
Monica stopped to think for a few seconds. This was the first time Tomas had ever taken an interest in her family’s affairs. “He’s doing well now, thank you,” she said, without going into further detail.
“Very good. I know he must have been worried sick about you. Such bright minds as yours come and go from this academy every year, and it would be a terrible loss for us to lose even one of them.”
Monica committed the “Rescue” spell to memory and handed the book back to Tomas. “I’ll study this some more later. Thank you again for your help.”
“It is always my pleasure, Monica.”
When she left the library, Monica saw Byleth walking across the bridge and talking to a few soldiers, none of whom appeared to be bothered by the inclement weather. While the soldiers usually wore helmets to protect them from the rain, Byleth simply let the rain fall around her without attempting to dry her hair or cover her head. Monica stepped around a large puddle and increased her walking pace to catch up with her professor before they both reached the other side.
“Do you need something, Monica?” asked Byleth.
“I’m fine, Professor,” said Monica. “I’m just heading back to my room after studying, that’s all.”
Monica handed her umbrella to Byleth, who looked up at it for a moment before passing it back. “Thank you, but you look like you need this more,” said Byleth.
“Does the rain not bother you, Professor?”
“Not really. I’ve fought many battles in the rain before, and I’ve learned not to get distracted by it. Rain, snow, lightning, wind – whatever nature threw at Captain Jeralt and I, we powered through it without…much complaint.”
Monica put her umbrella away and tried to bask in the rain as Byleth did, but it only seemed to make the rain fall even harder and faster. She wished she could go swimming instead.
They walked together silently until they got closer to her room, where Monica noticed that neither of the guards who stood watch by the alley a few days ago was there. Seeing Anna round the corner from the alley weeks ago made her more curious about where it led. “Professor…” she said, leaning forward and turning to her right, “something’s been bothering me about this area here. Do you know where it leads, or what’s so important about it that requires the Knights of Seiros’ attention?”
Byleth beckoned for Monica to stand underneath the awning. The rain kept most of the students from wanting to go outside, so there was little reason for her to lower her voice for fear of them overhearing what she was about to tell Monica.
“Have you heard of Abyss?” she asked.
“Not until you mentioned it just now,” said Monica.
“It’s a place buried deep beneath Garreg Mach Monastery, almost like a community unto itself. Some of the monks and soldiers say it’s a den of misfortune and woe, and that people are better off avoiding it at all costs.”
Monica looked toward the gap between the dorms and stairs to the sauna once again and thought she saw a lit torch hanging on the wall. “You sound like you know this place well, Professor. Have you been there before? Are you even allowed to go down there?”
Byleth nodded slightly. Monica was sure she was doing so to avoid splashing water everywhere. “I’ve visited a couple of times…with the help of an escort, of course. This was before we rescued you and Flayn from the Death Knight.”
“And I suppose the entrance is somewhere around here, correct?” Monica guessed. She didn’t want to believe it, but it was the only explanation that made sense to her. When she considered Josey’s warning about the Death Knight, she also wondered if the phantom rider could have taken refuge somewhere in Abyss, poised to strike at the church a second time whenever he felt like it. Worse yet, she feared that “those who slither in the dark”, the same monsters who kidnapped her and killed so many people in Remire, would also be lurking underneath the monastery. Monica knew it was a futile effort to try to confront the Death Knight head-on, but there were still unanswered questions she wanted to figure out, even if it meant risking her life to ask him: what he was doing in Remire, why he kidnapped Flayn, and what, if anything, he had to do with her own abduction. The absence of guards gave her the perfect opportunity to investigate.
“Yes,” said Byleth. “In fact, it’s right around this alley.” She reached out and placed a hand on Monica’s shoulder as Monica took a few steps closer to get a good look at the entrance to Abyss and how far down it led. “However, I don’t want you going there by yourself. I’ll escort you down there this time, but if there’s anyone standing watch here, you’ll need to come to me to ask for permission after you’ve completed your assignments for the day. Is that clear?”
“Yes, Professor,” said Monica.
“I’ll wait here while you get your sword. I don’t think you’ll need it every time you visit, but for your first trip to Abyss, you should at least have something to use to protect yourself.”
Monica nodded and fetched her new sword from her closet. There were few other places she could reliably store it – she didn’t want to devalue the hard work the blacksmith put into crafting and engraving the sword by keeping it behind or under her bed. She wished the closets could be locked for additional security.
