Over the next few days, Monica tried to familiarize herself with the campus layout, walking from one end to another without Ingrid or Flayn’s guidance. She wanted to strike up conversations with some of the other students, but it was hard to tell which ones belonged to her house as their uniforms didn’t have any special coats-of-arms sewn onto them.
Monica had lost all of her money when she was rescued, and she still hadn’t heard anything from or about her father since she last wrote to him. Without a monthly allowance to rely on, she turned to the bulletin boards for errands to run. She earned about 500 gold pieces helping cook and serve food in the dining hall, and that gave her enough money to buy a wooden training sword and a few vulneraries to heal any injuries she might sustain.
A few students challenged Monica to duels in the training arena, hoping to “get their first licks in” on the new girl. Two boys came at her with a sword and an axe, while a third girl came at her with a lance that looked a lot more like a walking stick. Though her reaction speed had been dulled from being away from combat situations for a long time, Monica was able to beat the axe-wielding boy by overpowering him with swift slashes that he was unable to defend against. The sword-fighter and the lance-fighter both had a speed advantage on her, so the best she could do was get in one or two strikes against each of them before being knocked down.
A younger Monica would have protested that a three-on-one fight was unfair. When she grew older, she knew better. One-on-one duels outside of a controlled environment were a rarity. Her enemies would use every advantage possible to win, and she needed to be prepared to counter them at all times. “Be strong, be stubborn.” That was her family’s motto. If an Ochs couldn’t win a conflict outright, they had to give everything they had to prevent their enemies from walking all over them.
Monica felt awful when she woke up that Saturday morning. She had heard a terrifying voice in her head a few hours after she had gone to sleep.
“Do not struggle.”
It was telling her to do the opposite of everything her father and their caretakers had instilled in her since birth.
To just lie there.
To not fight back.
To give up.
What choice did she have? She was tired…too tired to even open her eyes to see who or what was threatening her. Not only that, but she ached all over.
A moment later, she heard the sound of metal hitting against stone…then she felt herself floating, suspended in midair as if by magic.
Without warning, her body was tossed against something hard, causing a splitting headache.
When she came to, she found herself lying on the floor next to her bed.
Ouch! I wish these beds were bigger.
Monica slowly got up from the ground and dusted herself off, and then walked over to the dining hall to get her morning breakfast. The oatmeal she ate was only a few steps above common gruel, but at least she could put sliced peaches in it to add some flavor.
A church monk was waiting outside her bedroom door when she returned. “Lady Monica!” she said. “Professor Eisner is ready to see you. She said to come to her office as soon as you were finished eating.”
“I’ll be right there!”
Monica took her time walking up to Jeralt’s room, hoping Byleth wouldn’t scold her for fighting in the arena without permission. When she reached the office, she saw a tall, rugged-looking bearded man hand the professor a folder with a short stack of papers inside. Monica figured it had to be Jeralt, the former captain of the Knights of Seiros.
“She’s all yours,” he said to Byleth on his way out of the room. Monica nodded to Jeralt and sat across from her teacher at the table by the window.
“Hi, Professor,” said Monica. “You wanted to see me about something?”
“Yes. Before we get started with that, how are you feeling?” asked Byleth.
Monica pretended to think about it for a moment so she could look at the fully-stacked bookshelves off to her side. There were so many different volumes on so many different subjects that she thought they couldn’t possibly have all belonged to Jeralt or the professor. If only she could get her hands on one to see what was inside…
“Oh! Sorry, Professor…I spaced out there, didn’t I?” The young heiress turned back to Byleth, who didn’t look as scary up close when she couldn’t see her weird sword. “Actually, I’m feeling achy today…I fell out of bed last night.”
“Do you need some medicine?”
“No, thank you.”
The headache didn’t bother her as much as the devilish, almost demonic voice that rang in her head last night. No vulnerary could fix it, and she wasn’t ready to tell anyone about her nightmare. Not yet.
“Let’s see here…according to your old personnel records, you’ve had some training with swords and lances,” said Byleth, examining the papers in the file folder. “Which of those do you prefer?”
