When Edelgard woke up, the sun had just barely poked its head out from behind the horizon. Her neck and back had stiffened up from sleeping against one of the trees all night. She looked toward the damaged north gate and saw Hubert standing before her, maintaining his usual stone-faced expression.
"You're up early," she said.
"I figured you could use some company," said Hubert. "Someone in your position should not be reduced to sleeping alone on the grass, Lady Edelgard."
"Thank you, Hubert, but there's nothing that can be done about it now." Edelgard got up and stretched, relieved that her arms and legs hadn't become sore after last night's intense battle. "Where is everyone else?"
"Most of them are just waking up now. I have yet to check on the Professor and Captain Jeralt, but I must assume that they are also just now getting up."
"I should probably speak with them myself before we return to the academy," said Edelgard. She and Hubert walked side by side toward the south gate and the tent where Byleth and Jeralt were sleeping. A few houses north of the wall, they saw Flayn talking to a heartbroken father.
"Flayn? What are you doing out here all by yourself?" asked Edelgard.
"I was having trouble sleeping, and I did not want to disturb Bernadetta," said Flayn, "so I awakened early and went to search for the Professor."
"And what if you got attacked or captured again? Seteth would never forgive any of us."
And knowing Bernadetta, Edelgard thought, she'll probably send the other Black Eagles scrambling all over the village to look for her.
"I did not mean to make any of you worry. When I got close to the exit, I saw this gentleman outside, crying for his son. I figured I would stop and try to console him."
The man appeared to be in his late forties. Judging by his wrinkled, dust-covered shirt and the wet patch on his right sleeve, he was too upset to sleep through the night. "My son… I haven't seen him since…late last night," he said as he tried to compose herself between sniffles. "He told me…he was going to visit some of his friends for a few hours… I told him to come straight home…if the bells rang…"
"And he never made it home," said Flayn.
Edelgard and Hubert looked around to see how many villagers were sifting through the rubble in their quest to collect an accurate casualty count. "If the intensity of last night's conflict is any indication," said Hubert, "then the chances of your son's survival are slim."
"Isn't there anything you can do to help?" the man cried.
"If you could give us a physical description to follow," said Edelgard, "it might make things easier."
"Let's see…he's about your height, has orange-pink hair, and wears a long-sleeved black shirt, dark brown pants, and brown boots."
Edelgard looked at the man and said to him, "Our time is limited, but we will do what we can to help."
"Thank you so much," he replied. "His friends live near the well by the southwest wall. Please, hurry!"
As the gentleman returned to his house, Edelgard and Hubert headed southward in search of the boy's whereabouts. Just as she left, Flayn looked around nervously after hearing her name being called several times, turning behind her to see Ferdinand approaching. "There you are, Flayn," he said. "When Bernadetta shouted that you were not in your room, I came as quickly as I could to track you down."
"There is no need to worry, Ferdinand," she said with a slight smile. "I am not in any danger."
"Good. I will go and let the others know you are safe."
Just a few seconds after his arrival, Dorothea and Monica ran up to Ferdinand, panting heavily.
"Did you find her, Ferdie?" asked Dorothea.
"She is right here," he replied, "and fortunately, unharmed."
"What a relief," said Monica. "What happened, Flayn? I went downstairs to eat breakfast with Dorothea, and then I heard Bernadetta yelling from her room that you'd gone missing."
"I am fine now, but I did not sleep well last night," said Flayn.
"I don't think any of us did," said Dorothea after yawning wearily. "I'm already starting to miss the academy's beds."
"I will come back to the inn to eat before we return to the monastery. Right now, I believe we should help the Professor look for survivors."
Flayn and Dorothea ran to the south to look for Byleth, Edelgard, and Jeralt, while Ferdinand and Monica went back toward the inn to reassure the other Black Eagles that Flayn was okay. After they ate breakfast, they scoured the northern half of Remire Village to help the villagers and the knights clean up. Several more dead bodies were discovered in the aftermath of Myson and Kronya's assault, with dozens more requiring medical attention due to bruises, cuts, and broken bones. One man, a father of four, swore he recognized one of the faces of the monsters as an old friend of his.