Once she had taken what she needed, Monica followed Byleth to the opening in the wall and watched her light a torch from her pocket using the flame from the one hanging by the entrance. In the absence of flint, it was the next best thing to having either one of them ignite the torch with a Fire spell, and Monica didn’t want to risk burning herself or her teacher by attacking and missing a target much smaller than an outdoor campfire.
While Monica trusted Byleth to lead her in the right direction, the constant twisting and turning through dimly lit passages made her feel lost. She tried to lighten the mood by telling Byleth about her life in Ochs territory before the Dagda and Brigid War – strolling through her hometown’s market in search of new and exciting books, visiting the western shores to go swimming in the summer, and learning how to fight with a sword and lance. When Byleth asked Monica what she would have liked to do if she hadn’t been born into a noble family or come to the Officers Academy, Monica’s answer surprised the usually stoic mercenary.
“I would have liked to be a scholar or an archivist.”
“Oh? Why’s that?” asked Byleth.
“To share the fruits of my studies with others. The barriers to access information and concepts that most nobles such as myself take for granted,” Monica explained, “especially things like simple math, are unfortunately quite high. If I were allowed to share even a little bit of that knowledge with others, I think it could improve the quality of life for generations to come! I haven’t figured out the particulars of it yet, but I plan on submitting my ideas to Lady Edelgard when things are a lot less…busy around here.”
“That sounds like a lofty goal, but a commendable one.”
Monica thought Byleth’s smile looked a little unsettling given the ambient lighting, but was still thankful to see it coming from a woman with a reputation as a hardened warrior.
The feeling lasted only a few seconds when Byleth suddenly stopped in her tracks and held her right arm out to prevent Monica from moving. Monica kept quiet and listened intently to try to find out what had triggered Byleth’s danger sense.
She heard several sets of footsteps, which got louder and louder as a half-dozen menacing figures carrying an assortment of weapons ran toward them to block their path.
“Is this why this Abyss place is a secret to everybody?” Monica asked as she unsheathed her sword and adopted a defensive stance.
A lavender-haired man stepped forward, brushing his cape over his left shoulder and producing a sword of his own. “You’re pretty sharp for a first-timer,” he said, glancing at Monica’s uniform. “It’s a shame the academy still doesn’t teach lessons about not sneaking around in strange tunnels. At least you two have the ‘safety in numbers’ part down. If you’d stumbled upon this place without your teacher here, well…let’s just say she’d have one less head to count during roll call.”
Monica clenched her teeth, bristling at the implication of the swordsman’s statement. “You say that like you’re familiar with the academy,” she said.
“Why wouldn’t I be? I used to be a student like you. Then some things happened, and I ended up moving down here.”
“What kind of ‘things’, exactly?”
“The kind of ‘things’ a smart man doesn’t reveal to a complete stranger,” said the swordsman. With a wave of his hands, he directed the other fighters in his company to stand at both exits to the tunnel with their daggers at the ready. The only one who stayed put was a musclebound man who wore a longer white coat and pants, but no shirt.
“Must we do this again, Yuri?” asked Byleth, following a sigh of exasperation. “You and I have already crossed blades before, and you know I don’t mean any harm.”
“Sorry, friend, but that’s just how I do business here,” said Yuri. “Someone’s gotta keep the tunnels between the monastery and Abyss safe, after all.”
The man in the coat stepped in front of Yuri and adjusted the straps on his claw-like gauntlets, saying, “And that’s where we come in. We’re here to make sure anyone traveling to Abyss won’t try to bust up the place if we let ‘em pass, yeah?”
“Besides, I may know you’re good for your word, but I can’t be certain you’re not bringing your students down here to feed information to the church. Goddess knows I’ve chased enough of their soldiers away from this place…”
“So, seeing as how we’ve currently got you outnumbered,” said the brawler, “you’ve got two options: try to fight your way out, or let us lock you up for trespassing. Either way, I don’t like your chances.”
Monica almost wanted to curse the situation she found herself in. The four fighters blocking the exits didn’t bother her, for she had defeated many like them and expected to fight even more before the school year ended. She was more concerned about how she and Byleth planned to deal with Yuri and his partner. Both men appeared to be wielding Heroes’ Relics – Yuri had a wiry glove wrapped around his left hand, and the shirtless brawler standing next to him had a pair of gauntlets that looked like a monster’s claws. If either one was as powerful or versatile as Byleth’s Sword of the Creator, Monica, being the only one within the circle without a Relic or equivalent sacred weapon, knew she would be in for a tough fight.