“My family has a history of skilled sword-fighters,” said Monica, “so I’d like to stick to that if possible.”
“What about ranged weapons? Can you shoot a bow? Can you use magic?”
“No, not really. I prefer getting up close to my enemies when I fight.”
“It never hurts to have a backup plan to use when things get too hairy. This month, I’d like you to focus on building up your swordsmanship, and then I’d like you to choose one of the three long-range disciplines to study for your secondary focus – archery, white magic, or black magic.”
“In that case, I’d like to try out white magic.”
“Good choice.” Byleth handed Monica a six-page pamphlet entitled “Priest Certification Exam” with a picture of a man and a woman in robes similar to the ones worn by the Church of Seiros. “The Black Eagles only have one healer, so it’ll help a lot if we have someone else to heal the team’s wounds. If you’d prefer to focus solely on building your strength at the expense of being able to use magic, then you could try taking the Mercenary class certification exam. If you pass both, you can pick which one you want to take before a mission. It’s up to you.”
Monica didn’t have to think about it for very long. When it came to choosing between raw power and versatility, versatility won out. She’d still have to drink those gross vulneraries if she wanted to heal her own wounds, but studying a few hand gestures and chanting a prayer to the goddess to heal others felt like a fair trade-off. She could still use her sword in combat if she felt like it, even if the Priest training course wouldn’t let her put her full weight behind every strike.
“Come with me,” said Byleth. “It’s time for you to meet your new classmates.”
“Right behind you, Professor.”
Monica followed Byleth to the common area to a row of buildings between the meeting hall and the student dorms. Each one had a flag hanging outside the door to indicate which house it belonged to – Black Eagles, Blue Lions, or Golden Deer. The Black Eagles classroom was the first one in her line of sight, so Monica peeked inside and waited for someone to notice her. With nothing to study while their professor was away, most of the students were engaged in small talk. It was only when Byleth stepped into the room that anyone turned to look in Monica’s direction.
A girl with white hair caught Monica’s immediate attention. Most of the other students seemed drawn to her, including one boy with dark clothes and unkempt black hair, who was sitting at a desk close to her and kept his eyes on her whenever she walked around. Monica thought she looked beautiful, too, but she knew she had to keep her composure when the girl approached to avoid any more awkward first impressions.
“Welcome back, Professor,” the girl said to Byleth. “Did everything go well with your ‘special guest’?”
“Yes,” said the professor. “In fact, as of today, she’s going to be joining the Black Eagles. Why don’t you introduce yourselves to her to make her feel comfortable?”
Several other students gathered around the white-haired girl to meet the new addition to their class. “Monica, was it?” she asked.
Monica was taken aback. How could this girl possibly have known her name before she had a chance to introduce herself?
“We were told that a former Academy student had been rescued alongside Flayn, and your name was mentioned. In any case, welcome back to the Black Eagles. I’m Edelgard von Hresvelg, the new leader of this house. If you ever have any questions that you don’t think our teacher will be able to answer, come to me, and I’ll do the best I can.”
“It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Your Highness,” said a starstruck Monica, who managed to compose herself just long enough to curtsy before the Imperial princess.
“And I am Lady Edelgard’s humble servant, Hubert von Vestra,” said the boy with the scruffy hair. “As long as you are not a nuisance to her, I believe your time in the Officers Academy will be most fruitful.”
Monica didn’t appreciate the implied death threat in Hubert’s greeting, but she tried not to scowl at him. He didn’t look like he was one to joke about such things.
“I had no idea the Black Eagles would be adding another noble to their ranks,” said an orange-haired boy standing on the opposite side of Edelgard and Hubert. “Greetings! My name is Ferdinand von Aegir. My father is the prime minister of the Empire, and I am next in line to inherit his position.”
“And I’m Linhardt von…Hevring,” yawned a green-haired boy sitting off to the side.