Despite the fear and anger at those that attacked the village, some of the villagers remained optimistic that they would be safe from another attack. They planned to hold two public services – one late in the morning to celebrate the lives of the victims and another before sunset to honor the villagers and members of Remire's militia who took up arms to defend the village. Byleth and her students were not scheduled to appear at either gathering, for she was expected to report to Rhea as soon as she returned to the monastery.
The search for the pink-haired boy continued without much success. None of the corpses found during the investigation matched his description, and his friends told Byleth and Edelgard that they had lost sight of him while the monsters were rampaging through the village.
"If we add this boy's disappearance to the casualties reported by the knights," said Byleth, "then that makes 17 villagers who are currently unaccounted for."
"And we've collectively searched every square inch of this village," said Edelgard. "Running around in circles won't help us find them any faster."
"It is unlikely that anyone would have ventured far away from the village during all that fighting," said Hubert. "The nearest safe zones beyond these walls are several hundred yards away."
"Then, does that mean that—" Flayn stopped short of finishing her sentence, afraid of the negative response she expected to hear.
"We don't know for certain," said Edelgard. "Our duty was to help defend the village, and we did that to the best of our ability with the resources we had."
"I hate to say it," said Byleth as she put on her jacket, "but we'll have to let the people of Remire continue the search-and-rescue mission without us. Edelgard, tell the rest of the class to meet me by the carriages."
Edelgard nodded. "Yes, Professor."
She took a little longer than expected to round everyone up, for she was also hungry after last night's battle. The soup at the inn was less than filling, but it was enough to warm her up after sleeping out in the cold.
Byleth waited for everyone to gather by the east gate. Constance searched for a birch tree to hide under as the sun rose above them. Not wanting Constance to feel lonely with everyone else huddled in a semi-circle around Byleth, Monica stood next to her and hoped that she would perk up.
"All right…did everyone remember to take everything with them from their rooms?" asked Byleth.
Everyone patted themselves down, making sure that their coin pouches and weapons were in place.
"Good. Before we all return to the monastery, I'd like to thank you once again for your hard work—"
Before she could address her students and guests, they were joined by the broad-shouldered militia leader and an elderly man in a navy-blue shirt and matching overcoat.
"Hey there! You kids leaving us already?" said the leader. "I guess I was wrong to worry about you, seeing as how you managed to come out of that battle in one piece."
"What can I say? We're used to it," said Caspar, excitedly punching his right hand against his left palm.
"Unfortunately…" Linhardt added.
"Yeah, well…even so, I couldn't let you guys go without a few words from the elder."
The leader took a step back to allow Remire Village's elder to come forth and greet Byleth and Jeralt. "Thank you, Royce," said the elder. "And thank you once again, Jeralt and…um, I don't believe I got your name last time, young lady."
"Sorry…we were in a bit of a hurry that day," said Byleth. "It's good to meet you. I'm Byleth, and I work at the Officers Academy now."
The elder's eyes widened. "Oh, so you're the new professor everyone's talking about these days." He shook Byleth's hand, surprised by the firmness of her grip. "I'm Guil Sandor, the elder of this humble village."
"It seems your reputation precedes you, Professor," said Ferdinand.
"How could it not? After all, it's not often that you have someone save the same village twice in the same year," said the elder. "Regrettably, those pale soldiers and the creatures that they unleashed upon us did far more damage than the Iron King and his gang of thugs." He turned to his right and saw a mother and father carrying their son's corpse outside the walls, silently acknowledging him with a nod before continuing onward, looking forlornly at the ground ahead of them. "We can repair the walls and most of the damaged buildings in time, but the human cost of attacks like this can and should never be underestimated. Many of these men, women, and children will have to deal with the loss of their friends and family members for years to come."
"Still," Royce added, "if you hadn't come to our defense as soon as you did, I can only imagine the situation being a lot uglier than it already was."
Monica winced as she assessed the wreckage once more. She didn't want to imagine how much worse things could get from there.
"My son speaks the truth," said Elder Sandor. "Every one of you showed great courage in the face of danger last night. While it is unfortunate that you cannot attend our ceremonies later on, rest assured that your deeds will not go unrewarded. I will notify the church of your success in this mission. Please give my regards to the archbishop upon your return. You and your students are welcome to visit this village anytime…once we get back on our feet, that is."