She and Byleth nodded at each other, and then at the men standing before them. “We accept your challenge,” they said.
Yuri and the man with the strange claws both grinned. “Now you’re talkin’ my language! Remember the name Balthus von Albrecht, the Abyssal King of Grappling, as the one who’s about to beat you into submission!”
“As long as we’re getting these pointless pre-battle introductions out of the way, you can call me Yuri. Go ahead and call for help if you want…you won’t find it here.”
“That’s just fine with us,” said Byleth as she slowly unsheathed the Sword of the Creator, its eerie glow lighting up her surroundings. “Right, Monica?”
“Monica, huh? Your name sounds familiar,” said Balthus.
Monica tried not to get distracted by how Balthus knew her name despite never having seen or heard of him until she decided to venture into Abyss. After taking a good look at her opponents, she deduced that a head-on attack would be too risky, so she stood back and channeled magic into her left hand and tossed a fireball at Balthus.
“Whoa-ho! Getting fired up already, eh?” he said as sparks from Monica’s spell scattered around his gauntlets. “I was hoping to be the one to make the first move, but I guess you can’t be picky at times like this. Now come on, let’s see what you’ve got!”
Balthus lunged forward and swung at Monica with a right hook. She could feel the sheer force behind his punch from the heat of his Hero’s Relic. With no shield to protect her, she had to rely on her agility to keep herself as far out of harm’s way as possible. Even a glancing blow could cause enough damage to leave a deep scrape wound, and with each hit she took from his relentless assault, new scars opened up on her arms, shoulders, and chest that she felt compelled to hide.
Byleth rushed in and attacked Balthus to take his focus away from Monica while she slipped away to recover. When Balthus tried to hit Byleth with a haymaker, she dodged to her left and cut him on one of his unprotected shoulders. The slash wound appeared slight on his muscular frame, but it was just big enough for Monica to target it with Nosferatu and stitch together some of the injuries he had inflicted on her.
“Interesting… I see one of our guests has a few tricks up her sleeve. Well, I consider myself something of a trickster, too.”
Before she knew what had happened, Monica felt the cold steel of Yuri’s sword press against her neck. She stepped away from the threatening blade and turned to see him standing behind her. Although her sword-wielding arm still ached from Balthus’ attack, she swatted Yuri’s weapon away with her own and opted to fight through the pain, parrying Yuri’s strikes to buy enough time to hit him with a fireball and put some distance between them. It took Yuri a moment to roll onto the ground to snuff out his flaming outfit, and slightly less time than that to get back on his feet and use his Relic to dart around Monica and attack her from behind, using one of the cave’s natural columns as cover. The force from Yuri’s point-blank Wind spell sent Monica face-first into the wall. The two rogues standing watch nearby cheered on as she slowly got up, clutching her head as she tried to get back into the fight.
“Yeah! Get ‘em, boss!”
“That girl ain’t nothin’!”
Every part of Monica’s body ached. The jeering crowd hadn’t done much for her confidence, but the rogues were easier to block out than Yuri’s sword or Balthus’ gauntlets. She needed to find a way to turn things around, especially when Byleth was having a much easier time fighting the self-proclaimed King of Grappling. He looked down at his tattered longcoat and smirked, saying, “You really are as tough as the rumors say. Guess I’ll have to finish this fight in one go so I can drown myself in ale afterward.”
Balthus’ Relic glowed bright orange as he reared his right hand back to deliver a punch that Monica feared would shatter her teacher’s jaw if it connected.
“Professor! Watch out!” she yelled.
With only a fraction of a second to react, Byleth jumped to her right to try to dodge the punch. As Balthus’ fist collided with the wall and punched a hole into it, she found herself floating above the ground, leaping much further than she thought she could go. When she saw Monica holding her hands out as if to catch her, Byleth curled up to try to blunt the impact from when she and Monica inevitably collided. She barely had time to dust herself off when Yuri brought his sword down to attack her, only for it to get caught between the teeth of the Sword of the Creator. Byleth pushed the weapon away and kneed Yuri in the stomach, giving Monica enough room to regain her footing and counter Balthus when he tried to grab her.