“Eh, don’t mind him,” said an excitable boy with light-blue hair standing next to him. “This is one of the few times we’ve managed to get Linhardt to stay awake! Mostly. Anyway, I’m Caspar…Caspar von Bergliez. Nice to meet you!”
One of the other students whispered to a girl in purple, who reluctantly turned in the same direction as everyone else to greet Monica. “I’m Bernadetta…von Varley,” said the shy girl. “Don’t mind me…I’m just here for class so I can get back to my room.”
“Come on, Bernie, don’t be like that!” said a girl with long, curly brown hair. “I’m sure our new friend would like to get to know you, too!”
The girl sitting next to Bernadetta extended her right hand for Monica to shake. She had very delicate hands, almost like Flayn’s. “My name’s Dorothea Arnault. I’m not a noble like yourself, Edie, or almost everyone else here, but they’ve helped me feel at home here in the Black Eagle house. We all hope you have a pleasant time here with us.”
Dorothea turned to a darker-skinned girl standing to her left. This is probably who Dorothea means by “almost everyone else here” being a noble, Monica thought. That tattoo under her eye looks familiar. Could she be from Brigid? Father used to warn me about the Brigidians ever since we lost the war, but…this one doesn’t look like a bad person.
“And I am Petra Macneary,” said the girl. “I, too, am hoping that we can be friends.”
“Thank you all so much,” said Monica. “I’m looking forward to a fruitful and productive year for all of us.”
Monica sat down at a desk behind Dorothea and between Linhardt and Bernadetta. She thought about the names of the families that most of the other Black Eagles belonged to – Hresvelg, Vestra, Aegir, Hevring, Bergliez, and Varley – and couldn’t believe how lucky she was to be in the same class as all of the descendants of the Imperial court. She was also curious about why they were all in the same house at the same time, wondering if it had something to do with the rumors of a coup that happened years ago.
Before she could think about it any further, Byleth walked to the blackboard and tapped on it with a wooden stick to get the class’ attention. Even Linhardt and Bernadetta sat up straight to listen to what the professor had to say.
“Now, since today is Saturday,” said Byleth, “I didn’t prepare any lessons for you. I only gathered you all here so I could introduce you to Monica. Next week, we’ll discuss our strategy for the Battle of the Eagle and Lion. Edelgard and Hubert will be in charge of that. Monica, even though you won’t be participating in the event, I’d still like you to come out to Gronder Field with us to observe the battle and give our house some much-needed moral support.”
“Yes, Professor,” said Monica. She wasn’t happy with being a simple cheerleader, but at least by watching the Battle of the Eagle and Lion from afar, she could learn more about proper battlefield tactics and hopefully witness a Black Eagles victory before she graduated.
“Those of you who are scheduled to participate,” the professor continued, “keep working on your training from the week before the underground chamber mission. Monica, I’d like you to work on your swordsmanship with Dorothea and Petra, and take some white magic lessons from Linhardt. Your goal will be to prepare for one of the class certification exams we discussed earlier.”
Monica’s response was more enthusiastic this time around. “You got it!”
“That’s it for now. Class is dismissed. Meet me back here after the breakfast bell on Monday and we’ll pick up where we left off.”
Byleth sat her stick down next to the chalkboard, and most of the students dispersed. Only Edelgard, Linhardt, Caspar, Dorothea, and Monica stayed behind.
“So, Monica,” said Caspar, “I heard that you were up in the arena earlier today. You seem pretty eager to get back onto the battlefield. Wanna spar with me later?”
“Not today,” said Monica. “I’m already worn out from having to fight three students at once.”
“Geez…that’s pretty rough. I never got hazed that badly when I first started going here.”
“At least I managed to take out the guy with the axe before the others knocked me out.”
“Swordsmanship and healing isn’t a combination that you see too often around here,” said Dorothea. “The only two people I know who use both are Marianne over in the Golden Deer house, and Manuela, the nurse. I think she’s teaching the Blue Lions this year, so I don’t know how readily she’ll be available to help.”
Monica had yet to see Manuela since her return to Garreg Mach. “Is she doing okay?”