"Thank you, Elder," said Byleth, who turned to address her class again after the Sandors left. "As I was saying, I wanted to thank you all for your hard work over the last week. Together, we managed to chase those mysterious soldiers away. They shouldn't bother us or this village for a while. Flayn, Constance…you were a great help, as well."
"I am happy to contribute any way I can, Professor," said Flayn.
Constance, on the other hand, sounded less confident. "Alas, my magical talents failed again at a critical moment, putting innocent lives at unnecessary risk," she said, drawing confused stares from Caspar and Petra, who had witnessed her take down a heavily armored knight by burning him to death, and earlier saw her blind a giant wolf with ice magic that neither of them had studied. As the shadow of the tree shifted, Constance twisted around its trunk to try to get some relief from the overbearing sunlight and look her companions in the eyes. "Nevertheless," she added seamlessly, "I am grateful for the opportunity to put my skills to work, even if things did not go as intended."
The carriage drivers stepped down from their vehicles and paced back and forth in front of the east gate. One of them glanced at the group and nodded toward the carriages before continuing his route.
"Looks like our rides are getting restless," said Jeralt. "You kids ready to shove off?"
"You don't have to tell me twice!" said Bernadetta. "After dealing with all those creepy monsters, being back in my own room feels like the best thing in the world right now. N-no offense, Flayn!"
"Offense? Did I do something that offended her?" Flayn wondered.
"I believe it is merely a figure of speech, Flayn," said Ferdinand. "I do not think Bernadetta meant that literally."
The class took one last look at Remire before filing into the carriages, with most of them feeling disappointed that they wouldn't get to talk to any of the villagers. Byleth told them that it would be better to leave them alone and give them time to grieve and repair things until they were ready to accept visitors again.
The Black Eagles returned to Garreg Mach Monastery in the mid-afternoon. The Knights of Seiros were still out on patrol, and the Blue Lions and Golden Deer were at least a day away from completing their missions. With no one else to talk to about their exploits, Byleth decided to let her class disperse for the rest of the day while she and Jeralt reported to Rhea. She also postponed all lessons until the following Monday to give everyone time to recover physically and mentally.
While on her way back to her house, Constance beckoned for Monica to accompany her to her front door while the rest of the class walked ahead of them.
"What's going on, Connie?" asked Monica. "Are you feeling okay?"
Constance stepped underneath the roof of her house and vigorously shook her head – not because she was feeling ill, but to make sure she didn't have a headache. She looked up at Monica once she felt her head was clear and asked, "Who was that unsightly young girl that attacked us last night? She seems to have a history with you."
"Oh…you're talking about Kronya." Monica lowered her head, wondering if the sun was beginning to get to her as well. "Do you remember when I told you about my trip to visit my father?"
"Yes, I do recall that story."
"Well, that's because I hadn't seen him – or anyone I knew – for several months because I was being held prisoner by Kronya and her minions. I managed to find a way to get out of there…barely. There were others in the caves where I was held who weren't even given that chance."
Monica wasn't ready to break down in tears again as she had when she explained the same story to Edelgard. Rather than dwell on her inability to save the other prisoners in the caves, Monica tried to comfort herself with the belief that she, Constance, Flayn, and the Black Eagles had saved some of the Remire villagers from becoming more victims. It didn't completely lift her spirits, but in her mind, it was a few steps up from the helpless position she found herself in several months ago.
"And what about Flayn? This…'Kronya' person referred to her as a 'mongrel'," said Constance. "What was that all about? Does she have a vendetta against her as well?"
"I don't really know," said Monica. "The only thing I know for certain is that the Death Knight was the one who actually kidnapped Flayn, but no one's seen him since that incident. Then that Myson guy implied that he'd been using Flayn's blood for the Crest Stones we saw in some of those creatures we fought."
"To think that these…these monsters would do such horrible things like that to you and Flayn and all of these innocent villagers and townspeople…I just…it just…"
A searing heat built up inside Constance, threatening to release through the palms of her balled-up fists. To avoid potentially hurting herself or Monica, she took a few deep breaths and waited for the sensation to subside. "Forgive me, dear Monica," she said, struggling not to let her anger build up again. "I almost lost myself for a moment."