While Balthus could hit harder than Yuri, his partner had a significant speed advantage thanks to his Relic. He also kept his body well-defended despite his lack of armor, so Monica followed her teacher’s example and aimed her strikes at Balthus’ arms to try to weaken him. Byleth, meanwhile, focused on keeping Yuri at bay by whipping at him with the Sword of the Creator and confounding his attempts to close the distance between them by striking from multiple directions. She had to be careful how often she did so, as every missed strike chipped away at her blade and the surrounding cavern walls. When she retracted her blade to its “natural” form, Yuri leaped forward and brought his blade just a few inches away from Byleth’s eye before pulling away and signaling for Balthus to stand down.
“I think we’ve seen enough here,” he said. “You were pretty impressive once again, Professor. And I suppose Monica performed adequately, too.”
Monica dropped to one knee and groaned. She could only patch up a few of her wounds at a time with Nosferatu. The rest had to be healed by someone else, and when Yuri walked over to her to use his magic on her, she was confused about why he was doing it when he and Balthus had just finished trying to cut her and Byleth open.
Yuri’s henchmen, seeing that the fight was over, put away their weapons and gathered around their leader.
“I must admit, you both got me good,” said Monica. “We expected to meet resistance on our way down here, but nothing like this!” She waited for Yuri to finish healing her wounds so she could examine Byleth, who had taken a hit to her collarbone during the fight. Monica used what remained of her healing magic to heal that and the wounds she had inflicted on Balthus.
“Don’t sell yourself short,” said Yuri. “You and your professor stood your ground despite being outnumbered. I was hoping that our little attack would have scared you away.”
“You mean you weren’t trying to kill us? I find that hard to believe.”
“The last thing we need is the church coming down here and looking for more dead bodies,” said Balthus. “And you and the professor could have taken advantage of that and tried to do the same to us at any time, but you didn’t, so I guess you’re not all bad.” He looked at his arms and shoulders and noticed the lack of scars after Monica had healed him. The spell hadn’t removed any of the blood, so he wiped some of it onto his jacket, not seeming to care who else would notice.
“Don’t mistake that for us holding back,” said Byleth. “I try not to kill anyone unnecessarily.”
“Oh yeah! I just remembered where I heard your name before,” Balthus continued, looking over at Monica again. “You’re Baron Ochs’ daughter, aren’t ya?”
“Yes, but…how do you know my father?” she asked.
Balthus removed his left gauntlet and presented it to her. The eerie glow faded from both claws after he took it off, but Monica found their dormant form no less menacing than before. “See these? I ran into your old man near Enbarr a while back. He was carrying them around, and it looked like he was trying to pawn them off to some shady black market merchant types.”
Monica could do little but gasp and worry about what her father had been doing while she was at the mercy of Kronya and her minions. “My father never told me about this! How did he discover such a rare artifact?”
Balthus shrugged. “Who knows? This Vajra-Mushti is actually a treasure of the village I used to live in. Not just anyone can use it, either. It took me a while to convince the baron not to hand it over to them, but the poor guy sounded desperate. He said he’d do anything to get you back, no matter what it took.” He slapped his forehead with his palm when he realized what he had almost done. “And after I went through all that trouble to tell your dad not to throw his life away for your sake, I almost sent you back to him in a pine box,” he said. “Ugh…am I gonna have to hide from him after all that, too?”
“One would certainly hope not,” Yuri added. “Baron Ochs is probably one of the few nobles in Fódlan to whom you don’t owe money.” He turned his attention back to his two challengers, both of whom looked lost in thought. “Anyway, we’re getting off track here. You’re here to serve as Monica’s guardian in her descent into Abyss, yes?”
“You make it sound like I’m pretending to be her mother,” said Byleth.
“Relax…I didn’t mean anything by it. What say you let us escort you the rest of the way? I’ll bet you’re dying to know more about our little community. Leave behind any preconceived notions you might have…you’ll be better off for it, trust me.”
Monica wanted to trust Yuri as a man of his word, but his subtle grin made her question his true intentions. Traveling and fighting underground had made her lose track of time, and she hoped to make it out of Abyss without collapsing from exhaustion. She waited for Byleth to light another torch before following her, Yuri, and Balthus to their destination. Aside from asking around about the Death Knight, Monica hoped to learn more about her two escorts, as well.