“I think she should be finished recovering from the Death Knight’s attack by now,” said Edelgard. “You should go see her when you get a chance.”
“Ooh! Good idea! It’ll be nice to go to the infirmary as a visitor and not a patient.”
“Having a second healer on the team will really help our house out,” said Linhardt. “It’ll certainly help lighten my load. I hope that doesn’t make it sound like I’m putting my work on you so soon after you came back…”
Monica shook her head. “It’s fine, Linhardt. I’ll do whatever it takes to help our team, even if I can’t help you guys out with the Battle of the Eagle and Lion.”
“Caspar, Dorothea, Linhardt…save a spot at one of the tables in the dining hall for me,” said Edelgard. “I’d like to speak with Monica alone for a few moments.”
“Sure thing, Edie,” said Dorothea.
“All right! My favorite time of the day!” said Caspar.
“Try to slow down when you chew this time,” said Linhardt, patting Caspar on the back as they walked out behind Dorothea.
There were still a few students in the classroom whose names Monica didn’t know. She smiled and nodded at them, but they didn’t smile or nod back. They only watched as she followed Edelgard out to the garden maze, past the gazebo where the princess would meet with Hubert or Byleth for tea. There was a second gazebo next to it, but it didn’t have any tables or chairs in or around it…just a floating sphere dotted with weird green lines.
Monica sat down next to Edelgard at the only bench facing the green sphere. She clenched her fists and tried to look at Edelgard without showing any signs of weakness or nervousness. Was it really okay for her, the scion of the lord of a minor noble house, to sit so close to the future leader of the Empire, without anyone asking questions? What could she possibly want to discuss?
“How are you feeling, Monica?” asked the princess.
“I-I’m quite fine, Your Highness,” said Monica.
“Are you sure? You still sound a little shaky. I can only imagine how frightening it must have been to be trapped underground for so long. None of us were aware that you had gone missing until after your body was discovered. When we found you and Flayn, I had feared the worst…that the Death Knight, or someone else, had taken you.”
Monica didn’t want to admit it even to Edelgard, but she was still shaken. She still heard voices in her head when she slept. People screaming in pain, crying for help… She couldn’t make sense of any of it, much less imagine how horrible Flayn was secretly feeling about her ordeal.
“I’m still here, thank the Goddess,” said Monica after a heavy sigh. “I honestly thought I was going to die down there, destined to be forgotten.”
“But it doesn’t have to end that way, Monica. You still have a long life ahead of you, and plenty of time to make a name for yourself. How do you plan on using it?”
“I want… I want to help people…to save them…just as Flayn saved me.”
Edelgard rested a fist on her chin and hummed. Were Flayn’s healing abilities the real reason for her kidnapping, like Monica thought? Or was there something else at stake? There were many things she still needed to consider before coming to a conclusion.
“In a manner of speaking, of course,” said Monica. “She healed me when the knights brought me back to the infirmary, and she was the first person I saw when I woke up.”
“I see. I’ll go on ahead and discuss this with our teacher and see what she thinks about everything. Is that alright with you?”
“Yes, Your Hi–“
“‘Edelgard’ is fine. We’re classmates now, and it wouldn’t be fair if you were the only one still addressing me as if I was just a princess.”
Monica uncurled her fists and relaxed. It still felt weird addressing Edelgard as an equal instead of the leader she was appointed – no, destined – to be, but as long as it was okay with Edelgard, she would acquiesce. “Yes, Edelgard. Thank you…I feel a little bit better now.”
“Good. I’m going to head off to lunch now. Feel free to do as you wish, but try not to stray too far off the academy grounds. Have a good day, Monica.”
Edelgard got up from the bench and departed for the dining hall to meet with her other friends. Monica wasn’t feeling hungry, so she went back to her room to write another letter to her father about meeting her professor and her new classmates for the first time. Her pep talk with Edelgard filled her with enthusiasm and optimism for the days to come. She wasn’t going to let her or Byleth down…not when she had been given this second chance to prove herself.