"It's okay, Connie," said Monica. "There's nothing wrong with wanting to let it all out. Goddess knows how many times I've wanted to punch a wall in frustration."
"Fortunately, that ordeal is over now, so we can all rest easy. Despite my misgivings about the accommodations of Remire Village's inn, I am still grateful for having the chance to chat and play with you and some of your classmates. Now, however, I must return to my research while the experience from our last battle is still fresh in my mind."
"I'll leave you to it, then," Monica said with a warm smile. "How's your arm doing?"
"There is still some residual soreness," said Constance, rubbing her right arm where the enemy knight's sword slashed her, "but it should heal with time."
"That's good to hear." Monica waited for Constance to lift her head. Although she had yet to tell her directly, staring at Constance's soft blue eyes always seemed to put Monica's mind at ease. "Um…before I go, I really want to thank you and Flayn for helping us out. I didn't mean to drag you both into my little conflict."
"I would hardly call being slashed in the stomach by a knife-wielding maniac a 'little conflict', Monica."
Monica quietly conceded the point. If the two of them hadn't been there to pull her away in time, she knew she would have been seriously injured, or even killed.
"With that in mind," Constance added, "I am glad that you made it out of that battle safely." Suddenly, she wrapped her arms around Monica, holding her tightly and smiling when Monica did the same. "When do you suppose we shall meet again?"
"Does two weeks from Friday sound good?" asked Monica.
"Of course! If I appear to be busy, do make sure to knock first so I am not caught by surprise when you arrive."
In the cathedral's audience chamber, a Knight of Seiros stood at attention in front of Rhea, shivering under his armor. The archbishop showed no apparent signs of aggression or discomfort, but her unflinching glare pierced through him.
"Are you sure that you were unable to find any sign of them?" she asked.
"I'm p-positive, Lady Rhea," said the knight. "Th-the enemies we fought at Remire Village were different than the ones we encountered in the labyrinth underneath Jeritza's old office."
"Can you give me a description of what these foes looked like?"
"W-well…they all wore jet-black jackets and cloaks just like the o-ones from the labyrinth, but when the villagers uncovered one of them, hi-his skin was as pale as moonlight."
Rhea's eyes widened as she quietly gasped to herself. "Thank you for that information. You may go."
"Y-yes, Lady Rhea."
The knight saluted and walked out of the chamber to make way for Byleth, Jeralt, and Flayn, whose presence seemed to lift Rhea's spirits. "Welcome back, all of you," she said. "What do you have to report on the Remire situation?"
"Things got rough in a hurry," said Jeralt. "The enemy brought monsters with them, and they all started tearing up the place. We killed off as many as we could. It's gonna take a lot of time for them to build things back up, though…"
"We also found one of the ringleaders," said Byleth. "He was the same one we fought in the Sealed Forest. Unfortunately, he got away again."
Byleth remembered slaying many foes before her recruitment to the Officers Academy. They came and went so quickly that she barely had time to remember any of their names or faces, especially since none of them ever specifically targeted her or Jeralt. Even when one or two of them escaped after a skirmish, Byleth was usually confident that her enemies wouldn't come back stronger than before.
The Remire Village and Sealed Forest attackers were a different story. They didn't restrict themselves to conventional weapons the same way her older enemies did. From what little Byleth had seen of this mysterious new group, they knew dark magic and used esoteric rituals that transformed children and animals into monsters. With a potentially unlimited supply of new resources to exploit, she wanted to get rid of them as quickly as possible so that no one else had to worry about being taken from their homes to be used as weapons.
"Do not trouble yourself over that, Professor," said Rhea. "Our foes may strike at us from the darkness, but we must continue to show them that it is futile to escape from the light of the goddess. The people of Remire have thanked you for offering your protection to them in their time of need, and the goddess will also smile upon you for your efforts." She turned her attention to Flayn, who stood next to Byleth with her face downcast and her copy of one of the Books of Seiros clutched tightly to her chest. "Is something troubling you, Flayn?"
"The death, despair, and destruction I witnessed last night was harrowing," said Flayn, "but the villagers were courageous enough to come out and defend their homes. It was inspiring, in its own way."
"The combined resolve of the knights, the villagers, and the students may yet have saved Remire from a more gruesome fate. Still, we must not forget those whose lives were lost during this incursion. May the goddess grant them a peaceful rest and carry them toward the stars."
Flayn closed her eyes and repeated after Rhea. "May the goddess grant them a peaceful rest and carry them toward the stars."
"Seteth will be pleased to learn that you have returned safely," Rhea said with a smile. "I would like to talk with Captain Jeralt and the Professor in private for a few moments. Why not go and visit your brother for a while? I believe he went to the library a moment ago."
"As you wish, Lady Rhea," said Flayn. "Captain, Professor…thank you once again for allowing me to join you on your journey to Remire. I shall see you again later."
With a nod and a curtsy, Flayn left the room.
Rhea called for Byleth and Jeralt to follow her into their office in order to gain some privacy. She eased inside carefully so that her headdress didn't clip against the frame of the door. "I am sure you are curious about what will happen to Hapi after today," she said. "We initially brought her into custody because many feared that she would lose control of her powers and attract more monsters like the ones you just faced. After taking some time to investigate the matter more thoroughly, we have concluded while she may have drawn the monsters in Larkspur to her, there is no indication that she created them or summoned them deliberately. Upon Seteth's recommendation after the conversation you both had with Hapi and her assistance in the Remire Village matter, I have decreed that Hapi will be released immediately."
Byleth was momentarily distracted by Sothis' voice ringing in her head.
Well, at least one part of this story will have a happy ending…
"I'm sure she'll be glad to be out of that cell," said Byleth, looking back up at Rhea.
"Where's she gonna go, though?" asked Jeralt. "It's not like there's too many safe havens around here with the monsters and bandits running around. I don't think she'll want to travel too far to the south after how they treated her."
"She might wind up going there anyway. The last we heard from Hapi, she said she was looking for information on how to undo her 'curse'."
"Our library has a wealth of information on many different topics," said Rhea. "It would be a good idea for her to start there and see if she discovers anything useful. You, of course, would need to watch over her while she is here."
Byleth hoped things would work out. The knights were likely to still be suspicious of Hapi even if she was only visiting the monastery as one of her guests. With so many knights guarding the premises and her less-than-favorable opinion of them, there was no guarantee she wouldn't freak out or snap when she saw one.
"All right," said Byleth. "When Hapi is released, tell her and the prison guards that 'Blue' wants to speak with her before she leaves."
"'Blue'?" asked Jeralt.
He and Byleth scratched their heads simultaneously, with Byleth ending by twirling a few strands of hair in her right index finger. "It's a nickname…I think."
"I will send the message immediately," said Rhea. "The Blue Lions and Golden Deer should be returning from their missions soon. I'm certain most of them will appreciate having time to rest before the White Heron Cup this Ethereal Moon, as will your Black Eagles."
"You mean that dance competition? It's been too long since I last had a dance partner," said Jeralt, shaking his head and sighing. Rhea closed her eyes and looked away from him, leaving Byleth wondering who or what they were talking about.
A dance, you say? I would very much like to participate, but I must decline on account of not being able to hold onto anything…or anyone.
"The students have always looked forward to the Cup and the subsequent Garreg Mach Ball. I believe it would be good for you to take this time to relax and enjoy yourselves. You have certainly earned it after this recent chain of events."
"We will, Lady Rhea," said Byleth. "Thank you."
"Farewell for now, and may the goddess continue to watch over you."
After Rhea left the office, Jeralt sat down at his desk and leaned on his right hand. "Sometimes I wish I could read that woman," he said. "Even when she says she's happy, it always sounds like something's troubling her."
"Why don't you ask her and find out?" asked Byleth.
"It's been more than twenty years since the last time I was at this monastery. I think that was the last time I had an honest conversation with her."
Byleth squeezed into the alcove where her bed was and tried to lie down. "Did something happen between you two?"
"I'll tell you more about it when – if I get a chance to talk to Lady Rhea."